Stossel on Fla. 'Scarlet Letter' Law

Sept. 20, 2002 -- Do you want to adopt a child? Thousands of couples want to, and thousands have been waiting, hoping, for years. Now Florida legislators have passed a law they say will make adoptions more "secure." Sounds good, but lawmakers have shown us time and again that their pursuit of perfection often makes things worse.

Critics say this new law will likely lead to FEWER adoptions, more abortions, and to children being raised by parents who admit they're not ready for parenthood.

Take the case of Melissa Colleran. Colleran is an unemployed 18-year-old who's barely able to pay the rent on her Tampa home. She said she doesn't think she's "emotionally or financially ready to take care of a child." Unfortunately, she's seven months pregnant.

Colleran said she doesn't know who the father is, only that he was a stranger she met in a bar. "It was a one-night stand, something that just happened, maybe it shouldn't have happened, but it happened," Colleran said.

She decided she wanted to put the baby up for adoption, but the new law makes that harder. Florida legislators decreed that before an adoption can take place, birth mothers who don't know who or where the biological father is must advertise in newspapers to try to find him. Colleran would have to list the name of every possible father, and her name.

Colleran said she'd have to disclose "basically everything about my sexual history, within the time that I conceived. And I think this is disgusting, it makes me feel very ashamed."

So, Colleran has decided not to place one of the ads. "It is something that should be between me and the person I shared it with, not me, the person I shared it with, the guy down the block, and the guy who is reading the newspaper across from me on a bus," Colleran said.

More Shame, Fewer Adoptions?

Colleran says she plans to keep her baby and try to raise him as a single mom. "I was going to place the baby for adoption, and when I heard about this law, just thinking about people seeing my name and all these things in the paper, I decided not to," she said.

Other women are opting to have abortions.

"How far do we have to go to find the birth father that's a one-night stand in a bar?" asked adoption lawyer Jeanne Tate.

Tate says Florida's new law means fewer children are being adopted. "I see it in my practice. I see girls who are choosing abortion over adoption," she said.

So why require these ads? Because of horror stories like that of "Baby Jessica." She was the little girl taken from the only home she'd known when her biological father suddenly appeared saying, he hadn't know he had a child and that no one had tried to find him.

But will ads help? They may satisfy the state's requirements, but lawyers who talked to ABCNEWS didn't know of any father who'd responded to one. The ads sure do humiliate mothers, and they seem to make it harder for women who want give up their children.

"This isn't making it harder. This is making it final and secure," according to Deborah Marks, who helped write Florida's new law. Marks said the law would prevent biological fathers from disrupting adoptions.

Marks acknowledged that this doesn't happen often. She said she didn't have a statistic on how many fathers had disrupted adoptions, "but it happens sometimes."

Do we need a humiliating law because of something that rarely occurs? Marks thinks we do. "If we could stop even one of those cases from happening by doing some due process up front, it would be a benefit," she said.

The law doesn't apply only to young women like Melissa Colleran. It also applies to underage girls and to women who have been raped.

"There is no exception for rape. … You cannot just allow someone to say they were raped and use that as an excuse not to provide a name," Marks said.

Marks said she doesn't think lawyers can solve every problem by passing more laws. According to Marks, "It was already the law that you had to find birth fathers. … What this law did was lay out specifics of what people had to do."

Great. Humiliating specifics that discourage adoption, encourage abortion, and lead women like Melissa Colleran to keep babies they fear they're not prepared to care for.

Give me a break!

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