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Russia's ban on adoptions by Americans holds firm

By David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 19 2014 1:21 p.m. MST

Garrett Boehm, a Chicago attorney who has been a leader of the families' lobbying efforts, remains passionate in his criticism of the ban, but he and his wife have initiated efforts to adopt a child from Poland in hopes of providing a sibling for Aleksander, a 7-year-old son they adopted from Russia in 2007.

They had hoped to adopt a Russian orphan named Anna who has just turned 2, but the ban thwarted their plans, and they are unsure whether the girl remains in her Siberian orphanage.

"My son asks, 'When is Anna coming home?'" Boehm said. "We're faced with how to answer that, and it's not a very satisfactory answer. He asks, 'Why did I get to leave and she can't?'"

Gerson, the New York rabbi, hasn't ruled out trying to adopt from somewhere other than Russia, but she finds it hard to cut emotional ties with the little girl she met in St. Petersburg in December 2012 — a trip she embarked on even as the proposed ban was moving through Russia's parliament.

Gerson, who is single and of Russian descent, said the girl, whom she planned to call Olivia, was 18 months old.

"When she came into the room at the baby home with a caretaker, I pulled a toy out of my bag, and she climbed into my lap and never left," Gerson recalled. "I knew from that moment that she was my daughter."

After spending mornings and afternoons with the girl for three more days, Gerson flew back from Moscow to New York on Dec 28. On arrival, she learned that Putin had signed the ban.

In May, Gerson received a letter from Russia advising that the pending adoption had been officially vacated.

"I was told we were no longer connected," Gerson said. "It was as if I disappeared into thin air."

Gerson, 39, is among the Americans who filed appeals with the European Court of Human Rights. Most of the appellants, including Gerson, said the children they sought to adopt suffer from serious medical conditions, and would benefit from specialized care in the U.S. that might be unavailable to them in Russian orphanages.

Yet Gerson acknowledges that the case may be a legal long-shot. As to how it might end, she said, "We have no idea."

When she last checked, Olivia was still in the baby home in St. Petersburg, yet the rabbi knows a placement with a Russian adoptive family could come at any time.

"She deserves a loving, permanent home," Gerson said. "If it can't be with me, it should be in a household, not an orphanage, though I'd grieve ... she'll be lost to me forever.

"What's hard is not knowing," Gerson added.

The adoption ban was intended in part as retaliation for a U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russians deemed to be human rights violators.

However, Russian authorities used debate on the bill to complain about mistreatment and lack of post-adoption oversight affecting Russian children adopted by Americans, including the high-profile 2010 case where an exasperated Tennessee mother sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Moscow on a plane alone. The bill was named after 21-month-old Dima Yakovlev, one of about 20 Russian adoptees who have died from abuse, neglect or other causes while in the care of their American parents.

Adoption advocates in the U.S. express regret for those deaths. Yet they contend that the vast majority of the 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans over the past two decades — including many with physical or emotional disabilities — have found loving homes and a high standard of care.

While the Obama administration has been relatively quiet about the ban in recent months, some members of Congress continue to speak out.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is the father of a 9-year-old boy adopted from Russia in 2006, and has met with both U.S. and Russian diplomats to make a case against the ban.

Blunt said he was particularly angry that Russia, with tens of thousands of orphans in need of families to raise them, had worked so quickly to find Russian homes for the children who had been in line to be adopted by Americans.

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