Two unusual metal "baby boxes" have been installed into the walls of fire stations in Indiana where people can deposit their unwanted newborns.
The Safe Haven Baby Boxes were officially opened to the public recently in an effort to give mothers in crisis a secure place to surrender their babies, said Monica Kelsey, a volunteer firefighter and founder of the non-profit organization that created the boxes and arranged their installation. Kelsey, who is vehemently opposed to abortion, was abandoned at a hospital at two hours old by her mother, who had become pregnant after being raped.
The boxes work something like book depositories in libraries where a portal can be opened and the baby can be placed inside.
The box is padded and climate controlled, with air holes, and automatically locks once a person leaves the child and shuts the door, reports WHIO-TV.
As soon as a person opens the baby box, an emergency call is automatically placed to 911, and fire and medical personnel are dispatched to the scene. A motion detector inside the box triggers a second call if there is movement inside.
The newborn will be checked over by emergency personnel before transportation to a hospital for evaluation and eventual collection by the local child welfare government department.
No babies have yet been dropped off, but media coverage has resulted in several calls from people seeking advice or help, said Kelsey. One woman arranged to drop her baby off at a hospital, according to Kelsey.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed some kind of safe haven legislation allowing parents to surrender their babies anonymously at fire and police stations or hospitals without fear of prosecution.
In Indiana, children younger than 45 days can be anonymously dropped off. But the baby boxes are the first in the nation. The Catholic Knights of Columbus organisation has offered to provide 100 more boxes in the state.
The number of abandoned newborns is expected to rise in the state. In March Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a law that placed significant restrictions on a woman's right to abortion, including banning abortions on the basis of fetal anomaly. Most school in the conservative state also preach abstinence-only sex education.
Many critics see the baby boxes as one more strategy in the war against abortion rights and adequate birth control and medical help for young women.
"The bottom line is that even with baby boxes I contend that you will still have babies put in trash cans and put out in the cold because the parent is in the midst of an overwhelming experience, full of fear and anxiety," Indiana Democratic senator Jean Breaux told the Guardian.
"The likelihood of someone saying 'let's drive over and get a baby box', I just think it's unrealistic. Instead let's equip our young people with the tools they need to make the best choices and you will find that baby boxes will be unnecessary."
The Indiana State Department of Health recommended in a report that the boxes not be used and instead efforts be made to increase awareness of the safe haven law. The report said that studies in Europe have shown that use of baby boxes did not result in a reduction in unsafe abandonment or infant death.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child does not support baby boxes, but urges countries to provide family planning and other support to address the root causes of abandonment, like poverty, instead.
According to the Save the Abandoned Babies Foundation in Chicago, safe haven laws have resulted in more than 2,800 safe surrenders since 1999. But nearly two-thirds of more than 1,400 other children found illegally abandoned have died.