Alabama moves to protect newborns with baby boxes

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, June 7, 2023

A bill introducing Safe Haven Baby Boxes in Alabama passed through the Senate on June 1 and is waiting to be signed by the governor. House Bill 473 gives parents 45 days to surrender a baby to the baby box at a local fire station or hospital.

Rep. Donna Givens, R-Loxley, along with 34 other representatives, has sponsored the bill. Representative Debbie Wood was among those who co-sponsored the bill.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity for us to do something for children, especially since we have said that abortion is illegal in our state,” Wood said. “We need to give people every opportunity that they can to safely have their child and then have options afterward if they feel like they can’t keep them.”

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Givens said the bill will address three needs: protecting newborn lives, giving desperate mothers more options and giving a baby to couples looking to adopt.

“You’re meeting three needs. The number one and most important is saving a life,” Givens said.

The Safe Haven Baby Box will be installed in medical facilities or fire stations that are staffed with at least one medical services personnel 24/7.

The parents will remain anonymous unless the child was reported missing or kidnapped or shows signs of abuse. 

“I’d rather the child be abandoned in a safe location where it can receive the medical treatment, and DHR can get involved and place the child in a safe home,” said Chambers County Sheriff Jeff Nelson.

Nelson said the sheriff’s office would not get involved otherwise. 

“The biggest thing is the safety and welfare of the child in my opinion,” Nelson said. “And I think that’s what this was originally established for, to stop a baby being found in a ditch.”

According to Givens, a private donor from Baldwin County donated the first 10 baby boxes. Each box will be installed near universities in the largest cities in the state, Auburn, Mobile, Birmingham, Dothan, Anniston, Montgomery, the Muscle Shoals area, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Baldwin County.

Rural counties in the state can raise money to fund the installation of a baby box closer. 

By 2008, all 50 states enacted “Safe Haven” laws, which allow babies to be surrendered up to a certain age. However, most Safe Haven laws have state-specific age limits. Currently, Alabama law allows mothers to surrender a baby to a hospital up to 72 hours after birth. 

The bill’s goal is to ensure that newborns aren’t abandoned in unsafe conditions. According to the Safe Haven website, baby boxes are installed in 10 states and have had over 120 legal surrenders. The organization has referred over 500 women to crisis pregnancy centers. 

However, the Safe Haven baby boxes allow individuals to safely surrender a baby. The boxes would be installed in fire stations or medical facilities. When opened, the box trips a silent alarm to alert on-site staff. 

Over the state line, Georgia law has already adopted a “Safe Haven” law to allow mothers to surrender their babies. According to Georgia DHS, the Safe Place for Newborns Act mothers have criminal immunity to surrender their babies to a staff member of law enforcement or a medical facility for 30 days after birth.