Newborn incubators, or baby boxes, could be showing up soon at Indiana hospitals, fire stations, churches, and selected nonprofits under legislation that would give mothers in crisis a way to surrender their children safely and anonymously. Indiana could be the first state to allow use of the baby boxes on a broad scale to prevent dangerous abandonments of infants if the bill, which unanimously passed the House this week, clears the state Senate. Republican state Rep. Casey Cox says his bill is a natural progression of "safe haven" laws that give parents a legal way to surrender newborns at certain facilities without fear of prosecution so long as the child hasn't been harmed. There have been more than 2,800 safe surrenders since 1999. But more than 1,400 other children have been found illegally abandoned, nearly two-thirds of whom died.
Hundreds of children have been surrendered in baby boxes, which originated in medieval times, in modern-day Europe and Asia. Supporters contend the boxes can save lives by offering women who can't face relinquishing a child in person a safe and anonymous alternative to abandonment or infanticide. But critics say the boxes make it easier to abandon a child without exploring other options and contend they do nothing to address poverty and other societal issues that contribute to unwanted babies. The boxes would be about 2 feet long and equipped with heating or cooling pads and sensors that would set off alarms when the box is opened and again when a weight is detected inside. The boxes, described as a "last resort" and regulated by the state health department, also would include a silent alarm that mothers could activate themselves by pushing a button.