One of the most memorable moments of the Supreme Court hearings for Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case that is expected to overturn Roe v Wade, was Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s question on adoption. Specifically, the question was about shelter laws, a series of new state-level laws that allow people to anonymously deliver their newborns. The defense claimed that the abortion ban would force people to become parents, Barrett said. “Why aren’t safe-haven laws addressing this problem?” Many pro-choice observers were outraged. With his choice of words, Barrett seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation, suggesting that it was okay to “take care” of an unwanted pregnancy by bringing it to term, giving birth, and then dropping the baby in a box. local hospital. But not everyone was offended.

“It kind of makes me smile,” Forty-eight-year-old Indiana Monica Kelsey said recently of Barrett’s comments. “Knowing that she was careful. Kelsey, a former doctor and volunteer firefighter, is the founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, a nonprofit that installs large letterbox-like receptacles in the exterior walls of fire stations and hospitals. The boxes are meant to complement shelter laws by providing a place where people can anonymously drop off unwanted babies, babies who might otherwise end up left around the corner or in dumpsters. Baby boxes are padded and temperature controlled. As soon as the door of a box is opened, a silent alarm alerts the first responders. The parent can place the unwanted child inside and take off before firefighters or medical personnel arrive to retrieve it. If the child is not returned to a hospital, EMS professionals take the child to a nearby medical facility, where the child receives a check-up and all necessary medical care. From there, it’s up to the State Department of Child and Family Services to find a family to care for the baby.

As of 2016, Kelsey has installed over ninety of these boxes in five different states, but the majority are in Indiana, which also happens to be where Barrett lived for over a decade, when she was professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. Kelsey wasn’t sure if the Safe Haven Baby Boxes were putting shelter laws on Barrett’s radar, but she noted, “We’re still in the news in Indiana.” In the past five years, thirteen babies have been placed in boxes. The group also operates a 24-hour hotline, and its volunteers have helped 115 people across the United States deliver their babies to firefighters or hospital medics.

Baby boxes have a history dating back to “foundling wheels”—Turning barrels that were installed on the sides of churches and convents in the Middle Ages, where people could leave their offspring unseen. (In the twelfth century, Pope Innocent III requested that the craft be installed in Rome, after being alarmed at the number of dead babies washed up in the Tiber.) In recent years, they have made a comeback in many countries, especially in Germany, where they are called Babyklappen, or baby hatches. Although Germany does not have safe haven laws, parents are allowed to leave their child with a third party for up to eight weeks. A mother who leaves her baby in the Babyklappe is eight weeks old to pick up the baby. If she does not return, the baby is offered for adoption.

In the United States, the first shelter law – also known as the “Baby Moses” law – was passed in Texas in 1999 in response to a wave of abandoned infants. By 2008, similar laws had been implemented in all fifty states. These laws are not without detractors: Critics argue, for example, that the aspect of anonymity – or the fact that a person can drop off a baby without identifying themselves – could allow a situation in which a baby is given without consent. of a parent. Mary Ziegler, a legal historian who studies abortion, explained that while such laws were not originally part of the abortion debate, they appeal to pro-life activists and lawmakers, who, like Barrett, are eager to present adoption as an alternative to Abortion. They also have a more subtle propagandist effect, because the idea of ​​child abandonment is reminiscent of infanticide. “This is symbolically important for pro-life groups because they always like to stress how similar abortion is to infanticide,” Ziegler said. “For example, if you’re horrified to give up a newborn baby or put a baby in a box, why aren’t you horrified to kill a baby in the womb at fifteen weeks? “

Kelsey has said that she and many of her employees are pro-life, but that is not the purpose of Baby Boxes. “This is not a debate on abortion,” she said. “The women we meet on a daily basis have already chosen life for their children.

“I never thought I would one day be America’s baby box lady,” Kelsey told me. “But I’m here.” Kelsey herself was abandoned soon after she was born, though for a long time she ignored it. She grew up in Ohio, raised by adoptive parents who always told the same story about her origins: “They said my birth parents were young and in love, and they had to abandon me because they didn’t. couldn’t take care of me. ” As a child, Kelsey was comforted by the idea. But at thirty-seven, married and a mother herself, she managed to find her biological mother, who revealed the truth. At the age of seventeen, Kelsey’s mother was assaulted and violently raped by a man, who made her pregnant. Two hours after Kelsey was born, her birth mother and grandmother abandoned her in a hospital.

The news left Kelsey in shock. She was not the product of love, as she had been told, “In fact, I was taken into this world by violence. She said after learning the truth, “I struggled with value.” She immersed herself in her work as a doctor, hoping to give meaning to her life by saving the lives of her patients. A friend once suggested that she share her story at a pro-life rally in Indianapolis. Kelsey tried it on and received a standing ovation. Churches began to invite her to speak and she has become a regular on the pro-life speaker circuit. It’s easy to see why: its very existence seems to support the value of denying abortion to those who have been steeped in traumatic events such as rape and incest. Kelsey was a Christian, but at first she herself did not subscribe to this view of abortion. “It was one of the things I had to struggle with,” she said. However, as she spoke in the churches, her faith deepened and she began to consider another argument: “How can we say that a child must die because of the acts of his father?” ? “

In 2013, Kelsey was speaking at a church in Cape Town, South Africa, when she noticed a metal box in the exterior wall of the building. Her hosts explained that it was a ‘baby safe’ and was installed after someone left a baby in a gym bag on church property. Kelsey was electrified. She became determined to bring a similar contraption to the fire station where she volunteered in Woodburn, Indiana, but struggled to gain legal and regulatory approval. “The Children’s Services Department, all they could hear was, ‘This lady is putting a baby in a box,’” Kelsey said. “Those words alone turn people off. She continued, “But you have to make them see that it’s a good thing, if the alternative is a dumpster or a trash can.” She continued to lobby, and in 2016 the first two Safe Haven baby boxes were set up, in her fire station and one in Michigan City. The first baby was dropped off in the Michigan City box about eighteen months later. “And then, five months later, the second baby came along,” Kelsey said. They were operational.

Kelsey’s mission requires staying in the press. “The education is so great,” she said. “We can put boxes everywhere, but if we don’t tell anyone they’re there, no one will use them. Whenever a new box is set up, she holds a ceremony called the Box Blessing and invites local media, and whenever someone drops off a baby, she hosts a press conference, thanking the unknown mother for her. ‘have made the right choice. “We always tell the mother that her baby is safe and healthy,” Kelsey said. She added that it’s not uncommon for parents to call the hotline after dropping off a baby to make sure their child is okay. During these conversations, Safe Haven volunteers sometimes get to know the parents. They are not all poor single mothers, as is sometimes assumed. She listed a few examples of people who used the boxes: a registered nurse and a married woman who was pregnant with a man who was not her husband.

Spreading the word also helps with fundraising. Safe Haven Baby Boxes cost around ten thousand dollars each to install – the cost includes training programs for first aiders who receive babies – and they’re funded by private donations. If a fire station or hospital contacts Kelsey’s group to request a box, they will help the facility raise funds.

Kelsey has received a lot of calls since the Supreme Court abortion hearings, and not just because of Barrett’s mention of the shelter laws. The judges’ comments signaled that the court’s new conservative qualified majority could be on the verge of toppling Roe against Wade, leaving the abortion issue to the states, many of which would likely ban or severely limit the procedure. History suggests that restrictive abortion laws could lead to higher rates of infant abandonment. Does that mean more babies will appear in Kelsey’s boxes? “I don’t know the answer to that question because it has never happened before in America,” she said, meaning the combination of abortion bans and baby boxes. “All I know is abortion is legal in this country right now, and I’m working like crazy.”


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