Toronto Star

Aug. 14, 01:00 EDT

`Sexual past' law delaying adoptions

Florida legislation branded draconian invasion of privacy

Jill Barton
Toronto Star

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Since Rodger and Dawn Schneider took in baby Neena a year ago, they have taught her to call them mommy and daddy and helped her get over a fear of Mickey Mouse with four trips to Disney World.

The Schneiders would love to adopt the 2-year-old girl given up by a 16-year-old family friend. But they can't do that without potentially destroying her reputation.

Under Florida law, any mother who doesn't know who fathered her child must bare her sexual history in a newspaper ad before an adoption becomes final. The goal is to find the father and stave off custody battles that can break up adoptive families.

The law makes no exception for rape and incest victims or minors, like the girl who gave up legal custody of Neena. Adoption advocates have condemned the law as a draconian invasion of privacy and say it encourages abortions.

"There's no comparable law in any other state and it's really hard to imagine how a legislature could pass such a law if they thought about it," said Bob Tuke, president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. "It treats women like chattel.''

The law requires a mother to list her name, age and description, along with descriptions of any men who could have fathered the child. The ads must run once a week for four weeks in a newspaper in the city where the child was believed to be conceived. Neena's mother, for example, would have to run the ad in a Long Island, N.Y., newspaper, where her friends, classmates and grandmother could see it.

"It's pathetic what we have to go through," Rodger Schneider said. "I feel that all these legislators didn't take into account how these laws are going to affect not just the girls who want the adoptions but also the families who want to adopt.''

Ads have appeared in at least two Florida newspapers so far.

Florida has 5,000 to 7,000 adoptions a year and 80 per cent of them are private. The law, which applies only to private adoptions, took effect last October. Only now are adoptions beginning to be held up in court.

When lawmakers overwhelmingly signed off on the bill last year, they cited the three-year fight over Baby Emily, whose father, a convicted rapist, contested her adoption.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that Emily's adoptive parents should keep her, but told lawmakers to set a deadline for challenging adoptions. The law prohibits anyone from opposing an adoption after two years.

A judge has already ruled that the law should exempt rape victims in Palm Beach County.

Later this month, an attorney representing six women plans to ask a judge in West Palm Beach to declare the entire law unconstitutional. Democratic State Senator Walter Campbell, the law's prime sponsor, said it needs to be changed so it does not embarrass mothers and their children.

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