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No more Scarlet Letter!
April 25, 2003 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Is this your fetus? Are you the one I slept with? Remember when we discussed this before? Florida has now been forced by 4 plaintiffs and the ACLU to repeal the so-called Scarlet Letter law that forces women who are pregnant and giving children up for adoption to take out an ad local papers once a week for 4 weeks, stating her name and her sexual history in the last year, to let men know if they *might* be the father. Here is the ACLU legal brief. The details about the decision are in the first link. Thank god for the ACLU.
posted by aacheson (46 comments total)

 
The ironic thing is that people who support this are probably all pro-lifers, dispite the fact that this kind of thing would probably increase abortion.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 AM on April 25, 2003


Delmoi... Huh? How would forcing a pregnant woman to publish not only her name and the fact that she's considering an abortion, but also intimate details of her personal life lead to an increase in abortion?
posted by JollyWanker at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2003


JollyWanker: you only have to post the information if you're giving your child up for adoption. You can still have an abortion with total anonymity.
posted by hammurderer at 12:01 PM on April 25, 2003


barbaric invasion of womens privacy loses another weapon. Fantastic.

Thank god for the ACLU.

though i don't believe in god, Amen to the sentiment.
posted by th3ph17 at 12:07 PM on April 25, 2003


The goal was to find the father of babies being put up for adoption and stave off potential custody battles that can break up adoptive families.

The law prohibited anyone from opposing an adoption after two years.
'

It was trying to prevent the tragic custody battles that have been the focus of so much media attention in the last decade or so. The notice provisions were there to protect the due process rights of the "father" before cutting off his parental rights, which you can't do without somehow trying to protect his due process rights. A public notice provision is really the only way to do that.

I wonder if the TV networks filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs.
posted by probablysteve at 12:12 PM on April 25, 2003


So if the "father" finds out after the child has been adopted, does he get the opportunity to claim custody rights to the child?
posted by Witty at 12:14 PM on April 25, 2003


ACK!
posted by Witty at 12:15 PM on April 25, 2003


So if the "father" finds out after the child has been adopted, does he get the opportunity to claim custody rights to the child?

He would have had the choice of exercising his parental rights or signing them away, thereby avoiding a custody battle.

As the law stands, without the father's consent to the adoption, the fathers rights are not terminated. He can choose to exercise them at any time in the future. Generally, it's when the couple gets back together that they decide to exercise the father's remaining rights and the ugliness begins. Baby Richard would be a good example of this.
posted by probablysteve at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2003


When my sister gave a baby up for adoption just over 5 years ago, she had to go to the biological father and have him sign away his parental rights. This strikes me as being a fairly reasonable thing to do. Instead of publishing the information, have either the woman (or the woman's representative if she feels that she can't do it herself) go to the father and have the papers signed.

I've always thought that this was intended more to punish promiscuous women. Otherwise why should they have to publish a year's worth of sexual history? I could sleep with someone once in January, then sleep with someone else in June and get knocked up then, and decide to give the baby up for adoption in December--why should I have to disclose an encounter which absolutely did not cause the pregnancy?

I wonder, of the thousands of adoptions that happen each year, how many "tragic custody battles" there really are. My feeling (meaning that I'm not going to go look up stats on this) is that they're fairly rare, which is why they're such big news. Much like the shark attack and child kidnapping media frenzies of the last few years.
posted by eilatan at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2003


The rule was for cases where the father can't be found for one reason or another to sign away his rights.

I'm not saying this is the "right" way to terminate such a missing father's parental rights. I'm just saying it's the only way to do it (if that is what you want) under the Constitution.

The compromise registry program cited at the end of the article probably won't pass Consitutional muster. Property rights are generally given greater due process (i.e., public notices) before they are terminated. And I would suspect the S.Court would give greater deference to parental rights.
posted by probablysteve at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2003


(Duh. Sorry, it's been a long week.)
posted by JollyWanker at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2003


This raises an interesting question:

1.) Mother decides to give child up for adoption.
2.) Biological father finds out and decides to raise child.
3.) Is the mother required to pay child support? (reverse the situation, and the father probably would have to.)

If the mother has to pay, there is now a financial incentive for her to make sure that the true father never finds out about the child.
posted by jsonic at 12:50 PM on April 25, 2003


I find it amusing that people will have no qualms having irresponsible sex, but object so strongly to having to own up to their own decisions. That bothers me, and I'm not even a Bible thumper.
posted by paddy at 1:01 PM on April 25, 2003


The CNN article cited doesn't convey very much of the complexity of this whole situation, but the first sentence caught my attention:

The Fourth District Court of Appeal on Wednesday struck down the law, which the state's lawyers had refused to defend.

Granted, the notification provision of this law probably doesn't deserve much defending (in my opinion), but wouldn't it be the state's lawyers' job to defend a law passed by the legislature (leaving it to the courts to decide on the law's legality)?

This brings to mind conversations I've had with my friend the criminal defense lawyer. She points out that while many of her clients deserve the convictions they get, they still have a right to a fair defense, to make sure they get due process in getting that judgment.
posted by tippiedog at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2003


Jsonic: Abortion will always be the more financially reasonable option. Babies cost money. Even the choice of giving the child up for adoption brings the cost (and I do mean real dollar cost, taking in more calories, working less hours, etc) of 9 months of pregnancy, with all the inconvenience that it brings.

People usually chose adoption over abortion for moral and ethical reasons, and do so in spite of the financial burden. I imagine they will continue to do so.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:10 PM on April 25, 2003


Technically, aacheson has misrepresented what happened. A law can only be "repealed" by the legislature that passed it. In this case, the state appeals court determined that the law was unconstitutional, reversing a trial court decision, and thereby striking down the law -- an authority not available to the lower court. Although the ACLU and plaintiffs are to applauded for pressing the point, the court noted explicitly in the decision {PDF}: The Attorney General of Florida has intentionally failed to file a contesting brief and neither the attorney general nor the Palm Beach County State Attorney appeared at the hearing below. In other words, although the legislature passed the law, and governor you-know-who signed it, the attorney general (who is elected separately, though a Republican) could find no reasonable defense under the Florida Constitution for the objections raised in the appeal (an interesting political choice), and the court noted that it clearly violated both the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution (which though not explicit on the point is considered the basis of modern federal privacy rights) and explicit privacy provisions of the state constitution.

People may recall from certain prior events that the Florida Supreme Court remains Democrat-heavy. At this point the state, represented by the AG, could presumably choose to appeal the decision to that level, but it's clear they are unlikely to do so.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on April 25, 2003


delmoi: The sponsor of the bill was Democratic state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell. As near as I can tell, he isn't exactly conservative on most social issues. Perhaps it is not safe to assume "that people who support this are probably all pro-lifers..."

paddy: There is a difference between owning up to one's sexual history and publishing an article in the paper describing one's sexual history. It is a matter of privacy. I see no reason why I should have to own up to my sexual history to total strangers any more than I should have to tell those total strangers what I ate for lunch, whether I had a martini with dinner, when I last had a blood test, or when I last went to the toilet, for that matter. It is, frankly none of anyone's business. I have no qualms about telling somebody I am dating all about my sexual history, as it might impact their decision about whether to date me or not. Should I be legally compelled to tell some newspaper reading teenagers in Tallahassee about my sexual history? I think not.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2003


I find it amusing that people will have no qualms having irresponsible sex, but object so strongly to having to own up to their own decisions.

Complete drivel. You have no clue as to the circumstances behind the pregnancies of any of these women, but don't mind stereotyping them all and making assumptions (just as these misguided lawmakers did). And feel free to explain how a law that discourages adoption would encourage owning up to their responsibilities, or how carrying a child for nine months and going through an adoption process isn't a potentially responsible course of action.

As a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, I can only echo aacheson and say thank you, ACLU....and cheers that at least the state appeals court (and Florida Supreme Court) still have some sense about them.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:22 PM on April 25, 2003


leotrotsky: In case my comment was vague, I was stating that a mother has a financial incentive to hide her child from the father when giving it up for adoption. I was not saying abortion was the issue, but as you point out, there is a financial incentive for that as well.

People usually chose adoption over abortion for moral and ethical reasons, and do so in spite of the financial burden. I imagine they will continue to do so.

Thats what I was saying. The mother chooses adoption but is possibly financially motivated due to child support fears to make sure the father never finds out that the child exists.
posted by jsonic at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2003


Let's face it -the ACLU is a mixed bag. I guess you take the good with the bad....
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2003


This law looks like it was a good-intentioned attempt to ensure that adoptive parents would not face custody lawsuits from biological fathers not involved in the adoptions. I doubt very seriously whether this law was some kind of evil consevative plot to embarrass pregnant women. The legislature will just have to try to figure out another way to balance the rights of the adoptive parents and the rights of the biological father.
posted by Durwood at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2003


paddy: There is a difference between owning up to one's sexual history and publishing an article in the paper describing one's sexual history.

These are women who either don't know who the father is or don't wish to disclose who he is. They dug their own hole.
posted by uftheory at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2003


Paddy: I find it amusing that people will have no qualms having irresponsible sex, but object so strongly to having to own up to their own decisions. That bothers me, and I'm not even a Bible thumper.

I have to agree that women who are raped and become pregnant should be forced to publish the details of their rape in newspaper advertisements. That'll teach them not to be so irresponsible. Makes perfect sense to me.

Not.
posted by alms at 2:21 PM on April 25, 2003


They dug their own hole.

Expose the harlots! Public flogging! It's the only language they understand!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2003


they dug their own hole? no one seems to be pointing out the obvious here. if you are the father of a child and you can't be found by the child's mother through means more intimate than a public address, you're probably not the best person to raise that woman's child.
posted by twentynine at 2:32 PM on April 25, 2003


uftheory,

what about victims of rape? They most likely don't know who the father is but it isn't a sign of their irresponsibility on their part. Even, if you argue that this is the rarest of circumstances that will happen there's still enough irresponsibility to go around. If the guy was responsible he'd know that he was going to have a child.

The guy might also be abusive, in which case the right thing to do is keep him as far as possible away from his progeny.
posted by substrate at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2003


Of course, publication of one's sexual history in the local paper is apt, in some localities, to lead to some censure and/or shunning.

Not to mention possible internecine warfare amongst paternal candidates. What if the child is interracial? In some halcyon hamlets this could cause other problems for both birthparents.

I grew up (adopted) in a small Midwestern town where the local daily newspaper was OK, but no one EVER missed a copy of the "County Legal News." The birthfather's rights to have some say in the future of his child, as well as the rights of the adopting parents to raise their child without a shadow of possible future recrimination, are both important.

I just think that this particular law would benefit by going back to the smithy for re-smelting.

And, in the case of incest or rape, this law is just plain cruel (not to mention, unusual.)
posted by Dunvegan at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2003


They dug their own hole. by uftheory

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume you're a man...because no woman who has ever been faced with the potential of rape could think like that.

So, I take it that you've kept your dick in your pants your whole life? Ever known anyone who was raped? I guess it was her fault, huh? How about one of the girls in the case, a child who was molested by her stepfather....that little slut...she must have been asking for it!

You know what sparky, if you've never taken your dick out to get it wet in the fountain of love...do the female section of the world a favor and keep it that way.

Asshat.
posted by dejah420 at 2:53 PM on April 25, 2003


The law would conceivably only apply when said mother doesn't know who fathered the child, meaning she doesn't know his name and/or how to get in contact with him. She is only to provide a description in place of the name she doesn't know, and only needs to describe more than one sexual partner if those sexual partners were all active partners when she became pregnant and she doesn't know any of their names. It does NOT require her to list her sexual partners since the time she lost her virginity, nor does it require that the sexual act be described, for fuck's sake.

Hey, foldy, how ya doin? You carry an ACLU card? I'm shocked.

I suppose it doesn't matter to any of you that the fathers, who are nameless and unreachable by the mothers, are not aware that they have children in this world who are about to be legally adopted without their consent, approval, or knowledge? If the man is found and wants to be a part of his child's life, doesn't he have that right? And if he's an unfit father, the court can decide that when he asks for custody. To assume that every man who wasn't told he's the father of a child is either a rapist, irresponsible, or abusive is just as bad or worse than assuming that any pregnant woman who doesn't know the name of the father is an irresponsible slut.
posted by David Dark at 3:28 PM on April 25, 2003


I think the law is trying to deal with a basic biological fact: that women have two different prerogatives in reproduction. The first is, by some determination, to get the "best" sperm donor for her offspring. The second, to get the best possible partner "support" for her offspring.
Often, two very mutually exclusive goals.
The winner in this case is the "sperm donor" male, who gets no responsibility for the children he fathers. The loser is the "support" male who is just wanted for his money, and may not even get sex privileges.
Marriage used to be the way for "support" males to get what they pay for; but eventually the law will have to even things up.
The law vs. biology. Who will win?
posted by kablam at 3:46 PM on April 25, 2003


"I suppose it doesn't matter to any of you that the fathers, who are nameless and unreachable by the mothers, are not aware that they have children in this world who are about to be legally adopted without their consent, approval, or knowledge?"

Fathers do matter...as so says my post. But this particular law is poorly designed. It does not serve the birthfather ver well, nor does it protect the other important parties involved: the birthmother and the child. Oh...and the families of the birthfather if he is a married man.

Even in these "enlightened" times, publishing a child's questionable pedigree could possibly cause harm years later.{"Small Town Syndrome"}

Let's say the birthmother publishes the exploits of her multiple sex partners. if everyone knows this fact, the child may now face parochial ostracism at school-age due to his provenience and origin. This piece of legislation just plain needs to go back to the drawing board.

Perhaps the best way to handle this little problem situation is to simply register (over the Internet or by phone) anytime a woman has sex with a man. [/handmaiden's tale]
posted by Dunvegan at 4:24 PM on April 25, 2003


Does the fetus statue have an m16 like the lords defender of freedom?
posted by Iax at 4:49 PM on April 25, 2003


dejah420 & substrate,
Do you 2 flame artists honestly think that they would make a girl who was impregnated by a rapist put an ad in the paper looking to inform the father/rapist of his child's adoption?
posted by uftheory at 6:14 PM on April 25, 2003


Actually, uftheory, that is exactly one of the problems with the law. It makes no distinctions for a rape victims or a minors . Dejah420 and Substrate must have assumed you knew this. I think this point is covered in the FPP.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:41 PM on April 25, 2003


Kablam: Huh? Are we talking about the same post?

We're talking adoption here, not child support sought by a cuckold-ing spouse/partner for children not fathered by the child support-providing cuckoldee. Entirely different topic.

We are talking about women who might easily obtain an abortion but instead, likely due to personal convictions, has decided to make a difficult, altrustic decision to give a childless couple the child they had always hoped for. Chances are the father isn't in the picture because he doesn't want to be. What this law is aimed at are the glaring exceptions to that scenario.

Not to be cold, but let's look at the cost/benefit: thousands of woman forced to air their dirty laundry to the community they live in, which may have adverse consequences (as noted by other posters), for the benefit of 50, maybe 100 guys decent enough to step up to the plate.

You may not realize this, but a woman who might otherwise put that child up for adoption would likely have an abortion instead rather than face humilation and ostracization when neighbors find out that she was having sex with multiple partners. Florida is part of "The South" and many communities are rigidly conservative. Imagine the mindfuck of having an abortion that you didn't really want to have because the consequences of of disclosure were so severe. As a woman, that scenario is enough to give me nightmares.
posted by echolalia67 at 6:44 PM on April 25, 2003


I suppose it doesn't matter to any of you that the fathers, who are nameless and unreachable by the mothers, are not aware that they have children in this world who are about to be legally adopted without their consent, approval, or knowledge? If the man is found and wants to be a part of his child's life, doesn't he have that right?

My apologies, but I honestly have minimal sympathy for guys who didn't take the minimal effort to stay in the loop to begin with.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:14 PM on April 25, 2003


Good for you.

Regardless of anyone's personal prejudices against those nasty bastards who knock up sweet innocent girls and then run away (because it couldn't have happened any other way), fathers have rights, too. Fortunately, your sympathy is not required.
posted by David Dark at 8:12 PM on April 25, 2003


I suppose that I should feel bad that I've been called a flame artist by a misogynist.
posted by substrate at 8:20 PM on April 25, 2003


echolalia67: actually, what you said is the flip side to my argument when you factor in the biggest rationale the state legislature had for passing the (stupid) law: not morality, but *money*. (Sure, they might pretend it's morality, and yes, under any circumstance the law was poorly conceived, but the bottom line is almost always money.)

States see children as financial liabilities for 18 years, and coldly calculate how they can make someone *else* pay for their upbringing for that entire time.

Abortion is cheapest as a one shot. If it wasn't such a hot button, the states would really coerce single mothers to have abortions.

Parental assignment costs next to least, adoption somewhat more, foster care a lot, and orphanages are so expensive that they are almost never used.

So, you are correct. They *are* encoraging women to get abortions instead of adopting out their unwanted children.
posted by kablam at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2003


So what's the problem?

Yep, fathers do have rights. However, if you're not supporting the child in any way, then your rights are forfeit, AFAIC. If you're so hard to find that your partner has to put a friggin' advertisement in a paper to notify you of the impending adoption, I don't think it's even up to you at that point.

As an aside, I've seen a lot of folks preach about adoption as an alternative to abortion, but the legal horror stories involved in adoption have frightened people to the point where adoption is not that viable an option (even if you are a cute little white baby.) That doesn't encourage abortion; it just discourages adoption. There are other, more unspeakable options if you can't deal with pro-lifers heaping guilt on you for an abortion and Bible-beaters heaping abuse on you for being an unwed mother trying to get your child adopted - abandonment, shaking, "accidents" - and those options are being used more and more now. Strangely, you don't see those options being listed on either the pro-life or pro-choice agendas...

This legislation doesn't need to go back to the drawing board - it needs to be disposed of, quickly and cleanly. It's bad law, drawn up by misguided folks for the wrong reasons.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:49 PM on April 25, 2003


wow, uftheory....not only are you a misogynist...but you're illiterate and ignorant too? What a catch you must be... Gee punkin, was reading the fpp links too much for your widdle brain?
posted by dejah420 at 7:48 AM on April 26, 2003


From the article:
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 told lawmakers to set a deadline for challenging adoptions.
posted by kayjay at 9:26 AM on April 26, 2003


Just a small legal quibble here: unless Flordia courts operate under different procedures than Federal courts, the law has not really been "struck down" except in whatever part of Florida that particular Appeals court has jurisdiction over. Generally only Supreme Courts can authoritatively declare a statute to be unconsitutional throughout an entire state (or the entire US in the case of SCOTUS)
posted by boltman at 9:55 AM on April 26, 2003


However, if you're not supporting the child in any way, then your rights are forfeit, AFAIC.

That is such bullshit I don't know where to begin. "The mother didn't inform you of the child, therefore you didn't support the child, therefore you forfeited all rights to the child. You have no one to blame but yourself." Good one.

If you're so hard to find that your partner has to put a friggin' advertisement in a paper to notify you of the impending adoption, I don't think it's even up to you at that point.

You really don't understand what the issue is here, do you?
posted by David Dark at 12:50 AM on April 27, 2003


Thirty years of "dating" and it seems to me that the fellas who don't stay in touch long enough to find out whether you're pregnant deserve to be cut out of the loop. If there's something about this issue I don't understand, I'm not sure what it is.
posted by sheauga at 4:08 AM on April 30, 2003


sheauga, I think what some people are arguing is that the woman could cut off communication, too, leaving the father with no way to know he's a father: grab the sperm & run, so to speak. DOubt it happens all that often, considering the woman is the one automatically saddled with the enormous responsibility of the child and can generally use all the help she can get. It seems unlikely she'd cut herself off from the father unless he were abusive.
posted by mdn at 5:11 AM on April 30, 2003


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