TULSA, Okla. — A last resort resource for desperate mothers of newborn babies is set to come to Oklahoma in 2023.
FOX23 is told the first Safe Haven Baby Box is in the works for Oklahoma.
All 50 states have what are called Safe Haven Laws. It’s a period of time where a mother can drop off their newborn at a police or fire station and face no legal consequences for giving over their child. Right now in Oklahoma, mothers have 30 days after the birth of their child to surrender the child.
But a device set up in other states meant to make the process easier on mom is coming to Oklahoma.
“We do have assigned contract with a location in Oklahoma,” said Monica Kelsey, the founder of the nonprofit Safe Haven Baby Boxes out of Indiana.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes are installed in the side of fire stations across the country, and they are meant to give a desperate mom seeking that ultimate last resort privacy while they make their decision. Security cameras are not pointed at the box, but a silent alarm activates when mom opens the door. First responders are notified a baby is inside and will get the child shortly after the alarm is triggered.
Installation of the boxes was only made legal in Oklahoma two years ago under Senate Bill 960 (SB 960) passed by Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-Okla.) as part of a series of bills dealing with unwanted pregnancies as the state prepared for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion decisions back to state legislature.
Though SB 960 legalized the building of what are called “newborn safety devices” they did not provide any funding to build and install them anywhere in the state. So the passage of the bill, in addition to it being passed in the middle of a pandemic, did not automatically mean there would be quick installation of what are called baby boxes.
While this was happening at the state level, the U.S. Supreme Court would consider what is called The Dobbs Decision that would return governing of abortion procedures back to individual state legislatures.
While Dobbs was being argued, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said safe haven laws were not a good alternative to needing an abortion.
“It’s also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe haven laws take care of that problem?” Barrett asked abortion rights lawyers.
Kelsey said the Dobbs decision has been both a blessing and a curse for her organization.
“We’ve never said we were an abortion alternative, and we don’t want our cause to be painted as one,” she said.
But Kelsey said Coney Barrett’s arguments on over safe haven laws showed desperate mothers that there is another option for them, especially if they’ve already given birth.
“We saw thousands of people go to Google and look up safe haven laws,” she said. “And as a result, we also saw an increase in interest in what we do because the Supreme Court was talking about safe haven laws.”
But Kelsey said safe haven laws are not enough, and many time it puts additional pressure on a mother already in a desperate situation.
“This is the most profound thing I’ve ever heard a mother say. She said the reason why I didn’t place my baby in the arms of a firefighter and I chose to use the baby box was because I didn’t want him to talk me out of a decision that took me so long to make,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey said a contract has been signed for a location in Oklahoma to install the first Baby Box next year, but until things could be finalized, the location is staying under wraps for a little bit longer.
Next door in Arkansas, there are eleven Safe Haven Baby Boxes, and since the beginning of the program there have been six children surrendered in a box.
Rogers Arkansas Fire Chief Tom Jenkins showed FOX23 News of his city’s two baby boxes, and he encouraged any Oklahoma mother seeking a last resort to use Rogers’ boxes while Oklahoma is building its own, especially since Rogers is less than a day’s drive from the Tulsa metro.
“It was noted to us that moms in this situation will actually travel to utilize these. It’s something that in that situation this is something they may feel comfortable with,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins started his career with the Tulsa Fire Department and said a Safe Haven Baby Box is something that can easily be set up in the Tulsa metro. He said his city’s council approved two boxes without hesitation.
One box is in a fire station in a busy side of town next to a major hospital, and the other is in a side of town with completely demographics where a mom may not have the resources or need to ever travel to the other side of town to use the other box.
As required by the non-profit Safe Haven Baby Boxes, there are no security cameras pointed at the box to give mom privacy and anonymity during her decision and drop off. Once the door is open, a silent alarm is triggered at the Rogers 911 call center. A brochure is inside notifying mom of her rights, and she is given time to walk away before the box it opened. The baby is placed in a padded bassinet, and once first responders open the box, the child is immediately examined for any health problems before being given over to children’s services and other medical experts to be evaluated and examined.
“It’s definitely better than the other alternatives out there when you have a mom in a tough situation,” Jenkins said.
Before Safe Haven Baby Boxes were created, some times mothers unwilling to physically hand over their child would leave the child on the doorstep of a police or fire station out in the elements without notification that a child has been left. In some other cases, babies would simply be placed in the trash or a random dumpster.
Jenkins said the boxes are not used daily, weekly, or even monthly, and some that are installed in Arkansas have never been used. However, it’s all about giving a desperate mom a new option instead of seeing her possibly do something to endanger the young life that is in her hands at a time when she may feel fear or panic.
“Like many things we do, we don’t do it because it happens a lot. We do it because it if happens once it was worth the effort,” he said. The Safe Haven Baby Boxes are not purchased, but they are rented to organizations for a period of time. Monica said that is to ensure the boxes are maintained and operating as they should the entire time they are in place. Safe Haven Baby Boxes operates off of donations and grants that pay for installation. A city wishing to get a baby box needs to apply through the organization to get the process going.
FOX23 is told the location of Oklahoma’s first Safe Haven Baby Box will be announced in early 2023.
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