SAN ANTONIO – Under Texas’ Safe Haven Law, a baby 60 days or younger can be taken to a hospital without facing prosecution.
The law requires the parent to give their child to an employee at any designated safe place and tell the person they want to leave the child at a Safe Haven.
But, the parent could also be asked about the child’s medical history or health.
A new proposal titled, “Safe Babies SA” led by District 9 Councilman John Courage aims to facilitate the process.
According to Courage, recent restrictions to health care options for women in Texas inspired Safe Babies SA.
“This came about really because I think there’s been a lot of conversation about the changes at a federal level and even at the state level, that kind of reduce women’s options in their own lives with what they want to do with their family,” Courage said. “And, you know, I think that this is one option that we should make sure any young person knows about or any woman knows about. (That way) she’s not put in a position of abandoning and endangering a child because she’s not prepared to care for that child. And I think the Safe Baby Box offers that alternative.”
The devices would be installed at designated Safe Haven locations, which could include a hospital, law enforcement agency or fire department, staffed 24 hours a day by a medical services provider.
The baby box devices are meant to provide an optimal environment located in an area conspicuous and visible to the employees of the Safe Haven site. It would allow for an infant to be placed in it so a person outside the facility cannot access the child. Once a child is placed in the baby box, staff will be notified within 30 seconds.
“There is a silent alarm inside, inside the box where they put the baby in the receptacle,” Pamela Allen, founder of Eagle’s Flight Advocacy and Outreach, said. “We’re hoping at this point they would even put a camera inside of that receptacle area so that they’ll know that a baby is being placed in there and they need to respond quickly.”
According to the proposal, a 911 call would be triggered if the staff at the facility doesn’t respond within a reasonable amount of time after a child is placed in the device.
The parent would not have to provide any information or notify a public safety official if the child is unharmed.
“If it’s done the way it’s supposed to and their child is never harmed… then, as far as I’m concerned, no crime has occurred,” Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said. “That conduct will never rise to the level of a crime so that that person doesn’t ever have to worry about being investigated for criminal conduct and potentially prosecuted in our office.”
Courage said it’s about providing safe options for the parents and the child.
“You don’t have to face that fear of, ‘What are they going to say or do to me?’ or that shame or humiliation that some people might feel about giving their baby up,” Courage said.
However, the process to get this proposal approved could take some time.
“I hope that the council’s able to move forward with this and work with the state legislature to make this a statewide program so that there are safe baby boxes in every city and town in Texas,” Courage said. “We have asked the city attorney to send a letter to the attorney general’s office asking for an opinion about whether our suggestion on these safe baby boxes will not be in contradiction with any state law… But it very well may be that it’s going to require more legal action at the legislative level, which is why we’ve suggested to anybody who hears this to call your legislator and ask them to be supportive of it.”