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San Antonio may consider safe haven drop-off boxes to surrender newborn babies

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Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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District 9 Councilman John Courage, center, is joined by child safe haven advocates including Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Bexar County District Judge Monique Diaz in front of San Antonio City Hall

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A San Antonio City councilman wants to explore the installation of “baby boxes” at safe havens like fire stations and hospitals where a newborn child can be surrendered anonymously.

Texas’ “baby Moses law” allows a parent to surrender their newborn child in-person at a fire station or hospital. The council consideration request presented by northside Councilman John Courage would allow someone to surrender a child by dropping them off in a secure box that alerts people inside or calls 911.

Courage said its goal is to help people who are scared or ashamed to deliver their child to someone and the recent Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade restricted reproductive options for women.

“The decision to surrender a newborn child must be an excruciating experience and a period of desperation, these baby boxes will allow parents to safely leave their infant quickly and anonymously,” he said.

By offering another option, it’s less likely that a child could suffer neglect or abuse from a parent who is unable to care for them. Bexar County District Judge Monique Diaz, who co-chairs the city and county’s Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence, said an ordinance like this could save lives.

“Infant homicide still remains at least 5.4 times higher than the rate of homicide at any other point in our lives,” she said. “We know that as a society we can and should do more to help these mothers in crisis to protect their babies from abandonment and homicide.”

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

It could also reduce any shame a parent would feel from facing someone to surrender their child, Courage said.

“There’s fear and there’s also a certain amount of shame or humiliation going to a person in giving your baby away,” he said. “We don’t want this to appear to be shameful or humiliating, we want the person who’s doing this to understand they’re protecting the life of that child,” Courage said.

Between 2018 and early 2020, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported 59 cases of babies being surrendered by their parents at a safe haven location. Since 2009, there have been 172 surrenders. In Texas, a child can be as old as 60 days to be dropped off at a safe haven. The parent must say they are not returning for the child.
Safe Haven Baby Boxes, a company that installs these types of drop-offs has installed 119 facilities in six states. Since they began operation, 21 children have been dropped off with seven this year alone, according to a company spokesman.

Courage is asking the city to also include this on its advocacy list for the next Texas legislative session and to ask the Texas Attorney General what falls within the legal realm of instituting a policy like this.

In San Antonio’s case, a city ordinance allowing baby boxes to be installed could take several months as it goes through the city’s own legislative procedure. The council consideration request, or CCR for short, must first be passed out of the city council’s governance committee before it ultimately makes its way to the full city council for a vote.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules