The ushering in of a new year is a time for fresh opportunities, new beginnings and as always, the start of the next legislative session. With our state’s finances up for review, my goal this year will be to help pass an honestly balanced budget that does not raise taxes on hardworking Hoosiers.
While the budget will be a majority of what lawmakers focus on, and as our economy continues to improve, we need to address other key areas like public safety. In October, the House Republicans outlined our legislative agenda, and one of our goals is to remain accountable to all Hoosiers by addressing public safety concerns impacting our communities. A major component of this will involve addressing Indiana’s troubling infant mortality trends by providing more support to new and expectant mothers.
Infant health is viewed as a critical indicator of the health of a population because it is reflective of the overall maternal health, as well as the quality and accessibility of primary healthcare services for pregnant women and infants. Unfortunately, our state ranks 45th in the nation in terms of infant deaths. Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which is the number of babies who die during their first year of life per 1,000 births, is 7.7 percent. If you compare that to the national average of 6 percent, we have a lot of work ahead to bring down these numbers.
One tragic contributor to these startling statistics is neglectful infant abandonment. While infants may be abandoned for any number of reasons, there are options available to protect their lives. Currently, Indiana has a statute known as the Safe Haven Law which allows a person to give up an infant without being arrested or prosecuted. As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse, adults may drop off the baby at a police station, fire station or hospital emergency room, no questions asked.
However, many adults are either unaware of this option, or if they are aware, they are nervous about speaking to the police or are otherwise uncomfortable with the stigma of being seen entering a building with a child and leaving empty-handed. The shear anxiety of the face-to-face interaction required by an existing Safe Haven may cause some troubled parents to refuse to utilize the program.
To help remove the barriers caused by this dilemma, I have authored legislation this session that allows for the creation and installation of newborn safety incubators, which would be attached to the outside of police stations, fire stations, hospitals and some nonprofit organizations. The incubators are temperature-controlled and set off a silent alarm inside the building when an infant has been placed inside. This legislation utilizes existing law and provides a new mechanism that will ensure anonymity for the adult and safety for the child.
Infants are the most vulnerable members of our society. Their health and well-being should never be jeopardized because of any negative circumstances surrounding their birth. Indiana’s Safe Haven Law provides unwanting parents an avenue to still give their baby a future, and my goal is to expand that protection this session.
Rep. Cox serves a portion of Allen County.