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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of women posing as birth mothers met with a handful of Utah adoption agencies to hear their pitch on why they should place their child for adoption and how they can keep the birth father from knowing.
"I was dumbfounded when I went in," said one pregnant woman posing as a birth mother from out of state. "The stuff that they were telling me, I really almost couldn't believe it."
KSL News was given audio recordings to listen to after these women met with adoption agencies over the last few weeks.
I was dumbfounded when I went in. The stuff that they were telling me, I really almost couldn't believe it.
–undercover birth mother
Some of the tapes are chilling, giving a behind-closed-doors look at what can happen inside an adoption agency when a birth mother clearly states she wants to cut the birth father out of the adoption process.
In one recording, the adoption agency employee says, "Because Utah's so adoption friendly, a lot of families want to adopt out of Utah."
"OK," the undercover birth mother replies.
"Because if a child is born here and placed here," the employee continues, "Utah law stands."
Some of the adoption agencies interviewed openly tout the benefits of adoption and adoption laws in Utah. Others are a little more explicit.
"You don't have to even identify him," one agency employee told the birth mother. "You don't have to notify him because he's not a legal."
"I had one agency tell me that I didn't have to tell him anything, that I could leave — basically eight months pregnant — from my home, come here, have the baby, and go back and not tell him anything," said one woman, who told the adoption agency that she was from out of state and wanted to place in Utah.
When addressing money, an undercover birth mother had the following conversation with a Utah adoption agency:
Agency: "If you think you're going to place, then ask from us. ...because that would be like he's supporting you."
Birth mother: "OK. And that's one of the things in Utah law?"
Agency: "Yeah. It's one of the things."
"Fathers have zero rights in Utah," she said, "zero."
Most of the agency recordings KSL listened to seem to coach the birth mother on what to do. For example, when addressing money, one agency employee said, "If you think you're going to place, then ask from us. ...because that would be like he's supporting you."
"OK," the birth mother replied, "and that's one of the things in Utah law?"
"Yeah," the employee said. "It's one of the things."
Another agency told the mom exactly what to put in her birth father affidavit.
"He is not supporting me in any way during this pregnancy. Although he would like to be ... although he would like to marry me, rear this child, that's not my choice," the employee told the mother to write. "He doesn't even tell the truth."
Another agency said it would provide the cash to spend.
"Like I said," the employee began, "we do give you the financial. We just give you cash in a little envelope, which is something that's different with us than other agencies. A lot of times they will say, ‘OK, well we will have to pay your rent directly, or we will make your car payment directly.'"
Not all adoption agencies offered money or provided guidance on how to keep the birth father from knowing the baby had been placed for adoption. One agency in particular offered its social worker as a mediator between the birth mother and father so that the two could come to a decision together, whether that was adoption or keeping the child.
I think it's offensive to birth fathers in general. At a minimum, they are entitled to a right to be heard, whether or not that's something they are competent or fit and able to do.
–Wes Hutchins, Utah adoption attorney
"We're glad to see that there's at least one agency out there that is professing and, in fact, following best standards and practices. There's a lot of work to be done," said Wes Hutchins, an adoption attorney who has been criticized for emphasizing what he believes is the lack of legal protection for birth fathers in Utah.
"I think many agencies have taken it too far," he said. "I think it's offensive to birth fathers in general. At a minimum, they are entitled to a right to be heard, whether or not that's something they are competent or fit and able to do. To just chop them off at the knees, brush them under the rug, is not only illegal, it's unconstitutional."
Hutchins stresses some of these agencies should know better simply because the employees interviewed weren't entry-level.
"These were individuals working for these agencies that have been working for them for decades. They had extensive experience," he said.
One woman KSL spoke with said those she interviewed with from the adoption agencies knew what to say without her saying it.
"I didn't want it to sound like I was trying to get them to say something," she said. "I wanted them to treat me like anybody else."