Indiana has installed two "baby boxes" where mothers can anonymously drop off unwanted newborns as an extension of the state’s safe haven law.
Two Safe Haven Baby Boxes were opened to the public recently at Indiana fire stations as part of an initiative to give mothers in crisis a secure place to surrender their babies, said Monica Kelsey, a volunteer firefighter and founder of the nonprofit that created the boxes.
“I was abandoned as an infant back in 1973, so I’ve always been very close to the safe haven law,” she told NBC News on Thursday.
The first box was installed last week on the exterior wall of the fire department in Woodburn, near Fort Wayne, where Kelsey volunteers. When a person opens the baby box, a call is immediately placed to 911, and fire and medical personnel are dispatched to the scene.
The box is padded and climate controlled to keep the baby warm while still allowing air circulation, Kelsey said, and automatically locks once a person leaves the child and shuts the door.
The box is also equipped with motion sensors that trigger a second 911 call after detecting movement inside, she said.
Fire and medical officials would then look the baby over and transport him or her to a local hospital for evaluation, Kelsey said. The child is then placed in the custody of the Indiana’s Child Protective Services, she said.
A second box was made available one week ago at the fire department in Michigan City, a community on the Lake Michigan coast.
While they have yet to receive any abandoned babies through the boxes, Kelsey said she has received dozens of calls through her nonprofit’s hotline this week.
Many of the calls are women seeking information about services such as adoption referrals throughout the country, as well as people seeking more information about the boxes themselves.
Kelsey said her team received 95 calls on Wednesday, one of which resulted in a "safe surrender" in another state. The woman was inquiring about safe haven boxes in another state, she said, and hotline volunteers found the woman the nearest hospital where she could surrender her baby safely. Kelsey would not identify the state, citing confidentiality.
"Of the 95 yesterday, we had one save," she said. "That’s a win."
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed safe haven legislation, according to the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families. In Indiana, mothers are allowed to drop off unwanted newborns at fire stations, hospitals and police stations.
The state passed a proposal last year approving the installation of the boxes at fire stations and other public facilities.
This March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that placed several restrictions on access to abortion, including banning abortion on the basis of fetal anomaly.
The local Knights of Columbus, an all-male Catholic organization, has pledged to build 100 baby boxes throughout the state at a cost of nearly $2000 per box, Kelsey said.
Kelsey said the Safe Haven Baby Boxes nonprofit is planning openings at two more locations, including one in Indianapolis.
In the meantime, Kelsey said, she was focused on getting the word out about the boxes and other services available to mothers.
"The boxes are literally a last resort," she said. "They’re the last line of defense that we are going to give these women."