MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Previously…
MONICA KELSEY: And I said, hey I want you to build me this and he goes, what are you going to do with it? I said, I’m going to save babies in fire stations and he’s like, have you lost your mind?
CHIEF SMITH: We had people that were just against it, sending us letters, threatening us, saying that they were going to shut the whole fire department down if they could.
CHIEF PAWLIK: But the thing that helped, right after we were getting all of these letters is when all of a sudden, boom! We get a baby in the box. And the baby was just born and so it had the umbilical cord on, had it wrapped up in an old sweatshirt, you know, a little bit bloodied and that...
MONICA: This is Mia and Mia was surrendered at Chief Lucas’ firehouse in their baby box in Seymore, Indiana a little over two years ago. (Applause)
MB: For decades, safe haven laws have been a steady, if uncelebrated, tool in the pro-life movement. But they could soon get a lot more use. In this podcast we’ll meet those working on the frontlines and learn how they are saving mothers and babies in crisis.
This is the last in our three part series: Safe Delivery. Our story continues in a moment. Three weeks ago, a baby was anonymously placed in a Kentucky Safe Haven Baby Box.
REPORTER: The newborn was surrendered at the Bowling Green Fire Department and the baby is safe and healthy….the box was installed in December and was the 132nd location in the U.S…..making it the first one this year in the state of Kentucky.
MB: State representative Nancy Tate was at the Bowling Green Fire Department when that announcement was made on February 10th. Tate sponsored the unanimously approved bill that made Safe Haven Baby Boxes a legal way to surrender babies in Kentucky. But the Republican lawmaker says she isn’t done yet.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY TATE: It’s great to have 16 boxes here in Kentucky. There’s 120 counties. My goal is to have at least one box in every county and I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that.
MB: But not everyone is enthusiastic about the boxes. In fact, some pro-lifers are fighting against them.
SOT: We have one person who wants to participate. Mr. Hicks you have four minutes…
Chris Hicks has always been outspoken and is often outnumbered. But the 6’4, Ohio native is hardly ever out of questions.
CHRIS HICKS: And why are you paying him 265 dollars per hour...I think it’s essential for this board to go back to two meetings per month. Once a month is not enough...we have a revolving door system in Ohio and I think Republican and Democrat people are sick of this….We might have travails now, but can you imagine the travails we are going to have if we don’t figure out how to have clean open government in this county at the county level….and it’s shaping up to be the same sort of corrupt, backroom, crony, vetting process that’s gotten us in trouble before.
MB: Hicks lives in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio in rural Clermont County. It’s located east of Cincinnati along the Ohio River.
CHRIS HICKS: I’m that guy. So I’m the Don Quixote type. I’ve been called that a lot of times. Unlike Don Quixote, if I stick with it long enough and I will, a lot of times the windmills come down.
MB: Married for 32 years with one son, 56-year-old Hicks has spent more than three decades as a sales consultant. But seven years ago the self-proclaimed watchdog began using another skill set.
CHRIS HICKS: And so since 2016, I’ve been almost continuously involved in different things around government, ethics, accountability and transparency. And I was just, again a pro life, Christian, right-wing conservative and kind of serendipitously involved in baby boxes because of some events in the township I live in in Ohio.
LOCAL 12 NEWS ANCHOR: There’s now a safe place in Clermont County for women to surrender their babies without question. A new Safe Haven Baby Box….
MB: On May 25th, 2022, local leaders installed a Safe Haven Baby Box at a fire station in Hicks’ community. Although Ohio’s Safe Haven law has been on the books since 2001, Hicks was only vaguely familiar with it. Now, he says he’s practically committed the law to memory. The Ohio statute allows a parent to leave an infant up to 30 days old with a first responder in a hospital, fire department or law enforcement agency.
When Indiana revised its Safe Haven Law in 20-17 to include the use of baby boxes, Ohio made similar changes. Senate Bill 332 made baby boxes a legal way for a parent to anonymously surrender his or her newborn. Today, there are seven Safe Haven Baby Boxes throughout the Buckeye state—including one in Hick’s Clermont County.
CHRIS HICKS: I looked at the signage on the box and it has nothing about regular safe haven, nothing about getting personal help, you know, knock on the fire station door if you want personal assistance.
MB: Hicks says there was also no mention of adoption or other custody options.
CHRIS HICKS: So that caused me to dig even deeper and then I got a copy of the materials that were in the box. They were mostly promotional materials for Safe Haven Baby Box company. So that just caused me to get more and more concerned with what these things were, who was behind them and were they really helping or were they helping somebody make money off of safe haven and maybe stigmatizing traditional safe haven.
MB: Hicks took his concerns to the Clermont County Board of Commissioners. Along with him, signs he and his wife created promoting Ohio’s Safe Haven Law.
CHRIS HICKS TO COMMISSIONERS: What if in Ohio there was a sign on every police station, fire station and hospital, just for the purpose of safe haven awareness. So this is an example of a draft of a sign that says, safe haven available here. You can come and surrender your baby up to 30 days, ring a bell. If no answer, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital.
MB: On July 29th, 20-22, Hicks addressed the Ohio Public Health Advisory Board. He urged the committee to take a closer look at the rules surrounding Safe Haven Baby Boxes.
CHRIS HICKS TO ADVISORY BOARD: Why does the company that made a box have anything to do with babies after surrender?
HICKS: The attestation form could be tightened. The logging requirements can be cleaned up. There should be standard signage at each location. Why are there all sorts of materials in the bassinet when your rules clearly require that there be no debris in the bassinet? Your rules are instrumental in making sure all this develops in the right way in Ohio before it becomes too late to fix it.
MB: But advisory board members said their hands were tied…
BOARD MEMBER: Our authority is limited in this matter. The Public Health Advisory Board simply has authority to either recommend the approval or recommend disapproval to the director of Health.
MB: …and in a 7 to 1 vote, the board recommended approval of the rules to the state’s Public Health director.
BOARD MEMBER: At this time if there are no further questions regarding 3701-86, I will entertain a motion from the advisory board. Is there a motion to recommend approval of these rules moving forward to the director.
ROLL CALL: Jessica Wingert…approved… Sally Morgan, yes approved..
MB: Then, at a Union Township Trustee meeting, Hicks and Kelsey met face to face for the first time.
KELSEY: Without being interrupted, can I say what I was going to say?
MB: What followed was a combative hallway encounter between the two pro-lifers.
KELSEY: Something else that’s laughable in your report is you don’t know women in crisis. You do not work with them. We have. 8000 calls have come into our hotline over the last six years. 177 of those women were from the state of Ohio. Have you talked to any of these women? Call our hotline, they’ll give you your local resources. You want to put the Department of Child Services on a sign? Do you really think they’re going to go there?
HICKS: I think they should be able to see that. I think they should be able to know there’s an Ohio program specifically…
KELSEY: Why don’t you take your time and resources away from dictating what the trustees are doing and make something good out of what you’re trying to do.
HICKS: I did…
KELSEY: No you’re not. You’re trying to tear down an organization that has nothing to do with you.
HICKS: Instead of you saying I will edit your signs this way. You told me that the sign was laughable.
KELSEY: Your signs, your whole thing you put out is laughable, it is...
MB: Seven months after that Union Township meeting, trustees deactivated that community’s baby box and covered it with one of the signs Hicks designed. Another Ohio box closed after several months of alarm issues. And a third was installed, but never activated.
A victory from Hicks’ perspective. But he still has a long list of concerns about the boxes. Concerns he compiled into a one-page list of business practice suggestions and sent to Monica Kelsey months ago.
MONICA KELSEY: We consider everything that is sent to us. He sent the suggestions to our attorney and our attorney sent them to us and so, have we seen them? Yes.
MB: One of Hicks’ suggestions is keeping the identities of surrendered babies confidential.
CHRIS HICKS: Here’s baby Samuel, here’s baby Nola, here’s baby this. They use them in press events. They use them in fundraising events. We’re going to have all the babies come up on stage. A lot of people might not think about this. The more I’ve talked to people in the adoptee community, this is just wrong. It’s just morally and ethically wrong that these babies, because they got put in a box, they’re becoming part of a marketing engine, they never agreed to be part of.
MB: Hicks also wants to know how the boxes are both made and if they’re safety tested. Kelsey insists that the boxes have been thoroughly tested. But, when asked to provide documentation of the results, she did not provide it to me. I reached out to the company she said she used to test them. They did not respond. Hicks has criticized Monica for not seeking UL certification for the boxes. Kelsey told me that was primarily due to cost.
MONICA KELSEY: We’re a nonprofit. Everything costs money. To do a UL listing where they take the box and go completely through it, is between 25 and 50 thousand dollars. So the cost is another big thing.
MB: I decided to head back to Indiana to see for myself the baby box making process.
AMBI GPS: Take the next right onto Spring Street, then your destination will be on the right.
JASON TO MYRNA: Hello! Hi… Wow, so this is.. This is where everything’s done at…
That’s Jason Mueller, dark haired, clean cut, Hoosier-born and raised. He’s a full-time firefighter who turned a hobby into Fabcore Industries a decade ago.
JASON: And I actually just started welding for people in the station and then it turned into their friends and their friends, so I made a business out of it.
MB: Mueller says his company, located in a 5,000 square foot warehouse, specializes in plastic fabrication—including plastic welding and vending.
JASON MUELLER: We deal with food grade plastics. So we’ll make things for the food industry. We also make things for livestock, like feeders and stuff like that. And then baby boxes. That’s the big part of what we do.
MB: Mueller still chuckles when he tells people he’s the builder of the baby box. He remembers the day Monica Kelsey showed up at his door.
JASON MUELLER: She was a medic in the city and I just knew of her. I really didn’t know her. She showed up on my doorstep at my business and had an idea for the baby box. I thought she was crazy.
MB: He wasn't familiar with the safe haven law, but he remembered a tragic story from the 1990’s that likely made Indiana’s law necessary.
JASON MUELLER: I remember seeing it in the news. University of Indianapolis… one of their students had placed a baby in the dumpster and the baby died and there was a big court hearing for it.
MB: Mueller says he understood the pivotal role Kelsey was asking him to play: create a tool to help mothers in crisis safely and anonymously surrender their babies. But he says he never imagined how his participation would affect his business.
JASON MUELLER: I told baby box that I had wide shoulders and that I could handle anything that was thrown at me and we had a lot thrown at Fabcore. We had EPA. We had FDA. We had OSHA. We had everybody showing up at our door because there were people against the idea so much that they were trying to attack my business because they figured attacking me would make me pull out and would hurt Safe Haven.
MB: He says he cooperated with all three federal agencies and then went back to work on the baby box prototype.
JASON MUELLER: The very first prototype took us about four weeks to do. And that was a medal box. And we did a big unveil and if you know anything about Monica it’s got to be perfect. And we unveiled it and she’s like… we didn’t get the reaction we wanted. And she was like, umph, I’ll have to think about it.
MB: So, he says, they went back to the drawing board.
JASON MUELLER: The door used to open like a normal door, like swing sideways. We changed it to a pull down on the smaller ones because we were trying to change the footprint, to make it a smaller footprint. And she had already done her own research and we came together and she was like, I want to make this out of plastic because of the insulation factor. It’s easier, the longevity is there. It doesn’t rust, corrode, all that stuff.
MB: The plastic comes from vendors around the country. He buys pallets of it—around forty sheets at a time.
MYRNA TO JASON MUELLER: So tell me about the machines that are used to create the baby boxes.
JASON MUELLER: So, in the back right now is a C and C router and everything starts with the router.
MB: The router is a 20-thousand pound computer-controlled flatbed.
JASON MUELLER: It runs on an X and Y axis, So it’s got a spindle on it that cuts just like a normal woodworking router, but it’s held on a carriage on what ‘s called a gantry that moves back and forth. We’ll put a sheet of plastic on there. We’ll pull up the print that needs to be cut. Once it’s cut out it goes to assembly, we cut apart the pieces that come off the router and then we start welding the pieces together to make a finished product.
It takes Mueller and his team of five about a week to produce two boxes.
JASON MUELLER: There isn’t a person in my business that doesn’t have that drive because every time there’s a baby that goes through a box, we announce it, we let them know that you know this could have been one of the boxes that you made yourself and that really drives everybody to do good with it.
MB: Kelsey says it’s that work ethic plus safety testing that makes her boxes secure. But Christopher Hicks isn’t satisfied.
CHRIS HICKS: This has become a family business and so the raising of money has become a monetization of safe haven.
MB: Each box provider pays the Safe Haven Baby Box organization an $11-thousand dollar program fee. Providers also pay an annual three hundred dollar recertification fee and another estimated five to seven thousand dollars to contractors for delivery, installation and alarm system. So where does all that money go? I went back to Fabcore Industries to figure out Jason Mueller’s part in that equation.
MYRNA TO MUELLER: Now if you were charging Monica, full price, what are we talking about?
MUELLER: Today’s standards just for the box without any of the electronics and everything that goes into it outside of me, that box should be around forty-eight hundred bucks with material costs and labor costs and especially today with how inflation is. And then there’s a whole another aspect that she’s got. She’s got the electronics, she’s got the monitoring system. She’s got all of the shipping. So she does have a whole another element of cost that goes into having a box.
The Safe Haven Baby Boxes are not for sale. The non-profit organization leases the boxes to the locations.
MONICA KELSEY: I could have done this for a full profit company and made probably thousands of thousand of dollars, but firehouses don’t have money. So what I’ve done is I’ve come up with a program where they don’t own the box. Safe Haven remains the owner. They’re just leasing them from us.
MB: Kelsey says the lease program is designed to protect fire stations and hospitals as well as the mothers that are served there.
MONICA KELSEY: If that box breaks, how long do you think that box would be down? Until they raise money to fix it, right? So with a lease program, we have three days to get in there and fix it because we’ve already advertised that this box is available for women. They’re not going to be following when a box goes down. They just know there’s a box at Cool Spring Fire Department that they might need and if that box is down for weeks at a time, we might miss that opportunity for that mom.
MB: So the installation fee covers the cost of the box, the monitoring system, maintenance, and the payroll for the organization’s nine employees. Another portion goes toward training. Each time a box is installed at a provider’s location, Kelsey travels to that community and hosts a baby box training session.
KELSEY TRAINING FIREFIGHTERS: It’s going to lock that door and she can’t change her mind at that point, and no one can come steal the baby…
MB: Two weeks after the installation of the Jacksonville, Arkansas Fire Department’s box, Kelsey showed up at that town’s firehouse.
KELSEY TRAINING FIREFIGHTERS: Also if you lose power. How often does this building lose power for more than two seconds?
MB: She taught baby box protocols to a group of firefighters and other first responders—standing room only.
KELSEY TRAINING: This has literature inside of it and it is going to go in between the door and the box. So, when the door opens up it’s going to fall out. Any local pregnancy centers here in town, resources available locally. Put them in here.
MB: Along with the training, Kelsey says the program fee pays for the baby box blessings that occur after each box is installed.
CHAPLAIN: Father we thank you for this day and we thank you for this opportunity to gather together for this movement. Father, we thank you for this box…
MONICA KELSEY: I want to make sure every box is blessed before a mother uses it. That’s just my Christianity probably coming out in me. And so, we do a media push and we also do a 24 hour hotline. That’s not free, ok? And so, if I don’t take money from the government. I don’t take money from the state, where am I getting money from?
MB: Occasionally tax dollars have been used to pay program fees. Chris Hicks believes that’s how his township paid for its baby box. But in most communities with baby boxes, the money is raised through grassroots fundraising…
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Ok, folks… now you’re all up to date on the news, what’s going on around here in Central Arkansas and around the world. Welcome back to the Schmidt show.
MB: …like this radio campaign in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: And just yesterday we had another infant safely surrendered and now we’re going to add I think the 11th baby box here in Arkansas. And this time it’s going to be in the city of Jacksonville. I want to welcome a firefighter from the Jacksonville Police Department, Cody. Welcome to the show Cody. Hi!...
MB: After some Q&A about the baby box, the radio announcer and the fire fighter make the pitch.
ANNOUNCER AND FIREFIGHTER: How much do you need? We need to raise about 15-thousand and we got about 48-hundred right now. Ok, well you got 48-hundred and fifty because I am going to do a donation myself. So if folks that are listening want to donate, can you tell them how they can actually send their donation in.
MB: Kelsey says that kind of grassroots fundraising is also raising safe haven awareness.
MONICA KELSEY: When we’re out educating and asking people for money, people are learning about the law, which wasn’t happening before. That’s the whole reason nobody knew about the safe haven law because nobody was talking about it before.
MB: But Hicks says it all sounds like an aggressive marketing campaign that’s putting other safe haven organizations with fewer resources at a disadvantage.
CHRIS HICKS: They don’t have a schtick to raise money. So she is the gorilla in the group because she’s got a model that monetizes safe haven.
MB: According to a 2020 I-R-S filing, Safe Haven Baby Boxes reported a little over $725- thousand dollars in total revenue. Only twenty two percent of that went to salaries. None of the nine employees made enough to be listed on the 990 form. They are not getting rich from this work. Still, most other safe haven advocacy groups can only dream of what they could do with the level of funding Safe Haven Baby Boxes generates. I looked into the finances of a few other organizations for comparison.
DAWN GERAS: I’m from Illinois and I’ve been involved on this crusade for over 20 years.
MB: Dawn Geras is honorary executive chair for the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. In 2020, the Illinois-based nonprofit reported total revenues of just under $30-thousand dollars…98 percent of that went toward compensation.
DAWN GERAS: I’m from Illinois and I’ve been involved on this crusade for over 20 years. And then I can’t help but think selfishly I guess, because I wish we had funding in Illinois. And I think oh my God, what I could do with that money and how many more babies I could save across the country.
MB: We met Heather Burner in episode one. Burner runs the National Safe Haven Alliance in Arizona. In 2020 the NSHA reported almost 95-thousand dollars in total revenues. The bulk of that, from contributions.
HEATHER BURNER: I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a place to judge, but I do think that there are many things we could do with $10-thousand dollars in order to raise awareness about the law that has existed for twenty years. So, I really encourage their organization, any organization that’s doing this work to really utilize funding appropriately and get that word out there.
MB: But it’s not the size of the Safe Haven Baby Boxes budget that concerns Burner. She fears mothers in crisis might confuse traditional safe haven laws that exist in every state with safe haven baby boxes, that are only in eight states.
HEATHER BURNER: When we say do you know about the safe haven law, people will say, oh yeah you have to drop your baby off in a box. We want people to know that is not what the Safe Haven Law is. That it’s much broader than that because we don't want families or parents to think that they have to drive to whatever location. That there are locations very near them.
MB: The statistics from episode one bear repeating. Since 1999, 1,600 babies have been abandoned, not at safe havens, but in dumpsters, trash cans and other unthinkable locations. 4,700 babies have also been abandoned, but those children have been dropped off at designated safe haven locations.
Dawn Geras is with the organization Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. She’s also one of the founders of the National Safe Haven Alliance, the non-profit Heather Burner runs. Geras has been tracking reports of abandoned babies for nearly 25 years. She spoke with me from the 29th floor of her downtown Chicago home office about how difficult it is to nail down those numbers.
DAWN GERAS: But even the states that record safe haven babies do not record illegal abandonments. So I gather those typically from media sources, Google searches, reading the newspaper and watching for stories.
MB: Geras has also been watching Safe Haven Baby Boxes statistics. Since 20-16, 134 baby boxes have been installed around the country. To date, only 24 babies have been surrendered in those boxes.
While Monica Kelsey’s baby boxes bring awareness and garner much media attention, the number of babies surrendered in boxes is a fraction of babies surrendered in person. But Kelsey is undaunted by such comparisons. In fact, she insists baby boxes aren’t intended to be used every day, every month or even every year.
KELSEY: We only want these boxes used if a mother in crisis doesn’t have any other options. So when people say that we’re spending all this money… if it saves one child’s life with everything that I’ve done, it’s absolutely worth it.
CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTER PROMO: There are over 2,700 pregnancy centers in the United States, free of charge and full of hope…
MB: Crisis pregnancy centers are ramping up their efforts to assist moms throughout their pregnancies. But for those who reach the end and realize they can’t do it alone, safe haven advocates hope their offer of assistance will become the invaluable tool it was always meant to be.
DAWN GERAS: If you save one baby, you know, it’s a baby saved.
CHRIS HICKS: Do I think that there is a place for boxes? Maybe, but that place should start at hospitals, where there is 24/7 medical personnel present that can render immediate aid to both a baby and to a mom.
HEATHER BURNER: I think we should all be working together, even if we don’t 100 percent agree. That’s ok. You and I are probably not going to 100 percent agree on every single thing. But do we have the same goals in mind? And maybe our paths to get there are a little different. I think we can find ways to work together.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.