An amendment to Maine’s “safe-haven law” that allows for the anonymous surrender of a newborn to authorities is set to go into effect in October.

Under the state’s 20-year-old safe-haven law, abandoning a baby is decriminalized if the baby is passed into “safe hands,” which includes a nurse, firefighter or law enforcement officer. The problem with that, Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, said, is that the process compromises a woman’s identity.

“Maine is one big small town,” Corey said, and mothers might be reluctant to surrender their infants to people they know.

Corey

That will change with the new law, sponsored by Corey, that allows for a “baby box” as a “safe hands” option. Baby boxes are installed in exterior walls of designated fire stations or hospitals, according to the nonprofit Safe Haven Baby Boxes, an Indiana-based organization that has spearheaded legislation legalizing the boxes across the country.

“It has an exterior door that automatically locks upon placement of a newborn inside the Baby Box, and an interior door which allows a medical staff member to secure the surrendered newborn from inside the designated building,” the group says on its website.

Boxes will be installed at facilities that are staffed 24 hours a day, Corey said. When a baby is placed in the box, an alarm is triggered inside the building alerting medical personnel.

The boxes will be privately funded and regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services, Corey said. Sites have not yet been determined. A call to DHHS requesting statistics on the number of babies surrendered under current safe-haven law in Maine each year went unreturned.

Baby boxes are found in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida and Arizona. Since the first was installed in 2016, 12 babies have been surrendered using the boxes, according to Safe Haven Baby Boxes, and two others were surrendered at fire stations that also had the boxes. In addition, 100 surrenders nationwide have resulted from calls to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes national hotline, the organization said.

“My interest in adding to the list of safe havens for infant surrender is to provide a reasonable option when other backstops have failed,” Corey said.

For Corey and Suzanne Lafreniere, a policy analyst with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland who brought him the idea, the bill is personal. Both were adopted, they said, and had spoken before about working together to pass something that would honor their stories.

“It was something I had heard of a while ago,” said Lafreniere, who also is a registered lobbyist with the Maine Ethics Commission. “I was looking for something to support mothers and fathers. I thought it was a good option as a last resort.”

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