TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Republican lawmaker in Florida has filed a bill that would allow the installation of “newborn infant safety devices,” also known as “baby boxes” at hospitals and fire stations in an effort to save newborns who might otherwise be abandoned in dumpsters or killed by their mothers.
Rep. Joe Hardin, R-Williston, has filed House Bill 133, which will work in conjunction with the existing safe haven law in the state to provide mothers another option to place their newborns in safe hands if they are too afraid to speak face-to-face with a person in relinquishing their baby.
Public health statute 383.50, “Treatment of Surrendered Newborn Infant,” allows for mothers to surrender their newborn seven days old or younger at a fire station, hospital, or EMS station without any criminal penalties.
The official who receives the child will then immediately arrange for the infant to be transferred to the hospital for medical care, and the hospital will in turn contact a child placement agency.
In addition to increasing the time frame for surrender to 30 days, Hardin’s bill would amend 383.50 to provide the woman with the option of placing the child in a temperature-controlled and ventilated incubator-like receptacle built into the wall of the fire station or hospital, which would immediately set off an alarm inside the building to alert officials of the child’s presence.
To provide further safety measures, the legislation requires that the “newborn infant safety device” be “equipped with a surveillance system that allows employees of the hospital, emergency medical services station, or fire station to monitor the inside of the device 24 hours per day.”
“A hospital, an emergency medical services station, or a fire station that uses a newborn infant safety device to accept surrendered newborn infants shall use the device’s surveillance system to monitor the inside of the newborn infant safety device 24 hours per day and shall physically check the device at least twice daily and test the device at least weekly to ensure that the alarm system is in working order,” the bill states.
As previously reported, 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.
“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 receptacles, also known as “baby boxes,” have been installed in states such as Indiana, where a number of mothers have successfully surrendered their children, letting the baby have a chance at life and to be adopted by a loving family.
As previously reported, safe haven boxes were inspired in the United States, at least in part, by a documentary called “The Drop Box,” which tells the true story of South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak, who is credited with saving more than a thousand abandoned babies who might have otherwise died after being left on the streets by their mothers.
While facing health issues with his own son, Jong-rak began taking “unwanted” children into his home, and soon built a heated dropbox with an in-home buzzer alert in case other mothers sought to leave their babies in his care. He now operates an orphanage at his home, where he has made himself available to help save as many babies as he can.
View his story below.
A Senate version of Hardin’s bill has been filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, where a safe haven box was installed at fire station #1 last month with Harding, Baxley and Kelsey speaking at a small ceremony, along with pastor Mark Cummins of Church of Hope, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, and Linda Znachko from He Knows Your Name Ministries, among others.