Friday, August 23, 2002
Adoption law driving women to abortionJan Cienski
WASHINGTON - Many Florida women are choosing to have abortions rather than submit to a law forcing them to publish details of their sex lives before they can offer a child for adoption, according to lawyers fighting the law.
The 106-page adoption legislation was passed with little fanfare last October but is now fuelling a growing controversy. Yesterday, it was brought to an appeals court after a lower court ruled that its provisions do not apply in cases of forcible rape, but do in other cases.
The law applies to women who offer a child for adoption when the father is not identified. It requires that they publish details of every sexual encounter that could have caused the pregnancy, along with names -- if possible -- and descriptions of the men, in the local newspaper where the incident took place, so any men who may be the father and want to contest the adoption can come forward.
Charlotte Danciu, a lawyer representing six women challenging the law, calls it "horrific."
She has refused to place any ads in local papers and says as many as 15 of her clients have decided to have abortions rather than face public humiliation.
Jeanne Tate, another adoption lawyer, has placed more than 50 such ads around the state.
She also says some of her clients are choosing abortion, which requires no consent, over the new and intrusive adoption process.
Several adoption agencies in Florida have noticed a dramatic drop-off in the number of babies being put up for adoption. Before the law, there were between 5,000 and 7,000 adoptions a year in Florida.
Further complicating the situation, many newspapers are refusing to run the ads, which appear in small print far in the back, creating a "legal impossibility" for those women who decide to go through with adoption despite the indignity, Ms. Danciu said.
The law's backers say it was intended to ensure that fathers are not excluded from the adoption process, noting several high-profile cases where a father showed up years later and wanted to have an adoption reversed.
"Allowing mothers to put their children up for adoption without notifying the father is just another attempt to take the father out of the picture," said David Wilson, founder of Fathers Awareness of Rights and Custody Equality in Cocoa Beach, Fla.
The law arose from the case of baby Emily, who was the subject of a notorious three-year legal battle after her father, a convicted rapist, tried to contest her adoption long after the event. The court eventually ruled against him.
But the bill was plagued with so many problems that Jeb Bush, Florida's Governor, let it become law without his signature, only refraining from a veto because he was promised it would be quickly amended -- something that has not yet happened.
Even the legislators who sponsored the law are rapidly backing away from it.
State Senator Walter "Skip" Campbell, a powerful Democrat, refuses to do any more interviews on the subject and in a letter to the Senate's president last week, conceded the law "contains some significant unintended consequences."
He blamed his staff for doing a bad job of drafting the law's language.
The issue has had the unprecedented effect of uniting pro- and anti-abortion groups.
Reverend Jerry Falwell called it a "bad law," which will "encourage abortion rather than adoption."
The pro-abortion National Organization for Women is also onside.
The Catholic Church, which supported the bill, is also rethinking its position.
Some men's groups are also having second thoughts, no more thrilled than women at having their sex lives appear in print.
Ms. Danciu thinks there is a good chance the appeals court will find the law violates constitutional privacy protections, and even if it does not, the Florida legislature will likely take up the issue when it meets next on March 4.
In Canada, fathers have to be consulted before a child can be placed for adoption, but the onus is on the father to prove paternity in a reasonable amount of time, said Judy Grove, executive director of the Adoption Council of Canada.
"Nothing here is the equivalent of the Florida law," she said.
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