Utah lawmakers target adoption fraud
Wednesday , February 27, 2013 - 2:20 PM
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are set to discuss a measure aimed at preventing adoption fraud.
The bill will be addressed during a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday afternoon. It would grant the state authority to pull or suspend an adoption agency’s license if it provides fraudulent information about an adoption.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said the bill would help cut down on the practice of women coming to Utah to give babies up for adoption without the birth father’s consent.
The measure also directs courts to place birth parents’ rights above that of adoptive parents.
At a Feb. 19 hearing on the bill, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, criticized the proposed change.
“The best interest of the child now takes a backseat to the due process rights of the father,” Urquhart said.
But Robles defended the measure, saying, “This is about serious disregard for the truth,” adding, “this is about going for those entities that clearly know they’re lying.”
Under current Utah law, fraud is not a basis to undo an adoption.
The proposal comes on the heels of a recent ruling from the Utah Supreme Court, in which it pulled a 2-year-old girl from the home she had been raised in since birth and gave custody to her birth father, Terry Achane of South Carolina. The Supreme Court was upholding a ruling from a lower court that determined that Utah-based Adoption Center of Choice ignored the claims of Achane’s parental rights.
Achane has said his ex-wife, Tira Bland, traveled from their Texas home while he was away on military service and arranged to give birth in Utah. Earlier this month, the toddler’s adoptive parents, Jared and Kristi Frei of the Provo-area, withdrew their final appeal, putting an end to a wrenching two-year long legal battle.
This case and several other high-profile custody showdowns playing out in Utah courts have put the spotlight on Utah’s adoption system, which appears to have become a magnet for women and adoptive parents seeking quick adoptions.
In November, the Utah Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Florida man whose girlfriend came to Utah to give a baby up for adoption without his consent. The ruling opened the door for Ramsey Shaud to fight to get custody of a 2-year-old daughter he’s never met back from her adoptive parents.
Wes Hutchins, an adoption attorney and former president of the Utah Adoption Council, said Utah adoption agencies coach pregnant women from other states to come to Utah to cut birth fathers out of the picture and help keep those fathers in the dark. Hutchins resigned from the council last year because of his concerns that the group ignores unethical practices of some adoption agencies and has failed to treat birth fathers fairly.
Associated Press writer Annie Knox contributed to this report.