Baby boxes for unwanted newborns proposed in New Hampshire

Since it was installed in January, the Safe Haven Baby Box at a fire station in Madison, Ala., has received a surrendered infant on two separate occasions. Both babies were taken to a local hospital for evaluation and then put in the care of state child services.

Since it was installed in January, the Safe Haven Baby Box at a fire station in Madison, Ala., has received a surrendered infant on two separate occasions. Both babies were taken to a local hospital for evaluation and then put in the care of state child services. Anna Claire Vollers—Stateline

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 03-03-2024 6:01 PM

Modified: 03-04-2024 10:07 AM


Twenty years ago, on a cold winter day, with snow blanketing the ground and sunshine barely piercing through the clouds, Margaret Drye, an EMT, received a call to respond to a distressing report – a baby had been left outside.

The newborn still with the umbilical cord was discovered in a car seat by two concerned women who had heard a noise at the front door.

Despite the harsh conditions, the baby was alive and saved.

“That was such an immediate experience for me. But I’m thinking so many things could have gone wrong that afternoon, and to have a haven place – even if it’s a box – is much better than someone’s doorstep if they don’t know they are there,” testified Rep. Drye, a Plainfield Republican, in support of House Bill 1607, which would expand New Hampshire’s safe haven protection laws.

In New Hampshire, the existing safe haven law allows biological parents to safely relinquish their newborns, who are not more than seven days old, at designated locations such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations and other sites marked with Safe Haven signage.

At these sites, staff may request personal information about the parent and the child. However, parents have the option to remain anonymous and decline to provide any details.

Once the baby is received, the safe haven site must notify the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) within 24 hours to initiate the legal procedures for the adoption of the child.

Despite the existence of this since 2003, data collected by DHHS revealed that only five babies had been relinquished at safe haven sites, all within hospital settings.

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If this new bill is passed, parents would have 61 days to surrender their child, extending the window of opportunity for those facing overwhelming circumstances. The bill also provides for the installation of incubator-style baby boxes, designed to provide a safe and discreet means of surrendering infants.

The only manufacturer of these devices is Safe Haven Baby Boxes.

When parents want to surrender their baby, they simply have to approach a designated site housing a baby box, open its door, place the baby inside, close the door and leave. Once the baby is securely inside the temperature-controlled box, an alarm system notifies emergency services.

“I couldn’t help but think if my parents were in different circumstances, could I have ended up in a dumpster?” said Rep. Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican, sponsor of the bill, sharing his story of being adopted from a New York orphanage.

Across at least 15 states, there are 200 Safe Haven Baby Boxes installed, and several states are considering bills to include these devices under Safe Haven laws.

However, these baby boxes have raised concerns among some critics.

Michael Morrisey, co-founder of Save Haven New England, vehemently opposed the idea, citing concerns about safety and efficiency. He said that the baby boxes lacked rigorous testing and utilized subpar materials, potentially jeopardizing the well-being of surrendered infants.

“Every single baby box that’s out there is committing a felony, every last one of them,” Morrisey added, because they haven’t been evaluated for safety.

On the manufacturer’s website, it is stated that the boxes do not need approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration due to their classification as non-medical devices.

“Kill it in the committee. You have the best law in the country? What are you doing?” said Morrisey.

The bill includes an exclusionary rule granting immunity to parents in the welfare of the baby, even if they have physically abused the baby before surrendering.

“We want the baby alive. The prosecution of a parent is secondary to the life of the baby,” said Rep.Cordelli.

But Susan Larrabee, general counsel for the Division for Children, Youth and Families, testified that the bill as written will “give the perpetrator blanket immunity.”

Under the current law, parents who drop off their newborns do not face criminal liability for abandonment.

While the Department of Health and Human Services supports the legislation, they advocate for accountability for perpetrators who harm a baby before abandonment. They also propose an amendment to prevent civil petitions against parents for abandonment.

“Physical abuse of a child or anything happening prior, the perpetrator would be immune from accountability we would have a baby possibly severely injured and then dropped in a safe haven box or placed with a safe haven entity or hospital,” said Larrabee. “That would be inconsistent with what we’re trying to do to protect children and hold offenders accountable.”