Nanny State

Who's Your Daddy?

Adoption and privacy


Last summer a Florida judge upheld a state adoption law that one attorney has called "anti-parent, anti-adoption, anti-family, and most profoundly anti-child." Not to mention anti-privacy.

The law, passed in fall 2001, requires pregnant women who don't know their babies' birth fathers to buy newspaper ads detailing their sexual histories before they can give their babies up for adoption. The ads have to run weekly for a month in any town where the baby might have been conceived.

Six women filed suit, arguing the law violated their right to privacy. Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Peter Blanc ruled against all but one, a rape victim. Now the remaining five women are appealing.

Legislators and men's rights activists had hoped the ad requirement would give more men the opportunity to come forward and take responsibility for their progeny. They also say they hoped to avoid custody battles between adoptive parents and biological fathers who step forward too late.

But attorneys report that the law's invasion of privacy has deterred pregnant women from considering adoption as an alternative to abortion. "Right now, adoption is greatly jeopardized, and many birth parents are electing abortion instead of adoption," says Patricia Strowbridge, an attorney and president of the Florida Adoption Council. "The intention was to improve birth fathers' rights; the result was that, in some instances, there has been a flat-out trampling of birth mothers' rights."

Strowbridge says the Florida Adoption Council will challenge the law in every district in Florida to increase the chances that the state Supreme Court will ultimately hear the case. In the meantime, there's a strong chance the state legislature will reform the statute when it goes back into session in March.

"We hope the legislature will take a real serious look at the statute," Stowbridge says, "because it has a number of problems, not the least of which is this privacy issue." Among other flaws, the statute includes provisions that in effect outlawed interstate adoptions—a problem that has been corrected by a special order from the attorney general.