Japanese Hospital Gets Approval for 'Baby Drop-Off Hatch'

A Japanese hospital said Thursday it would push ahead with plans to set up a hatch where unwanted infants can be anonymously dropped off, following a series of cases of parents reportedly abandoning newborns in parks and shopping centers.

The Catholic-run Jikei Hospital in the southern city of Kumamoto, which received local government permission for the service on Thursday, hopes the hatch will reduce cases of abandoned babies and abortions, according to head nurse Yukiko Tajiri.

The move came despite criticism from top government officials that it could spur more parents to abandon their babies. Tajiri said the hospital was simply trying to save lives.

"This hospital places great value on life," Tajiri said. "We want to widen the choices available to women."

A small window at the hospital will allow people outside to leave their babies in an incubator, and an alarm will notify staff once an infant is placed inside, according to Tajiri.

Babies placed in the hatch will be cared for by the hospital and then put up for adoption, she said. The hospital is expected to start accepting babies in 3-4 weeks, Tajiri said.

Government officials blasted the plan.

"It's unforgivable that mothers and fathers will be allowed to abandon their babies anonymously," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters Thursday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki also called the plan "fundamentally unacceptable."

A series of high-profile cases in which parents abandoned newborn babies in parks, supermarkets, and even in bicycle baskets — have triggered an outcry here.

In September, a newborn baby girl was found in a restroom at a shopping mall in Hokkaido, northern Japan, according to the daily Yomiuri Shimbun. Her parents have not been found, the newspaper said.

With no law against abortions and no clear religious taboos in predominantly Buddhist Japan, the procedure is readily available and widespread.

Over 289,000 cases of abortion were reported in 2005, or 10.3 cases for every 1,000 women aged 15-44, according to the Health Ministry.