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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's adoption-friendly laws have turned the state anti-birth father, say proponents of legislation to give fathers a stronger voice in what happens with the child.
Adoption advocates counter that the Utah Legislature has over the years carefully balanced the rights of everyone involved in an adoption. Upsetting that, they say, would lead to more women choosing abortions.
State lawmakers debated those contrasting points of view Monday during a House Human Services Committee meeting.
Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, said biological fathers "seem to be sort of disregarded" when an unmarried pregnant woman considers adoption. "One side of the equation has been left out for too long," she said.
To remedy the inequity she sees, Watkins is proposing a bill requiring unmarried pregnant women to notify potential out-of-state birth fathers of their opportunity to assert or preserve their parental rights. It would give the fathers 30 days from the notice to protect their rights.
"Many birth fathers are engaged, committed, loving and willing to step up to the plate and care for their birth children." Hutchins, president of the Utah Adoption Council and chairman of the Utah Adoption Exchange
HB308 would change the procedures unmarried biological fathers must follow to protect their rights regarding children 6 months old or younger. It also allows a birth mother to revoke her adoption consent under limited circumstances, something Utah law currently does not permit.
The committee debated the issue for more than an hour before deciding it needs more information to vote on the bill. Legislators also expressed concern that the measure did not include provisions specifically denying rights to a man who impregnates a woman as the result of rape or incest, though that is made clear elsewhere in Utah code.
The committee intends to take up the discussion again Wednesday.
The proposed changes come on the heels of several court rulings, including one made by the Utah Supreme Court last month that a Colorado father was improperly denied a say in his infant daughter's adoption.
In that case, Robert Manzanares' girlfriend moved to Utah where she placed the child for adoption. The court ruled that he was entitled to intervene in the proceeding because he did not know and could not have known that a birth and adoption would take place in Utah.
Salt Lake adoption attorney Wes Hutchins said Utah's laws invite "forum shopping" among single pregnant women looking a favorable place for an adoption and allow women to hide from out-of-state birth fathers. The state's current laws are confusing and HB308 would bring it in compliance with recent court decisions.
"Many birth fathers are engaged, committed, loving and willing to step up to the plate and care for their birth children," said Hutchins, president of the Utah Adoption Council and chairman of the Utah Adoption Exchange.
Another adoption attorney and adoptive father, Lance Rich, opposes the bill. He said it would create a host of problems, including violating the birth mother's privacy.
"Some birth mothers don't want anyone to know they're pregnant," said Rich, also a member of the Utah Adoption Council. Many mothers, he said, would rather abort a child before disclosing the pregnancy to potential fathers.
Fred Riley, former commissioner of LDS Family Services, said the bill is not needed. Most birth mothers, he said, are not conniving but happy to have the father involved.
Pregnant women come to Utah to take advantage of its adoption laws, not to hide from biological fathers, he said. The state, Riley said, does not need to apologize for its reputation as adoption friendly, noting that 40 percent of pregnancies result from "recreational sex."
Dan Deuel, a Davis County tea party activist, said Utah is nationally known as a "black hole" for father's rights. "I would say that is a black eye for Utah," he said.
Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said there was one thing missing from the discussion.
"What about the best interest of the child?" he said. "I haven't heard the child mentioned once."