LANSING, Mich. — The Republican governor of Michigan has vetoed a package of bills that would have granted permission for fire departments, police stations and hospitals within the state to install baby boxes where mothers could anonymously surrender their newborns without criminal prosecution, stating that he believes that Michigan’s existing safe haven law is sufficient and he would rather that the child be handed over in person rather than placed in an incubator-like box.
“Michigan’s safe haven law has been an important and valuable policy to ensure unwanted children are not abandoned or harmed by allowing parents to surrender a child to emergency service providers,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a letter to the legislature, sent on Thursday. “However, I do not believe it is appropriate to allow for parents to surrender a baby by simply depositing the baby into a device rather than physically handing the baby to a uniformed police, fire or hospital employee.”
House Bills 5750-5754, co-sponsored by Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, and Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, would have amended the existing Safe Delivery of Newborns Law to allow for the installation of the boxes, which have been successfully utilized in Indiana.
“This legislation takes the necessary steps to ensure that no mother feels that she has to abandon her child illegally,” Kahle told The Detroit News.
Monica Kelsey of the organization Safe Haven Baby Boxes believes the boxes are beneficial because mothers who give up their newborn often don’t want their face to be seen, and sometimes they might leave the baby and run without anyone knowing the child is there.
With the padded and heated baby box law, emergency medical service (EMS) workers are notified immediately via an alarm and are required to arrive within five minutes. The child is to be transported to the hospital for medical care and soon placed with an adoptive family.
“Our research found that some women want complete anonymity and are dropping off their newborns at the doors of fire stations and hospitals without doing the face to face interaction,” the Safe Haven Baby Boxes website outlines. “In one situation, a newborn baby boy was placed at the entrance of a hospital in a cardboard box, and when the child was finally found, the child had frozen to death and was deceased.”
The cause is near and dear to Kelsey as she herself was abandoned as a baby, and now serves as a firefighter. Her mother, who was 17 and had been raped, had initially sought an abortion, but could not bring herself to end her child’s life. She instead decided to leave the baby at a local hospital, and Kelsey was soon adopted into a loving family.
“I just praise God that my birth mother was strong enough to walk out of the abortion clinic,” Kelsey told reporters in 2013.
The Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health expressed reservations about installing the boxes in the state, opining that perhaps someone other than the mother could place the baby inside without her express permission.
“While the intent of the newborn safety device is to honor the perceived desire for anonymity by a birth mother, it is also possible she will not be the individual placing the infant in the device,” Executive Director Amy Zagerman said in a letter to the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee, according to Cadillac News.
“At a minimum, experts in the field of domestic violence and human trafficking should review these bills to assure enough protections exist in situations where a woman may be coerced into a surrender or may be unaware their infant has been surrendered,” she suggested.
Despite the veto, Kelsey vowed to continue to push for the cause in a video posted to social media on Thursday.
“We will continue to fight. We will continue to change the laws across this country,” she said. “The women and the children of Michigan deserve to have an alternative option available for them, and Safe Haven Baby Boxes will make sure that happens.”
According to Safe Haven Baby Boxes, 3,543 babies were surrendered in baby boxes nationwide in 2017. Over 200 babies have been safely left at Michigan hospitals and other locations since 2001 through its Safe Delivery of Newborns Law.
The 2014 documentary “The Drop Box” also highlighted the work of a pastor in South Korea who installed a heated dropbox outside of his home where women can anonymously leave their children in safe hands. Lee Jong-rak has seen success with his effort, caring for at least 20 children at the time of filming, and being credited with saving numerous others.
“One of the mothers told me that she had poison to kill both herself and her baby,” Jong-rak outlined in the documentary. “So I told her, ‘Don’t do that. Come here with your baby.’”