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San Antonio awaits approval of bill for safe haven infant drop-off boxes

An example of a baby drop-off box from Save Haven Baby Boxes
Courtesy photo
Save Haven Baby Boxes
An example of a baby drop-off box from Save Haven Baby Boxes

A bill that would expand Texas’ decades-old Baby Moses law by adding new ways to surrender infants awaited the governor’s signature on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 780 broadens the Texas Family Code’s definition of “designated emergency infant care provider” to include law enforcement agencies. It enables safe havens to install newborn safety devices on the outside of a facility. The devices are equipped with an alarm to notify employees when a child is placed inside.

The bill was co-authored by Texas Sens. Bryan Hughes (TX-1) and José Menéndez (TX-26). Menéndez said it's for people in custody of a child who need a safe, humane and anonymous way to give up a child.

“The focus of the bill is having a safe place for that baby to be put so that nothing happens to it,” Menéndez said. “So that a desperate person doesn’t feel like they just can throw a child in an inappropriate location.”

As the law currently stands, the parent of an unwanted child who appears to be 60 days old or younger must place the infant into the hands of an employee at a safe haven, like a hospital or fire station. The safety devices offer a new option of surrendering the child anonymously.

Last year, San Antonio District 9 Councilmember John Courage presented a council consideration request (CCR) that called for the installation of emergency infant drop boxes. The request received five signatures and had support from District Attorney Joe Gonzales, who helped draft a letter to the Texas attorney general to inquire if the CCR was consistent with existing state laws.

“Collectively, our thought was that we wanted to add another level of security by allowing a young mother, or any mother having a child [who does] not think they want to keep that child … a location that would have health care professionals available who could take care of the child and make sure it got into safe hands,” Courage said.

Courage said the attorney general’s office did not respond to the letter. He also asked legislators if they would be willing to file a bill that followed the guidelines of the CCR to amend existing laws.

He and his staff worked with several safe haven organizations including Eagles Flight Advocacy and Outreach, a local group that promotes the Safe Haven law and buries abandoned and abused infants who died. They also worked with Safe Haven Baby Boxes, a national organization that installs the type of infant drop-off boxes outlined in SB780.

There are currently 142 of these baby boxes installed at safe havens across the U.S. In 2019, there were 170 infant deaths in Bexar County and 2,073 in Texas, according to data collected by Texas Community Health News.

Courage’s CCR was filed months after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which granted the constitutional right to abortion. Courage said the bill is both a women’s choice and a right to life issue.

“As part of ‘right to life,’ you would want to ensure that any newborn baby gets to be born and enjoy their life and be protected,” he said. “On the other hand, I think it is a pro-choice issue from the perspective that it gives a young woman who may be pregnant another choice.”

The bill is about saving children, Menéndez said.

“Regardless of how we feel about the person … who had the child and the circumstances that got them there," he said, "we have to appreciate the fact that anybody would think enough to take care of a baby if they can’t … to relinquish it to others who would find a safe way to take care of the baby.”

Courage calls on the city council and San Antonio to act quickly to implement the safety devices if the governor approves the bill. That includes allocating budget funds for the newborn safety devices, a newborn safety hotline with information on how to surrender a child and education and awareness campaigns of the devices to ensure the anonymity of individuals who surrender children.

“Any one baby's life is worth 10 times that kind of investment for the city,” Courage said.

If approved, the law would go into effect on Sept. 1.

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Sarah Hernandez is a health reporting intern for Texas Public Radio in collaboration with Texas Community Health News. Sarah grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She graduated from Texas State University in May with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Latino Studies. She spent three years working for The University Star, Texas State’s student-run newspaper, in roles such as life and arts reporter, life and arts editor and, most recently, managing editor.