ROBBING THE CRADLE
Some fundamentalist-run pregnancy centers are no longer satisfied talking women out of abortion. Now they want the babies
The Village Voice
On April 14, 1991, 19-year-old Lea Tyler lay down in the bathroom of her University of California dorm. She thought she was sick. Forty-five minutes later, sitting in a pool of blood, Lea gave birth to a six-weeks-premature baby girl. At that moment Lea felt totally alone. Her pregnancy had been secret. She had been afraid to tell her parents--her traditionalist mother was away in Japan tending to Lea's ailing grandmother; her father was having problems with work. Lea had gone to the university health center, but was told it offered no prenatal care. She had even kept her secret from her classmates, fearful that in this liberal Northern California town she would be pressured to abort. She feared other counseling services, like Planned Parenthood, might tell her the same thing. Lea was determined to keep her baby. She was planning to marry her longtime boyfriend--and only confidant--Matt Darrah, himself a student at UC San Diego. But he was 500 miles away.
Lea recalls the events of that night through a fog. It was nearly midnight. She gave the baby a bath, she remembers, and took her back to her room. In the morning, she called Matt. She waited until her roommates had gone to class, and then did the only shopping she would ever do for the child. She bought diapers, a pacifier, and baby clothes, and swaddled newborn Michelle. Less than 10 hours after delivery, still bleeding, she made a gruelingall-day train and bus trip to see her boyfriend.
For three days she and Matt huddled, talking and crying, in his San Diego apartment. "My condition didn't improve. Neither of us had any money. We didn't know where to turn," she says. The situation seemed to get worse and worse; they had no idea how to break their secret to anyone. Finally, they made a decision: Lea would call Kathy Huntziker, a counselor referred by the Davis Crisis Pregnancy Center, whose emergency services she'd seen advertised every day in the school paper. Huntziker urged Lea to come back to Davis, where she promised clothing and medical help. Lea left Matt to his studies, got back on the bus, and made the long journey north.
"Kathy met me at the station and my feeling was overwhelming relief. At the moment she seemed the kindest person I ever met," Lea remembers. "Finally, someone who could help me."
But as she abandoned herself to her rescuer, Lea had no idea that Huntziker and the Davis Crisis Pregnancy Center had an agenda of their own. The center is affiliated with the fundamentalist Christian Action Council of Falls Church, Virginia--one of 465 facilities in the CAC's Care Net, whose mission is "presenting the gospel of our Lord to women with crisis pregnancies." There are perhaps 2500 similiar centers in the U.S., operating under a variety of names, some sponsored and advised by such extreme right organizations as the Pearson Foundation and Reverend Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. Many have been criticized for luring women with misleading promises of free pregnancy tests and abortion "information," then using fire-and-brimstone manuals and intense psychological pressure to dissuade women from getting abortions.
Lea's story brings to light a chilling new twist in the saga of these deceptive--but altogether legal--fundamentalist-run pregnancy facilities. A growing number of cases around the country indicate that as young women bring pregnancies to term, they are manipulated into surrendering their babies for adoption to devout, Christian families selected by the centers or affiliated adoption agencies or attorneys. They are often isolated in the protective care of so-called Christian Shepherding families, then guilt-tripped and badgered--by the very people they depend on utterly for support--until they sign papers irrevocably terminating their parental rights.
"If they just called themselves right-to-life adoption agencies instead of pregnancy crisis centers, they'd be a lot closer to the truth," says Annette Baran, a California psychologist whose writings on adoption practices have sparked substantial reforms.
The fundamentalist adoption services often skillfully fast-track the legal process, leaving young women who've made desperate decisions under duress with little recourse if they change their minds. The machinery of these baby-snatching operations seems greased by a bevy of laws that favor adoptive parents over biological parents, by a vigorous demand for so-called "premium" babies, and finally by a class-driven national consensus that seems to reserve greater sympathy for the plight of childless adoptive couples than for the single mother, or the baby caught in the middle.
"Yes, I was naive. Yes, I was stupid. But they took my baby away," says Lea today.
Taking charge of Lea and Michelle after their exhausting return from San Diego, Huntziker drove them to the Davis Crisis Pregnancy Center where she worked as a volunteer. There Lea met Dee Heszler, whom Huntziker introduced as a social worker for the Children's Home Society. "I assumed she worked for the state, that's what it sounded like to me," Lea recounts. "I was excited. Dee and Kathy said they would talk to my family and Matt's. They told me if I signed some papers they handed me, a medical release, Dee would get me and my baby medical care."
Heszler, of the Children's Home Society, had official state Department of Social Services forms. She and Huntziker told Lea she was too weak to take proper care of her child, that she had located a family that would provide temporary foster care and take Michelle to doctor's appointments while Lea got her own medical treatment. That made sense to Lea, who had nowhere to stay but her dorm. She signed the papers. She wasn't alarmed, even when, those first hours in the pregnancy center, Heszler began showing pictures of prospective adoptive families--including the one would take "temporary" care of her child. "I listened politely," Lea says. "But it wasn't really under consideration. I wanted to get married to Matt and raise Michelle. I thought they were just being nice."
Heszler went off with Michelle, presumably first to a hospital, while Huntziker took Lea to get apple juice and soup. Then she drove Lea back to school, warning her not to tell anyone what had happened just yet. For days, Lea stayed in bed. She felt sick, cried uncontrollably, and couldn't eat. In an affidavit submitted as part of Lea's eventual lawsuit, a psychiatrist specializing in adolescent pregnancy described her as suffering during that time not only from postpartum depression, but from post-traumatic stress syndrome. As if that weren't enough, Lea says, for the next 10 days the staff of the Davis center conducted a campaign of intense psychological warfare. "Kathy and Dee started calling me and talking to me about adoption," Lea recalls. "They started saying things to me, like how could I possibly be so selfish as to want to parent my baby alone when the baby was born in sin." They eventually sent a doctor to see Lea, but the doctor also worked for the center.
"I was trying to hold my ground, but I was a wreck," Lea says. Even if Lea had thought of seeking other help, there was a huge obstacle--the center was, it seemed to her, holding Michelle hostage. She saw her daughter three times, but only when the center's volunteers permitted it. "The only way to get back to my baby was through them," Lea recalls. She says Heszler and Huntziker told her that if she would just meet with the proposed adoptive parents, hear them out, the center would pay to fly Matt up to see her. Most important, Lea says, she was told her obligation ended there. After the meeting she could say no to the whole deal and Michelle would be returned.
Two and a half weeks after the traumatic birth, Matt, Lea, and the adoptive couple chosen by Heszler--whose Children's Home Society is actually a licensed private adoption service--sat down to talk. After the adoptive mother reportedly asked Lea if it would be okay to change the baby's name, Lea stormed out of the meeting. Huntziker got her on the phone and wheedled at length. Lea and Matt reluctantly consented to another meeting with the prospective parents, which took place two days later. "It was just horrible," Lea says, her voice cracking. "Kathy told me then that she was an adoptive mother, how great that was, how people like her could provide so much better.
"Then they left us alone with the adoptive couple in a small room for an hour and a half. These people started begging us. The husband got down on his hands and knees, crying, putting his hand on my knee, saying please, please. We just lost it then," Lea says. "We didn't know what to do. It's not that we said yes. We just stopped saying no." (The adopters deny this account.)
The affidavit prepared by Lea's psychiatrist says Matt and Lea were subjected to tactics "commonly referred to as brainwashing. They were separated from their baby, their control with the child was tightly controlled and very limited. They were repeatedly and persistently undermined...accused, and made to feel guilty and ashamed. All the while, relinquishing their child was held out to them as their sole opportunity to do the 'right thing."'
Lea and Matt came back to the pregnancy center the next day. Lea was allowed to hold Michelle for a few minutes, to say goodbye. Then, having had no legal assistance or psychological counseling, without anyone's having informed their parents, Matt and Lea signed away their baby to the permanent custody of the Children's Home Society, which has the authority to make the final placement.
In the weeks that followed, Lea's depression deepened. On July 23, she called Heszler to say she wanted Michelle back. "She said I signed an irrevocable document and if I pushed things I would just ruin everybody's lives." In September, Lea finally confessed to her parents--whose outrage at the adoption proceedings outweighed their distress over her pregnancy. They hired a lawyer, and in October Lea filed suit to recover her child. She took a leave from school. She and Matt married in 1992, and soon had a second child. Their case wound through the courts. Last year, when Michelle was three, a judge ruled against the Darrahs. The judge wrote that the adoption process, which in California requires a multistep counseling and consent procedure, was indeed violated. But, the judge concluded, this noncompliance was "of limited relevance." The center had not intentionally deceived Lea. Procedural errors or no, her relinquishment was still voluntary.
"That's an absurd ruling," says Leslie Sebastian, special projects coordinator for San Diego Planned Parenthood, which has supported Lea Darrah in her quest to recover Michelle. "If we assume that proper counseling is a prerequisite for informed consent, than how can you possibly say that one's consent is voluntary if that counseling has been absent?"
Lea and Matt are currently appealing their case. By now, even some of their supporters fear that a return to her birth parents might do the young Michelle more emotional harm than good; but Lea and Matt insist they will push on. For her part, Marie Sheahan Brown, director of the Davis Crisis Pregnancy Center, claims that Lea wanted an adoption from the outset and that the center and the Children's Home Society simply complied with her wishes. "Adoption is not one of our priorities, it's a very small part of our ministry," Brown says, even though court records show that Michelle's adoption was at least the sixth one that Heszler and Huntziker had collaborated on.
"Following the example and commandments of Jesus Christ," Brown continues, "our mission is to herald the sanctity of all human life, to love and serve parents of the unborn, and to provide spiritually and materially for families in need. Our mission is really to provide for the women. Lea needs to know we deeply care about her."
It is difficult to estimate even roughly the number of adoptions that are originating from the country's crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). The secrecy surrounding many births that lead to adoptions is one factor. But record keeping for CPCs is further hindered by adoption law, which in many states--like California--does not require an organization to secure a license as an adoption agency unless it takes physical custody of the child. In short, many CPCs can broker adoptions freely, with no regulation. "Their actual functioning falls just short of being an agency required to have a license," testified Barbara Gosset, then in charge of adoption licensing for the State of California, in a deposition for a case involving a CPC.
Judy Brown, legal counsel for Care Net, the network of CPCs affiliated with the Christian Action Council, says about 2000 adoptions a year have been arranged through Care Net centers. With as many as 2500 fundamentalist centers operating in the country, there could be 10,000 or more CPC-arranged adoptions per year in the United States. One licensed social worker and antiabortion activist, a former volunteer at a Northern California pregnancy crisis center affiliated with the Christian Action Council, reports seeing "two to six proposed adoptions per month coming out of what I call this mindset prison, this gross manipulation. The adoptive parents turned out to be born-again Christians, usually financial donors to the center itself."
How many such adoptions are initiated under the duress that marked Lea Darrah's case can't be known. What is clear is that the incidence of such allegations is on the rise. Carol Anderson, president of Concerned United Birthparents, notes "a significant increase of contacts recently from people exploited by these Christian fundamentalist groups."
Some prochoice activists allege there is an underground, organized Christian adoption ring, beyond Care Net, that funnels babies out of states like California and New York into smaller states where birth parents' rights are extremely limited. In her deposition, California's Gosset described a similar strategy: "It seems as if these quasi-agencies place children in a different state from that of their birth mother in order to make it more difficult for the birth mother to change her mind later," she said.
"In California, adoption can take up to 180 days to finalize," says adoption expert Baran. "But not so in places like Texas and Tennessee. That's why these evangelical groups try to get your baby out of state as soon as possible. They know exactly what they are doing. They have their wholeout-of-state network primed and ready to go."
Allegations of abusive adoption practice resulting from "counseling" at Christian-run CPC's turn up across the United States: At least 11 legal actions alleging coercion in adoptions out of CPCs have been filed in the state of California alone. And a reporter for Ms. magazine found four complaints charging fraudulent adoptions filed against one Los Angelesarea lawyer who sits on the board of and works with a CPC.
In central Oregon, a birth mother claims a Care Net CPC's staff cajoled and deceived her into giving up her child, born in 1992. "They picked up on my vulnerability and my compassionate nature," she wrote in an informal plea to a judge. "And the Crisis Pregnancy Center who was supposed to be representing me and not the adoptive couple began taking on the project of helping this couple find a baby and I guess it was mine...I felt obligated because of the Crisis Pregnancy Center's efforts to help me (unqualified as they were) and then they remarked to me how much everyone had been 'praying for me 24 hours a day--so I should give them the baby and it must be God's will.'...The Crisis Pregnancy Center violated a personal trust with me, an absolute betrayal--set me up then accepted a substantial 'donation' from the Adoptive Family--and left me alone to 'cope."' A Brooklyn woman reports that a Kentucky crisis pregnancy center persuaded her daughter to take up residence in a "home," isolate herself from her family, and give up her baby for adoption. The mother called the CPC and was told she had no right to talk to her daughter, that she was clearly a "bad" mother, that anyone who lived in Brooklyn was obviously poor and inept. The mother contacted her daughter and succeeded in extricating her from the home--where she had been given no medical treatment for a raging fallopian infection that eventually made a D&C necessary. CBS News managed to sneak undercover cameras into this same Kentucky CPC, where the pregnancy "counseling" consisted of emotional praying for the life of the unborn.
Three of the worst cases, however, stem from a single, now defunct facility in Southern California, San Diego Pregnancy Services (SDPS)--yet another member of Care Net. A host of witnesses and victims, as well as a paper trail left by litigation against SDPS, leave the clear impression that the San Diego center not only was established in the first place, at least in part, to provide human fodder for adoption, but that it functioned very much like the stealth "ring" that prochoice activists allege some CPCs participate in.
It was in January 1987 that two separate Christian facilities--North County Pregnancy Services (NCPS) and the San Diego Community Crisis Pregnancy Center--decided to merge into one: San Diego Pregnancy Services. Minutes from an NCPS board meeting that month state that NCPS director Arthur Ellison "presented the basic goals and plans of the (new) corporation as a reminder for the entire board. He reported that we were continuing to make progress on securing a maternity home...that plans for an adoption agency were proceeding well...that opening up an adoption agency would be a profitable venture for them, in that it should be able to fund itself, since they receive birth mothers from four different (crisis pregnancy) centers."
Soon after SDPS opened its doors, so did the Heart to Heart Adoption Agency. But Heart to Heart had no separate office; it operated at first from inside SDPS. And Heart to Heart's director, Bonnie Jo "B.J." Williams, was not only the former "director of pregnancy services" for NCPS, but also a founder and board member of SDPS.
In its second year of operation, in January 1989, SDPS made a cosmetic shift in its intimate relationship with Heart to Heart. SDPS officers had learned that guidelines laid down by the Christian Action Council, to which it wished to remain affiliated, actually prohibit an adoption agency from operating on the same site as a Care Net CPC. In a letter to the council, SDPS director Arthur Ellison asked for a short-term waiver that would give SDPS time to move Heart to Heart off the premises. SDPS, he wrote, was committed to creating a "distinct and independent" adoption agency with a separate board of directors and its own offices. To help create this appearance, Ellison and Williams said they would resign from the SDPS board. But the connection would not change: "When this agency exists, San Diego Pregnancy Services will then be in a place where we can refer clients to the new agency as other CPC ministries do," Ellison wrote.
This cynical game suited the Christian Action Council just fine. It took seven months before it resolved the matter. "We are willing to allow you until October 1, 1989 to start a new set of books and change corporations," a council official wrote to SDPS. "We are excited about your ministry to women and we will be in touch (with B.J. Williams) at some point to talk to her about the manner in which you have been presenting adoption."
However "exciting" the ministry, it certainly wasn't Care Net's stated goal of "practical assistance" to women in crisis that was at the top of the SDPS agenda. Federal income tax returns from 1990, for example, show that SDPS has a budget of some $236,000, of which only 1 per cent--less than $2500--was actually spent on "Support Services--Infant and Maternal Needs." Nearly $9000 was spent on phones. Almost $100,000 went to salaries. The year before, $30,000 of SDPS funds had been used as seed money for the unlicensed Heart to Heart adoption agency--a sum a dozen times greater than the allocation for "Infant and Maternal Needs."
But B.J. Williams, who refused to answer requests for interviews for this article, had been more than earning her $31,000 SDPS salary aggressively harvesting young souls for the people of God. In February 1989, Delina Villa, enlisted in the Navy and a born-again Christian, was referred to SDPS by her church. Already in her seventh month of pregnancy, Villa, like Lea, hoped SDPS would help her break the upsetting news to her parents. "Counseling" sessions were set up with B.J. Williams. "She started showing me folders of adoptive families right away," Villa says from her new home in Hawaii. "And they were all just such perfect families. This made me feel ungodly. B.J. told me how all these other people were virgins at marriage, and I thought, 'Oh my God."'
Williams gave Villa two booklets to read: "Looking At Adoption: Basic Decision-Making" and "Looking At Adoption: My Baby and Me." The first led her to believe that the mother would be much better off if she chose adoption. The other pamphlet quotes scripture to show how much better off the baby will be. One passage simply equates children with pain: "In keeping a child there is joy at first. But the pain of raising a child follows. Think of your parents and the pain they have experienced raising you. This will give you some idea of the pain involved. It doesn't matter how good a parent you are, there will stillbe moments of pain...As children approach the teenage years, the pain will increase."
But the pain Villa felt was the guilt inflicted on her by Williams, who kept pressing for adoption. At one point a Navy chaplain-who outranked Villa and was, unbeknownst to her, on the center's board--was brought in to counsel her that giving up the child was the only way to break the "cycle of sin" the baby was conceived in. Before entering the hospital for birth in April 1989, Villa signed a stack of papers that she thought were "just background." Five days after a C-section, while still convalescing in the hospital, and without any independent counseling, Villa signed an affidavit of relinquishment, turning her child over to a Christian family in Texas. "But even in the hospital I was saying no, no, I don't want this," Villa recalls. "But B.J. said what are we going to do, you've now involved so many people, you can't let them down."
The papers Villa signed were irrevocable for 60 days--more than enough time for the adoptive couple to return to Texas and terminate her parental rights. Villa was able to get her baby back after 11 months--but only because extraordinary legal assistance uncovered sloppiness by the new parents, who missed adoption paperwork deadlines in Texas.
Barely six weeks after Villa's baby was born, B.J. Williams was bundling off the child of another woman who had come to SDPS for help. She convinced Raphina De Los Angeles, who could neither read nor write in English, to put her child up for adoption. Immediately after the birth, De Los Angeles expressed her desire to an interpreter to stop the adoption. Four days later, an emotional meeting was held at SDPS as De Los Angeles repeatedly asked Williams to return her child. Williams said she would, but didn't. De Los Angeles was told by SDPS and the attorney used to draft the papers that if she got her baby back, she would have to reimburse medical and hospital expenses, an impossibility for her. Again, quick legal intervention saved the day.
"I can tell you that what happened to Raphina was no mistake," says Connie Rivera-Sick, who volunteered at SDPS and translated for De Los Angeles. "B.J. was not being very straight, not letting De LosAngeles know her rights. B.J. was playing God."
It's too bad for Krista Stoner, now 25, that Rivera-Sick didn't pick up the phone the day she called SDPS in July 1988. Two months pregnant, a teenager who lived away from home and had a history of drug abuse, Stoner was channeled to SDPS by her solidly upper-middle-class mother. After her third "counseling" session, Stoner was given the "Baby And Me" booklet by B.J. Williams. "B.J. was hounding me," Stoner says in an interview in San Diego. "She told me my baby could be deformed, that I couldn't be a good mom, that I'd be tied down and so on."
After five or six visits to SDPS and after breaking up with the baby's father (with whom she now lives), Stoner accepted an offer from Williams to enter a so-called shepherding or "host" home, where a volunteer Christian couple would look out for her and care for her in her final months of pregnancy. The Mesas, an ex-policeman and his wife, were to be Stoner's shepherds. Indeed, they helped her sign up for welfare and Medicaid, and counseled her about her spiritual life. They even let her visit her boyfriend. In doing so, they apparently deviated from the dictates of a long, detailed host family manual written by none other than SDPS founder Arthur Ellison. Put simply, the role of the host family was to buffer the pregnant woman from the real world. Her only contact was to be with the pregnancy center. The hosts themselves were to have no autonomy, lest they interrupt the single-minded message to be inculcated in the woman's psyche.
In a section entitled "Pitfalls to Avoid," the host family training manual warns:
"The pitfall of independent counseling. The biggest problem we encounter with Host Home families is when they begin to act INDEPENDENTLY OF THE (CRISIS PREGNANCY) CENTER in counseling and directing the woman.
"Please understand that it is imperative that the professionals (at the center) play the major role in the development of her vocational plans, the mending of her family relationships, and helping her set goals regarding her future. To do this we ask that you not interfere in or contradict the counsel she is receiving from our staff.
"The pitfall of interfering with the girl's family. During her stay in your home we must ask that you do not initiate conversations with the woman's family, friends, or boyfriend concerning her condition, progress or future plans. If her familycontacts you, please refer their calls to the Center."
"The host family worked with B.J. like a well-trained infield," Stoner says. "They'd take care of me okay, but every move I made, everything I told them in confidence was reported back to B.J." Under constant pressure from Williams and her hosts, Stoner for the first time began to consider adoption, but only consider it.
Stoner went into labor in January 1989. The host mother called Williams, and then her hosts drove her not to the hospital but to the offices of San Diego Pregnancy Services. With Stoner's contractions mounting, Williams showed her pictures of prospective adoptive families. "She pulled out three files of families," Stoner says. "The first two families had kids already. A third family, the Looney family in Tennessee, had none. Their name caught my eye." Court records would later show that Williams kept Stoner, while in labor, for more than four hours inside the offices of SDPS, as she persuaded her to adopt out. "I looked at the picture of the Looneys again," Stoner says, "and I said if that's what it's going to take to get me out of here, then okay, okay, let's go."
The next morning, baby Elizabeth was born. Shortly before delivery--and after she had received three doses of painkilling Demerol, or synthetic morphine--Stoner signed a paper for Williams that allowed the prospective new parents, the Looneys, to remove the baby from the hospital. Stoner says she thought she was signing medical authorization forms. The Looneys, who'd been phoned by B.J. Williams, had arrived from Memphis. By the time Stoner was released from the hospital, only hours later, Elizabeth was already in Tennessee. No proper adoption papers were ever signed. Nor were the proper steps followed to remove the baby from California. But that didn't keep the Looneys from appearing before the lenient Tennessee judiciary and securing the legal termination of Stoner's parental rights.
Stoner demanded Elizabeth back, but got nowhere. Williams abandoned her. Her initial lawyer bungled the case and months went by with no action. Finally, one year ago, after a 13-day trial for damages against SDPS and B.J. Williams, a civil jury found that Stoner's baby was taken from her with "intentional fraud and/or deception" and $650,000 in damages was awarded (later cut to $300,000).
In the course of the trial a tidbit surfaced that seemed to say it all about the adoption practices of CPCs. It was disclosed that the adoptive mother, Jennie Osborne Looney, was listed after the adoption as a member of the board of directors of Williams's Heart to Heart Adoption Services.
Williams faced no criminal prosecution for her fraudulent adoption practices, although both the local D.A. and the FBI were informed of her activities by Stoner's family and supporters. Stoner has not received a penny from the judgment, as SDPS closed its doors and Williams initiated personal bankruptcy proceedings. Heart to Heart has also shut down. "B.J. is not dissuaded by anything," says Stoner's attorney, Bill Brown. "During her trial my office was getting calls from worried people saying they were currently involved with her, having babies she said she was going to place."
The suit Stoner won was only for damages. A separate legal action would be necessary to recover her child. Elizabeth is now more than five years old, and it would be difficult to convince any court it would be in her best interest to be sent back to her biological mother.
Increasingly, conflicts over adoptions like Elizabeth's and Michelle's are ending in defeat for birth mothers. And current adoption practices and laws Leave a fertile field to be worked by the Christian-run bogus clinics. After 20 years of reform, adoption has become an ever more open, less secretive process. But at the same time the rights of birth parents have been steadily whittled down.
In the 1970s, thanks to legalized abortion and eased divorce laws, the bottom fell out of the once abundant adoption market. Where once 90 per cent of pregnant single mothers chose adoption, today an equal number do not. The resulting scarcity of "blue ribbon" or "premium" babies--that is to say newborn, white, or light-skinned infants of the sort preferred by yearning, childless, sometimes affluent couples-has driven up the price to as much as $50,000 for the right child. "It's worse than it's ever been," says psychotherapist Baran, who has just completed the entry on adoption for the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. "It's a market economy for babies. Some services now offer a money-back guarantee. For the first time since the Depression, Americans are buying babies from poor, married couples in Appalachia. Or the moment some European country enters into upheaval, the baby brokers show up."
At the same time, America has redefined adoption as a service primarily for infertile couples rather than one for abandoned or needy children. The combined lobbying power of adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, and prospective parents has brought forth a slew of new legislation, at the national and state levels, that further limits the possibilities for a birth mother who changes her mind. In California, for example, the newest adoption measure reduces the window of opportunity for reversing adoption from six months to four. But even that's in the best of cases, as a number of options exist that effectively shrink the birth mother's reversal window to a few days. "Amazing how in our society we take such care to not separate a puppy, a dog, from its mother for six weeks, 10 weeks, or more," says Trish Macilear, of Southern California's Concerned United Birth Parents. "But with a human adoption that child can be and often is taken right away."
Right away is no exaggeration. When licensed adoption agencies are involved, as they were in Lea Darrah's case and some other CPC-generated adoptions, the stripping of parental rights can be lightning fast. These agencies are authorized to conduct most and sometimes all of the preliminary counseling required for adoption--and, since most states assume they actually do the work they are charged with, a signed relinquishment of a child to them is usually considered final. Nevertheless, some state-licensed adoption agencies, like Michigan's mammoth and respected Bethany Christian Services, work hand in glove with the fundamentalist CPCs. Bethany has even set up vendor tables at the national convention of the Christian Action Council's Care Net CPCs. (Bethany's pamphlets, like "A Loving Choice," don't flinch from using some of the same scare tactics used by the bogus clinics, warning pregnant mothers that the children of single parents are "likely to have lower I.Q. scores...more physical and psychological problems and...(are) more likely...to receive welfare or become divorced.")
Solutions to the sort of abuse encountered by Lea Darrah, Delina Villa, Raphina De Los Angeles, Krista Stoner, and countless others at the hands of some zealous CPCs and unscrupulous agencies and attorneys reside in stiffer government regulation of adoption, more closely supervised and truly independent counseling of birth parents, and the shutdown of unlicensed adoption-brokering operations of the sort run by crisis pregnancy centers.
"Unfortunately, I can see none of that on the horizon," says Planned Parenthood's Leslie Sebastian, who has emerged as a leading crusader against the CPCs. "The problem is that the courts, the legislators, society in general see the birth mother as some sort of lower form of life. It's just assumed that anyone who has given up their baby has done so because they are ignorant, diseased, or doped, and generally not worthy of being a parent in any case. What they mostly are is poor, at least poorer than the adoptive family. And they just don't have the money or legal help to fight back. And until we can turn this around, until we can level out the playing field and counter the resources marshaled by the adoptive parents, then very little is going to change."
Planned Parenthood and other prochoice groups keep the heat on the crisis pregnancy centers. They challenge the centers' advertising and phone hot line practices, winning small and not so small legal battles, sometimes forcing more honest disclosure. But for the nation's bogus clinics, it's still business as usual.
"We are prolife," says Care Net's Judy Brown, insisting the cases engendered by B.J. Williams are not typical. "The only two alternatives to abortion are parenting and adoption. It's our responsibility to talk about both. If a client is not interested, we don't push it. If she is, we refer her to an agency or attorney."
Which is, theoretically, exactly what SDPS did and the Davis CPC does.
"In our CPCs there are adoption materials available for the client," Brown adds. "There are brochures explaining what adoption is." These are brochures like the ones given to Lea Darrah and Krista Stoner detailing the "pain" of parenting.
Meanwhile, the offices of San Diego Pregnancy Services, the ones where Stoner, Villa and De Los Angeles were "counseled" into adoption, have been shut. But Anna Liza Galura, who, as SDPS's final director, had the task of closing down the center in the wake of Stoner's lawsuit, has resurfaced as director of the Pregnancy Care Center in nearby El Cajon. When asked if the new center is really SDPS operating under a different name, Galura refers my inquiries to Karen Mitchell, an attorney and board member of the new center. Says Mitchell: "There's no link between us and the SDPS. It's an entirely different board of directors, a completely separate organization."
"Our policy is not to be involved in adoptions," Mitchell adds. "We only give referrals to an agency or attorney. We have a list that people can call."
Just like the San Diego Pregnancy Services. Just like the Davis Crisis Pregnancy Center.
On a recent summer evening, Krista Stoner sat with her new baby, Charles, on the floor of her parents' spacious hillside home in northern San Diego County. There were still some nagging doubts in the room--should the family have made a last- ditch attempt to recover Elizabeth, hoping against hope that a court might not find the five-year-old too old to return home? The odds were certainly stacked against such a gambit. In any case, the speculation was moot. The Stoners already owe more than $160,000 in legal fees. How could they pay for a new round of litigation? "There just isn't any more money left," says Stoner's mother, Sharon. "As it is we are about to lose our house to pay off the lawyers. We tried to recoup some of that money by selling the movie rights to Krista's story. Some producers were real interested but eventually they all said no. They told us that if Krista had gotten the baby back then we would have had a deal, that they want upbeat stories that make the audience feel good. But unfortunately for us, our story has no happy ending."