Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

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: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/fathersrights020820.html

John Stossel article: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/2020/stossel_gmab020920.html

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