When a couple seeking to adopt a white baby is charged $35,000 and a couple seeking a black baby is charged $4,000, the image that comes to the Rev. Ken Hutcherson's mind is of a practice that was outlawed in America nearly 150 years ago — the buying and selling of human beings.
The practice, which is widespread among private adoption facilitators, of charging prospective parents different fees depending on the race or ethnicity of the child they adopt is one that Hutcherson is fighting to change from his Redmond, Wash., church. The Antioch Bible Church has established its own adoption agency, and is lobbying state legislators to change Washington's laws.
"I've got championship Rottweilers. I sell them by supply and demand," Hutcherson said. "I raise thoroughbred racehorses. I sell them by supply and demand. I'm not going to let people sell children by supply and demand. What's the difference between that and slavery?"
The campaign to change the law is directed at Washington state legislators, but Hutcherson said he would prefer to see the federal government step in and create one set of regulations governing adoption, rather than leaving the issue to the states to decide.
Current Washington law bans payments to a birth mother for placing a child for adoption, but does not address payments for arranging an adoption or the fees that may be charged.
"I think it's an issue that Americans have not looked at closely enough, because if they had, things wouldn't be the way they are," he said.
He hopes to get attention around Washington with a billboard campaign as soon as he can raise the $70,000 to $80,000 he needs. The billboards will feature a white baby, a latino baby and a black baby and next to each, the fees some adoption facilitators might charge for them: $35,000, $10,000 and $4,000.
He said that besides putting a price on children, the practice discriminates against white babies and people who seek to adopt them — an issue he said has been overlooked because white people, particularly those who can afford the high adoption fees charged, are not used to considering themselves victims of discrimination.
"I know about discrimination," said Hutcherson, who is black. "I don't care who it's against, it's wrong. Tell me that if it was black babies that cost $50,000 and white babies that cost $4,000, people would be screaming their heads off."
Disparity in Fees
Some adoption professionals said the reason for the difference in cost for adopting white babies as opposed to babies of other races or ethnicities is that there are fewer white infants available and there is more demand for them.
"Often the justification may be that children of some ethnic groups are more difficult to place," said Gregory Franklin, an attorney who said that 90 percent of his business is providing legal representation for people involved in the adoption process.
"Obviously, any time that somebody brings up the word discrimination, everybody's going to take notice and draw attention to the issue, whether or not there's an issue there," said Sean Lance, the director of American Adoptions, which has a fee structure that results in prospective parents paying more to adopt white babies than to adopt black babies. "It's not set up as discriminatory. The difference is in the cost of the process — living expenses, medical expenses. Our agency fee for all adoptions are identical."