The Father's Right to Know
by Lisa Ritter Starr
A new Florida law, passed in August without Governor Jeb Bush's signature,
requires an unprecedented effort on the part of birth mothers pursuing
private adoption for their children to locate and inform the birth fathers.
It has been intensely scrutinized and debated since its inception, pitting
birth mothers against birth fathers in yet another tug of war that children
do not need.
Birth fathers in every state legally must consent to the adoption of their
children. However, how these states go about enforcing this law differs. Most
states have established a birth father registry which is checked before
adoptions take place. In Hawaii and New York, birth fathers must not only
establish paternity on their own but also demonstrate a reasonable interest
in their children in order to legally object to adoption. In Kentucky,
Illinois, and (prior to 2002) Florida, fathers simply must take it upon
themselves to establish medical paternity.
Several state laws assert that the birth mothers alone may approve an
adoption only after attempting to notify the birth father, but they do not
specify what this notification attempt entails. As of October 2002, Florida
became the only state that mandated this process of notification. In all
private adoptions in which the father is unknown, the birth mother is
required to purchase newspaper ads that run once per week for four weeks in
the area where the pregnancy most likely began. In the ads she must give her
full name and physically identifying information about herself, the sexual
encounter(s) that may have led to pregnancy, and all identifying information
about the possible fathers, including their full names, if known.
According to co-writer of the law Deborah Marks, the result of this is to
make adoptions more secure and final. The law is supposedly meant to avoid
highly unlikely but highly publicized disruptions in adoptions such as in the
Baby Jessica case, in which a birth father later came forward to contest the
adoption. Marks also helped design the law so that women cannot refuse to
place public notifications on the basis of rape. This means that a rape
victim who wants to place her child in an adoption is forced to go through
the same public process of identifying herself, her rapist, and the rape
incident - still for the purpose of giving the birth father a chance to
prevent the adoption.
Whether or not the intent of the law was child-protective, the practical
ramifications were obviously not well thought out. The law embarasses women,
and chooses to make them responsible for thinking through their actions
before having sex, while allowing men to walk away unencumbered with such
thoughts. They can read about it later in the newspaper and respond if they
please. Also, in order to avoid the public humiliation of advertising their
sexual histories, women can and already do make alternative arrangements. One
eighteen-year-old recently interviewed for ABC.com news formerly considered
adoption but is now planning to parent, despite the fact that she believes
she is probably not ready for it. Others will (and do) choose abortion
instead. Ironically, both of these alternatives do not require the knowledge
of the birth father, and would also likely not be considered "in the best
interest of the child" even according to new law's supporters who claim that
this is their prime consideration.
Adoption advocates and lawyers, Christian groups, and feminist organizations,
to name a few, join birth mothers and fathers in opposition to this poorly
written law. It is being touted as the modern-day Scarlet Letter. With
alternatives like birth father registries, such a law as this with so many
negative components for all involved - including for the children - simply
cannot be a good idea. And with all of its opposition, the fact that the law
was passed at all shows not so much that people approve of this notification
process as that they are too apathetic to investigate it properly.
If they did, they'd note the unacceptable facts: the invasion of privacy;
that women are avoiding adoption because of it; the implication that women,
not men, should be responsible for the possible outcomes of having sex before
going through with it; and the relatively miniscule number birth fathers who
later contest the adoption. They might even uncover the facts that Baby
Jessica's birth father was a convicted rapist, and that men shouldn't be
legally allowed to reverse an adoption, anyway, if it is as disruptive and
harmful for the child as the new law's supporters say.
Of course a birth father has the right to be involved in placing his child in
an adoption. But this is not where the rights begin. First, the birth father
has the right not to sleep around with abandon. He has the right to carefully
choose who to have sex with. He has the right to consider all possible
outcomes of having sex with a woman before going through with it. And
finally, he certainly has the inalienable right to refuse to have sex with a
woman if he cannot be assured she'll become pregnant and decide what to do
about it without him.
Articles of interest or used in compiling information for this column:
ABC News article:
John Stossel article:
Return to the Missing Pieces home page.