Utah adoption notification bill put on hold after emotional debate
SALT LAKE CITY — Unwed and pregnant, Natalie came from another state to Utah to have her baby and put it up for adoption.
The birth father, she said, was abusive and wanted to her have an abortion. "I don't believe in abortion."
With no job, family or support system at home, Natalie, who didn't want to use her real name, made her way to Utah.
"If I could keep my baby, I would. That's not an option for me. If I don't have support of the father, where do I go?" she told a panel of Utah lawmakers Thursday.
Donna Pope, director of Heart to Heart Adoptions in Sandy, brought Natalie, who is 33 weeks pregnant, to testify against HB308 before the House Human Services Committee.
The bill would require an unmarried pregnant woman to give the biological father written notice, including publishing an ad in a newspaper if necessary, of a pending adoption. He would then have 30 days to assert his parental rights.
"If I were queen of the of world, I would say get married then make babies," said Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, the bill's sponsor.
But, she said, that doesn't always happen and fathers are being "shut out" by birth mothers. "I think there are fathers out there doing everything they can," she said.
Utah law does not require an unmarried mother to notify the biological father of her intent to place the baby for adoption.
Jennifer Graham said her son's girlfriend gave up her baby without his knowledge and that the state's adoption law leads to fraud, coercion and duress. "We are begging the worst of the worst in people to come out," she said.
Proponents of Watkins' bill also say that leads to "forum shopping" by out-of-state pregnant women.
Pope said that is not the case. Women like Natalie, she said, are in difficult situations.
"We do not see women going state to state or women trying to sneak away from the birth fathers," she said. "Birth mothers don't venue shop. That's not what they do. They look for someone who will help them."
HB308 would leave birth mothers in limbo, not knowing what will happen to their child, who could go without an adoptive family and be placed in foster care, she said.
Janice Houston, director of the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics, said out-of-state birth fathers don't often assert their parent rights.
Of 320 pending and completed adoptions last year, 71 of the mothers were from outside Utah and seven birth fathers asserted their rights.
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, wonders if HB308 was necessary given the few cases. "I'm not sure that it's ripe," he said. He also said he's concerned about upsetting the balance that currently exists in the law.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez Houck, D-Salt Lake, said she favored the bill because birth fathers do not have due process in a lot of these situations. Furthermore, she said Utah does not have a "decent" adoption law, which is leading to court challenges.
Watkins' bill comes on the heels of several court rulings, including one made by the Utah Supreme Court last month that a Colorado father was improperly denied a say in his infant daughter's adoption.
In that case, Robert Manzanares' girlfriend moved to Utah where she placed the child for adoption. The court ruled that he was entitled to intervene in the proceeding because he did not know and could not have known that a birth and adoption would take place in Utah.
After nearly more than three hours of discussion over two days, the committee voted 5-3 to hold the bill.
"I think we have some things we can work out," Watkins said. "I'll go along with it."
Hers is not the only bill dealing with birth father's rights. SB55, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, calls for biological fathers to be notified of a potential adoption and gives them 30 days to respond. That bill passed out of committee with bipartisan support and awaits debate on the Senate floor.
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