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THE NATION

Florida Court Strikes Down Adoption Posting Law

The measure required mothers choosing to give children up for adoption to publicize personal information in newspaper ads.

April 24, 2003|From Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida court on Wednesday struck down a law that required mothers who wanted to give a child up for adoption to publicize their sexual histories in newspaper ads.

The state's lawyers had refused to defend the law, which was heavily criticized because it required mothers, including rape victims and underage girls, to widely publish potentially embarrassing information. Adoption advocates said the law even encouraged abortions.

The Florida 4th District Court of Appeal said the law violated privacy rights and diminished a woman's ability to choose adoption.

The court found "the offending provisions substantially interfere with both a woman's independence in choosing adoption ... and with the right not to disclose the intimate personal information that is required when the father is unknown."

"We deem the invasion of both of these interests so patent in this instance as to not require our analysis," it added.

The court also said the state failed to show how the rights of the father or the state could outweigh the privacy rights of the mother and child "in not being identified in such a personal, intimate and intrusive manner."

"It subjected women to public humiliation and harassment for no benefit," said Mariann Wang, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

"We are gratified that the court recognized this provision for what it is: a 21st century reenactment of the 'Scarlet Letter.' "

The law required a mother who wanted to put her child up for adoption to take out newspaper advertisements listing her name, age and description, and the descriptions of any men who could have been the father. The ads had to run once a week for a month in any city where the child was believed to be conceived.

The law prohibited anyone from opposing an adoption after two years. When lawmakers signed off on the bill two years ago, they cited the three-year fight over Baby Emily, whose father, a convicted rapist, contested her adoption. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that Emily's adoptive parents should keep her, but it told lawmakers to set a deadline for challenging adoptions.

Six women and the American Civil Liberties Union had asked the court to strike down the law, saying it was holding up many of the 5,000 to 7,000 adoptions conducted in Florida every year.

"A lot of women's lives and children's lives have been on hold for all this time, so it's a wonderful thing that women's rights have finally been vindicated and protected," Wang said.

Democratic state Sen. Walter Campbell, who sponsored the bill, has said the law had unintended consequences. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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