In a Victory for Privacy, Florida Court Strikes Tell-All Adoption Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 23, 2003 12:00 am

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WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Finding the Sexual History Newspaper Notice provision of Florida’s adoption law a wholesale violation of a woman’s right to privacy, a state appeals court today struck down the law.

“”We are gratified that the court recognized this provision for what it is: a 21st century reenactment of the Scarlet Letter,”” said Mariann Meier Wang, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “”Women who decide to place their children for adoption should not be subject to public humiliation and harassment,”” she added.

At issue was a provision of Florida’s adoption law that required a mother to make public her sexual history if she wished to place her child with a private adoption agency but did not know the identity or whereabouts of the father.

The law required the woman to take out an ad once a week for four weeks in a newspaper in every city where conception may have occurred. The ad was to include her name and physical description; her child’s name and age; the names and physical descriptions, if known, of everyone with whom she had sexual relations during the year preceding the child’s birth; the cities in which conception may have occurred; and the dates on which it may have occurred. The Florida Attorney General’s office declined to defend the provision.

The court held that “”the offending provisions substantially interfere with both a woman’s independence in choosing adoption . . . and with [her] right not to disclose the intimate personal information that is required when the father is unknown. We deem the invasion of both of these interests so patent in this instance as to not require our analysis.””

“”The court struck down the insensitive actions of a legislature that did not find a problem in exposing the personal lives of women to public scrutiny,”” said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “”Today’s decision makes clear that Florida lawmakers should not interfere with people’s private lives.””

The court today also declined to consider the merits of a paternity registry, a less invasive and more effective means of protecting the rights of fathers that the ACLU had proposed. As used in other states, such a registry allows putative fathers to officially record their interest in their children without violating the privacy rights of mothers, children, or the men who may or may not be the father.

The case was brought on behalf of four mothers seeking to place their children with private adoption agencies without publishing detailed private information about their sexual histories. In July, a lower court allowed the provision to stand except in those cases where women became pregnant as a result of forcible rape.

The national ACLU and its Florida affiliate argued and submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

The case is G.P., C.M., C.H., L.H. v. State of Florida, No. 4D02-3410. Lawyers for the ACLU brief include Wang and Diana Kasdan of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Emily Martin of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project; Marshall of the ACLU of Florida; and Philip L. Graham Jr., James Andrew Kent, Michael A. Cheah, and Kathrine M. Mortensen.

The ACLU brief is available online at: /node/35063

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