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Adoption as an option? Even that is daunting

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MELONE
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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


My, my. We really are on a mission in this state to destroy adoptions.

We have it in for adoptive parents who fill not just their own needs but those of the state, which can't adequately care for the unwanted children it already has in foster care.

We have it in for birth mothers who made a mistake, picked the wrong guy, but are willing to go through pregnancy if it means their child will have a chance at a good life, a chance they are unable or unwilling to provide.

And we must have it in for the anti-abortion movement.

The governor is now considering a bill that rewrites the state adoption law. The bill is so so screwy that a Tampa lawyer who is vehemently anti-abortion, and has spent her career putting her beliefs into action by doing nothing but adoptions, firmly believes the bill will only encourage more abortions.

Her name is Jeanne Tate. She has met with the governor's staff to try to persuade him to veto the bill.

But she has no idea if he'll do that.

Neither do I.

When I meet up with Jeanne Tate, she is at her desk, across from the pictures of her children, the tiny ceramic alphabet blocks on the ledge above the rose-colored window seat. You see how she comports herself, straight and tall, and how she speaks, clearly, softly, precisely, and you don't doubt her competence or her gentleness. But here she is, pounding her desktop with her fist.

The bill mostly guts the concept of "pre-birth abandonment" that already is law. It states that if a birth father turns his back on the woman, beats her, won't support her during the pregnancy either emotionally or financially, he has effectively given up his rights to the child from the get-go.

Most of that would be gone under the bill.

Under this bill, after a baby is born and placed with his adoptive parents, the birth mother would have three days to take the baby back.

Can you think of any prospective adoptive parents who would willingly open themselves to that agony?

Or this one: Both birth parents would have another two years to reclaim the child if they can prove fraud.

In the father's case, he could also claim the child if the birth mother failed to track him down and tell him she's pregnant and ask for support. Even if he refuses to help her, he still can come back within two years and get that child, according to Tate.

"It encourages the deadbeat dad," Tate says, "to disappear during the pregnancy so you can't provide the notification. It gives him an out so he doesn't have to give that support but can appear after birth."

Grandparents can also sue to adopt, even if that contradicts the birthparents' wishes.

To read about this bill is to conclude that the people who wrote it think women place their babies for adoption with the casualness of a trip to the mall to return a dress that didn't fit.

To read about this bill is to conclude that the people who wrote it think birth fathers are running for sainthood.

"Nine out of 10 times," Tate said, the birth mothers want nothing to do with them. And they certainly don't want the men telling them whether they can place their children for adoption.

And with good reason. "Most of the time," Tate said, "they're drug dealers, they're domestic abusers, they've not been there at all during the pregnancy."

This bill is supposed to give birth fathers their rights. There is another way to make sure they get their rights, but they have to act -- dear me -- responsibly. Tate says 36 other states maintain registries where men who believe they have fathered children and want to keep them can identify themselves and ensure that the children don't go to somebody else.

You'd think the Legislature would pick up on the clue contained in that number, 36.

But what do you want? These guys are clueless.

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