Utah's adoption laws ensnare poor parents here

Date: 
2004-01-15

MARY MITCHELL
Chicago Sun-Times

Every child has a father. And I don't believe that father should be treated like a mere sperm donor when a mother puts a child up for adoption. But that is precisely what is happening in Utah, a state that has the most aggressive adoption laws in the country.

Each year, hundreds of pregnant women go to Utah to have their babies. They relinquish their rights as mothers, usually without the father's knowledge. Some fathers are trying to fight back.

Utah's strict adoption laws have been challenged by fathers in North Carolina, Alabama and Arizona. Now they may soon be challenged in Illinois.

"I think the reading of the law is too close to the edge for comfort," said Phillip Lowry, a lawyer who specializes in adoptions in Utah. "It opens the adoptive parents to heart-wrenching drama when these natural fathers come out of the woodwork."

After seeing a commercial about The Adoption Center of Choice in Utah, a 23-year-old Chicago woman who suffers from depression decided to place her 7-month-old son with the agency. Eula McNulty became depressed after she gave birth to her son, but she did not seek medical attention because she was overwhelmed by her parental responsibilities, she said. In fact, McNulty felt desperate. And the baby's father was in a Louisiana jail.

"I had gotten so depressed that I cried all the time," she said. "It was stressful. I went to my family and asked them if they could keep him for a while. Everybody said no."

The day after McNulty called The Adoption Center of Choice, she got a visit from a social worker with Lutheran Family Services. Two days later, she got a call from The Adoption Center asking her to come to Utah.

"They assured me that the father would be contacted," McNulty said. "I was afraid to tell him."

Grandmother's door open

McNulty had been romantically involved with the baby's father, Carlos Orr, for six years.Although Orr is in jail, his mother looked out for his child. Since the paternal grandmother in Chicago was already foster mother of two children, her door was always open.

But McNulty didn't tell the grandmother she intended to surrender her baby. And The Adoption Center of Choice did not contact the child's father.

According to Larry Jenkins, the lawyer representing The Adoption Center of Choice, birth fathers do not have to be contacted under certain circumstances.

"It really depends on how old the kids are, what kind of relationship the kids have had, or if the birth mom was married. Fathers don't have to be notified if they never established a relationship with the children," he said.

On Dec. 10, 2003, McNulty flew to Utah using an E-ticket provided by The Adoption Center. One prospective adoptive family backed out, and McNulty was introduced to another on Dec. 12.

"We all went to dinner that night. They had three kids, and I felt comfortable with them," McNulty said. "Basically, he was adopted by the 15th of December."

She was given an envelope with $1,300 in cash and sent back to Chicago. McNulty's remorse started the next day.

"I called Linda [the adoption agency's representative] that night and told her I made a mistake. I shouldn't have made such a decision so quickly," McNulty said. "She basically told me to go to work, get out and go shopping."

And, Jenkins explained, "Under Utah law, once she signs away her rights, it is effective immediately and cannot be revoked."

Caught up in adoption mill

It sounds like non-refundable baby selling to me. The idea that an adoption agency would pay mothers cash for their babies is abhorrent.

McNulty is not the only poor, desperate woman who went to Utah. Another woman who is too ashamed to let her name be used took her young twins and an infant to that state. She was given $1,800 in cash, supposedly to cover her travel and meal expenses. The children's father is fighting to get them back.

I don't know if Utah's adoption law is the latest weapon to be used by women when their relationships break apart. I hope not.

Like hundreds of other babies in that state, too many black children are being caught up in this adoption mill. Obviously, if the fathers had married these mothers in the first place, their parental rights could not be trampled upon.

"Whatever the mother does doesn't affect the father's rights," said a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. "The father has to take legal action to re-establish custody of the child."

But that's the Catch-22, isn't it? Neither the mother nor the father has the money it takes to wage a custody battle against upper-middle-class adoptive families.

McNulty is filled with regret, and Orr and his family intend to get the child back.

"I thought it would help me feel better," she said. "I thought it would make it much better for [the baby]. Half the time now, I don't get out of bed."

Pound Pup Legacy