A law in the state of Utah that allows mothers to put their babies up for adoption without the biological father’s consent, is soon to be brought under the radar as a dozen men are suing the state under federal court in order to change it. The civil rights lawsuit claims the Utah Adoption Act has resulted in what amounts to “legalized fraud and kidnapping.”
Wes Hutchins, the attorney for the men says they have nothing against adoption. Being the former president of the Utah Adoption Council and currently serving as president of the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices, Hutchins says he is pro-adoption but it has to be done ethically, legally and constitutionally. More importantly the adoption has to be done with the legal consent of both biological parents.
Says one of the plaintiffs Nikolas Thurnwald, “Well, I thought I was going to have a son. We were together all the way up until the last couple of days before the birth.”
Nikolas called his girlfriend, “to see if she maybe wanted to go to the movies, and her co-worker answered the phone at the department store that she was working at and basically let me know that she was in the hospital having our baby.”
He immediately called the hospital. “They patched me through to her … and I asked her if she was giving our son up for adoption. And she said, ‘Kinda.’ I said ‘there is no kinda, what are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ And she says, ‘Look I gotta go.’ I dropped to my knees, dropped my phone that I was holding and just started crying. A grown man on a construction site crying his eyes out.”
Nikolas drove to the hospital only to be told that his girlfriend was not a patient. When he explained that he had just spoken to her, the hospital staff sternly asked him to leave before they called the police.
After 10 years and more than $30,000 in legal fees, the father lost his bid to gain custody.
Court filings in the civil rights suit charge that the law has prompted many young women to move to Utah so that they can give birth and give the baby for adoption.
The chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court warned of just such a scenario in a 2009 case about a biological father losing his bid.
“Utah risks becoming a magnet for those seeking to unfairly cut off opportunities for biological fathers to assert their rights to connection with their children … not every unmarried biological father is indifferent to or unworthy of such connections.”
Plaintiff, and Army veteran Christopher Carlton recalls his story. He says in 2010 his girlfriend told him that their son had died at birth. When she refused to tell him where the baby was buried, Christopher sued to find out. The Pennsylvania mom admitted she had given birth in Utah before giving the baby for adoption. It was only a year later that the father actually found that he had a daughter and not a son now living with an adopted family.
The civil rights lawsuit seeks not only monetary damages for the fathers, but also a finding that the Utah Adoption Act is unconstitutional. According to news reports the Utah attorney general’s office and former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow are named as defendants in the suit, along with several other unnamed state officials.
Missy Larson, spokeswoman for current Attorney General Sean Reyes, who is not named in the suit said he would not make any official statement while the case was in court but she did point that an attorney’s job was to uphold the law as it is written. She added the Utah solicitor general had previously reviewed the Utah Adoption Act and found no constitutional conflict, and the law is again being reviewed internally at this time.
Hutchins responded, “If you look at the attorney general’s website they are charged with protecting children from child abuse. The ultimate form of child abuse is to take a child away from a biological family that loves and cares for them.”
The suit also alleges that some adoption agencies train the mother to keep the adoption a secret from the father. Fox News reports that they have evidence like secretly recorded phone conversations between adoption representatives and a woman posing as the sister of someone who wants to give her baby up.
In one instance a female caller from an adoption agency says,
“Utah has the best adoption laws because you don’t have to say who the father is. Even if the father doesn’t sign the papers, you can still put the baby up for adoption.”
In another, the undercover woman asks, “Do I have to tell him I gave the baby up for adoption? Could I just say we had a really bad accident?” The adoption representative responds, “You don’t have to tell him anything.”
Another plaintiff William Bolden said he was able to briefly hold his son in the hospital. But soon he found that his girlfriend had given the child up to LDS Family Services, an adoption agency run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He said, “I wanted her to send me pictures and she told me her phone was broken so she couldn’t send me pictures. A couple of weeks passed and I knew she had already placed him with somebody else.”
Although he said he wanted his son’s custody to the LDS Family services, he lost his son.
He believes the adoption agency coached his girlfriend. “I believe they told her the things she needed to do to make it happen as far as not accepting money from me, keeping me away from the birth and not giving me pictures, all that other stuff. Just keeping me in the dark about what was going on.”
Hutchins believes some adoption agencies and representatives are influenced by the church’s Handbook 2, Policies on Moral Issues. It states, “When the probability of a successful marriage is unlikely due to age or other circumstances, the unmarried parents should be counseled to work with LDS Family Services to place the child for adoption.”
In a statement to Fox News, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said: “The desire of the Church is for children to be raised in an environment that is best for their physical and spiritual growth. LDS Family Services has, for many years, helped with placing children in homes where a mother and father teach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Utah’s laws regarding adoption are made and upheld by the state’s governing bodies.”
Bolden’s individual lawsuit to gain custody of his biological son, who will be 3 in March, remains undecided in the Utah Supreme Court.
“I love my son and I will fight for him until I have no money. Until there is no chance for me to get him back, I will be fighting,” he said.
Both his son and Nicholas’s were adopted out by LDS Family Services.
The lawyer adds the time taken for the individual lawsuit often goes in the favor of the adoption agencies.
“They rely on the fact that they can tie these children up in litigation long enough that they will form a bond with the adoptive parents.”
By the time the father wins custody, he is already a stranger in the eyes of the child, who might need years of therapy to accept him.
“There’s a lot of people that know that this is not only unethical, immoral, but it’s downright wrong,” Thurnwald said. He said Utah’s adoption system treats unwed fathers “like they’re scum — like they don’t have rights at all as far as having a relationship with their children. He added, “I know I could have done well for my son.”