Iowa court strikes adoption law

By Mike Glover
Des Moines, Iowa (AP) 6-08

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a state law meant to ensure that American Indian children are placed with tribal families when their parents give them up for adoption.

Ruling in a Woodbury County case, the high court said the law interferes with fundamental parental rights. It sent the case back to a lower court to determine the outcome under federal laws.

“The state has no right to influence her decision by preventing her from choosing a family she feels is best suited to raise her child,” the court said.

The case involves a mother identified only as Shannon, who lived in Sioux City and became pregnant in 2005. Court records said she’s a member of the Tyme Maidu Tribe of the Berry Creek Rancheria, located in California.

She chose a non-Indian family in Arizona as the adoptive family, and tribal leaders sought to intervene.

They argued that state law requires that without “clear and convincing evidence” Indian children should be placed with tribal families.

The court said that law “is not narrowly tailored” to accomplish its goals, even “assuming survival of the tribe is a compelling state interest.”

“The statute makes the rights of a tribe paramount to the rights of an Indian parent or child even where, as in this case, the parent who is the tribal member has no connection to the reservation and has not been deemed unfit to parent,” the court noted. “Shannon’s fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of her child is not lessened because she intended to terminate her rights to (the child).”

The court took note of the emotional power of the decision to give up a child.

“Shannon was faced with an unintended pregnancy. A woman in her position has three choices: to keep the child, put the child up for adoption, or terminate the pregnancy,” the court said. “Such a decision is gut-wrenching and will forever impact her as well as her unborn child.”

The court said the state has an interest in protecting tribal rights, but there are limits.

“While providing additional rights to the tribe is the prerogative of the state, those rights may not come at the expense of the parent’s or child’s rights,” the court said.

 

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