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Rolly: Did the ghost of Eagle Forum kill adoption bill again?

Published March 14, 2014 5:27 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I wrote last year that a bill making it easier for adopted children and their birth parents to have each other's contact information was dead on arrival in the Utah House because Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka opposed it.

I also pointed out that the House Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously against giving the bill a favorable recommendation after Ruzicka testified that it would encourage mothers to get abortions rather than opt for adoption.

And I pointed out that Ruzicka's information presented to the committee was false, based on a number of studies and statistical analyses indicating that the number of abortions went down in states where adopted children had easier access to their birth parents.

So despite lengthy and emotional testimony in favor of the bill from mothers who had placed their children for adoption and professionals in the adoption industry, Ruzicka's words killed the bill.

That spawned a backlash from folks who saw the bill as a positive step forward and who saw their legislators more interested in pleasing the all-powerful Ruzicka than doing the right thing.

So this year, when Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, brought back his bill in the form of HB256 and was armed with statistics and studies showing that easier access actually reduced the number of abortions, Ruzicka was nowhere to be seen.

Yet, her presence was felt. She didn't need to testify against the bill. She didn't even need to show up at the committee hearings. Those legislators still abiding by her wishes managed to kill the bill based, at least partially, on the premise she proffered last year that turned out to be false.

Simply put, the bill would just shift the focus from a presumption of secrecy to a presumption of openness.

Currently, if a birth mother wants the adoption to be open, she fills out paperwork to make that happen. Under Nielson's bill, the adoption would be presumed to be open in terms of access to the adopted child unless the mother filled out paperwork directing it be closed.

Advocates for the bill included mothers who gave up children years ago and now want those children to be able to find them, social workers and adoption specialists, and adopted children who not only want to contact their birth mother, but want to research their family medical histories.

Opponents of the bill? Well, a nod and a wink was sufficient.

Without Ruzicka's presence, the House committee listened to the positive testimony and passed out the bill with a favorable recommendation, 6-1. It easily passed the House, but then went over to the Senate, where it was assigned, curiously, to the Transportation, Public Utilities and Technology Committee.

When it finally got a hearing, Ruzicka again didn't show up, but Laura Bunker of United Families International was there.

Committee Chairman Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, presided over the first two bills on the agenda, then said he had to leave. That left just two committee members at the hearing and Van Tassell turned the gavel over to Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, a longtime trusted foot-soldier for the Utah Eagle Forum.

Dayton told Nielson to make it quick, so he gave his presentation the best he could. She then said there was no time for public comment. Instead, she asked for a show of hands in support of the bill and many hands went up. The one hand shown in opposition was that of Bunker, whose organization has much in common with Ruzicka's.

The bill ended up without a vote and presumably failed. When the Senate Republican caucus was asked to send it to the floor on the last day of the session anyway, the motion failed, leaving those passionate backers of the bill heartbroken once again. —