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ADVOCATES HAIL BABY EMILY RULING

Published: Friday, July 21 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

Children's advocates praised the Florida Supreme Court's decision that keeps the little girl known as Baby Emily with her adoptive parents.

Unmarried men who fail to give emotional support to women pregnant with their children forfeit any right to challenge adoptions, the court said Thursday in a 5-2 decision."It will send a message, I think, to other courts," said Mary Beth Style, with the National Council for Adoption in Washington, D.C.

Baby Emily's adoptive mother, Angel Welsh, said the decision was a rebirth. "We gave birth today to a 30-pound, 391/2 inch, almost 3-year-old," she said. "We're very thankful."

Steven Pesso, the lawyer representing biological father Gary Bjorklund, said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "It's an improper decision," Pesso said. "It's a decision that cannot hold."

But if it does, Baby Emily will grow up with her adoptive parents, in contrast to the outcomes of the nationally publicized cases of Baby Jessica and Baby Richard.

The biological fathers of all three children, born to unwed women who put them up for adoption, went to court to fight for their babies.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the biological father of Baby Jessica, as did the Illinois Supreme Court for the biological father of Baby Richard. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review either case.

Stephen and Angel Welsh adopted Baby Emily shortly after she was born in August 1992.

In Thursday's majority opinion, Florida's high court said the case record "reveals that (Bjorklund) showed little to no interest in the birth mother or the unborn child."

Bjorklund and Emily's biological mother, Linda Benco of Boca Raton, had lived together during the first part of her pregnancy but broke up before the baby was born.

Bjorklund, a painter with a 1977 rape conviction, claimed the baby was given up for adoption without his consent. He went to court to claim custody.

A trial judge first ruled that Bjorklund had not abandoned his daughter by the way he treated Benco. The court later reversed itself and found that Bjorklund had financially and emotionally abandoned Benco and, therefore, the child she carried.

Bjorklund appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal. It first found that Bjorklund had not abandoned the baby but later reversed itself in a 6-5 ruling that said he had abandoned the baby both financially and emotionally during Benco's pregnancy.

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