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Indiana May Be First In U.S. To Deploy "Baby Boxes" To Anonymously Surrender Newborns

Already used in Europe and Asia, the boxes could debut in the U.S. if Indiana adopts the system under existing "Safe Haven" laws, in which parents can surrender unwanted newborns.

Last updated on February 27, 2015, at 5:38 p.m. ET

Posted on February 27, 2015, at 5:38 p.m. ET

A prototype of a baby box outside a fire station in Woodburn, Indiana.
Michael Conroy / AP

A prototype of a baby box outside a fire station in Woodburn, Indiana.

"Safe Haven" laws exist in all 50 states, but metal boxes to hold abandoned newborns could soon start appearing in hospitals, churches, and fire stations across Indiana.

Known as "baby boxes," the containers are in fact incubators in which parents can drop off and safely leave newborn babies. A bill is currently making its way through the Indiana legislature that, if approved, would introduce them to the United States, the Associated Press reported.

Similar versions of the boxes are already available across Europe and Asia.

Safe Haven laws allow parents to legally surrender newborns without fear of prosecution so long as the child is not harmed.

Police and fire stations, hospitals, and designated nonprofits are typically designated as places where the newborns can be surrendered, but some advocates of the Indiana law argue many of the children have been abandoned in unsafe conditions.

The boxes — also known as "baby hatches" or "angel cradles" — could save lives, supporters contend.

Dawn Geras, president of Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation in Chicago, told the AP more than 2,800 children have been safely surrendered since 1999, but more than 1,400 were illegally abandoned. And two-thirds of those have died.

Critics of the boxes, however, include the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which in 2012 warned about the spread of the boxes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, and Latvia.

The committee, which is composed of human rights experts, have argued that the boxes violate the Convention on the Right of the Child, which states governments have a duty to respect a child's right to know and identify their parents.

Members of the committee told The Guardian that although proponents of the boxes argue the boxes are to protect the children, there is no evidence they prevent infanticide.

Part of the effort to expand the use of the baby boxes in the U.S. has been pushed from Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc., a nonprofit founded by a woman who herself was abandoned as an infant.

In its website, the nonprofit argues the boxes can erase the face-to-face interactions some mothers may fear when making the decision, but still offer a safe environment for the child.

"Safe Haven Law provides No Shame, No Blame, No Names," according to the nonprofit's website.

The idea for them is believed to have originated in medieval times, when convents included revolving doors with compartments where infants could be placed.

Prototypes of the boxes being considered in Indiana would include heating or cooling pads and alarms that would be triggered when a baby is dropped off, alerting staff.

The Indiana bill was passed unanimously in the state's House this week, but has yet to clear the Senate.