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Utah governor signs bill giving fathers new rights in adoption cases

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed off on a partial fix to the state's controversial adoption law, in a bid to close a loophole allowing women from other states to give birth and put their babies up for adoption in Utah -- without the knowledge or consent of the biological father.  

The bill, Adoption Act Amendments, was sponsored by Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler. He told Fox News: "It sends a strong message that Utah respects fathers' rights and will not allow its laws to be used to perpetuate fraudulent adoptions." 

The bill would require a biological mother to live in Utah for at least 90 days or file information with the court about the birth father. The court then may order the mother to notify the father, before she can put her baby up for adoption. 

Attorney Wes Hutchins, who is representing more than 30 fathers in a federal civil rights suit, called the law a "great first step," but said "we still have some major problems and major loopholes to close."

Hutchins, also president of the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices (UCEAP), points out even with the new legal changes, a pregnant woman could still go to Utah, sign an affidavit claiming she has been there for 90 days and not have to give notice to the birth father. If it's later shown her affidavit was untruthful, then a controversial statute known as fraud immunity still protects the adoption. 

"You can sue for monetary damages, but you can't get your child back, so that's the main problem," Hutchins said.

Two other recent efforts in the state legislature to address adoption problems and information sharing, such as putting an end to fraud immunity and establishing a compact between states, failed.

"You know we're schizophrenic in this country about fathers. On the one hand, we say no to deadbeat dads. 'They gotta step up, they gotta care for their kids.' And on the other hand, we say 'Oh, they're sperm donors. Let's cut them out, we don't even have to include them and they're not going to be in the process,'" adoption expert Adam Pertman said.

Fox News recently traveled to an adoption conference in Utah. Birth mom and adoption activist Tamra Hyde said: "Utah adoptions are being made to look bad when really this is just a tiny, tiny percentage that has gone wrong." She stressed the priority has to be children. "It may not be a perfect law, but it is a good law and it serves more people than it hurts. It serves many, many more people than it hurts," she said.   

Hyde raised concerns that if mothers have to get permission from fathers to carry out adoptions, women will be backed into a corner and forced to parent on their own. She also pointed out women do not have to get consent for abortion.

"Most birth mothers follow the law," Jessalynn Bills Speight, who once placed a child for adoption, said. 

She acknowledged the potential need for "a little bit of adjusting" with a residency requirement.  "The one agency (Adoption Center of Choice) that did participate in that was shut down and thank goodness because they were sneaky, sneaky, sneaky. ...  I'm glad they were shut down because they were making it hard for those of us who were honest."

Alicia Acuna joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1997 and currently serves as a general assignment reporter based in the network's Denver bureau.