The Safe Haven Baby Box at a firehouse in Carmel, Ind., looked like a library book drop. It had been available for three years for anyone who wanted to surrender a baby anonymously.
No one had ever used it, though, until early April. When its alarm went off, Victor Andres, a firefighter, opened the box and found, to his disbelief, a newborn boy wrapped in towels.
The discovery made the local TV news, which praised the courage of the mother, calling it “a time for celebration.” Later that month, Mr. Andres pulled another newborn, a girl, from the box. In May, a third baby appeared. By summer, three more infants were left at baby box locations throughout the state.
Studies show that the vast majority of women denied an abortion are uninterested in adoption and go on to raise their children.
But the safe haven movement has become much more prominent, in part because of a boost from a charismatic activist with roots in anti-abortion activism, Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
With Ms. Kelsey and allies lobbying across the country, states like Indiana, Iowa and Virginia have sought to make safe haven surrenders easier, faster and more anonymous — allowing older babies to be dropped off, or allowing relinquishing parents to leave the scene without speaking to another adult or sharing any medical history.
Some who work with safe haven children are concerned about the baby boxes, in particular. There are now more than 100 across the country.
research found that more than half the children have health or developmental issues, often stemming from inadequate prenatal care. In California, unlike in Indiana, safe haven surrenders must be done face-to-face, and parents are given an optional questionnaire on medical history, which often reveals serious problems such as drug use.
Still, many children do well. Tessa Higgs, 37, a marketing manager in southern Indiana, adopted her 3-year-old daughter, Nola, after the girl was dropped off at a safe haven just hours after her birth. Ms. Higgs said the biological mother had called the Safe Haven Baby Box hotline after seeing one of the group’s billboards.
“From day one, she has been so healthy and happy and thriving and exceeding all developmental milestones,” Ms. Higgs said of Nola. “She’s perfect in our eyes.”