ICWA: Still Under Siege by Adoption Industry

The latest attack on the Indian Child Welfare Act takes the form of a recent court filing challenging the Act on Equal Protection and other grounds. In this installment, the recently filed civil complaint is examined, and a major player’s role in the adoption industry is revealed.


The claims asserted in the latest attack against the Indian Child Welfare Act as asserted in the civil complaint are so laughably ridiculous that attorneys Thomas S. Tisdale and Jason S. Smith should have been as embarrassed to have filed it as should Washington attorney Lori Alvino McGill have been for having drafted it. From page two of the civil complaint:

ICWA tells a single unmarried woman who wishes to choose adoptive parents for her unborn child—a choice that would be respected under her State’s laws—that she must either terminate her pregnancy, raise the child herself, or surrender her child to a Tribe that is a total stranger to her and to the unborn child.

You read that right. But there is more. The complaint continues on to say: “Even if Congress is empowered to enact legislation respecting child custody matters involving children whose parents are domiciled on tribal lands,Congress may not override a woman’s deeply personal decision to place her child with a loving and fit adoptive family, and impose special disabilities on that child, in the name of tribal sovereignty.”

The complaint grows somewhat more bizarre as you continue reading it. The first of the plaintiffs is Ms. Maldonado, about whom much has already been written. As for the second plaintiff:

Plaintiff Samantha Danielle Lancaster, is a Caucasian woman who resides in Minnesota and who believes she may be 1/64th Cherokee. She is the mother of Abigail Arlene Lancaster, born on June 19, 2013. The biological father of the child also is Caucasian (with no Indian ancestry). They jointly seek to place their biological child with an adoptive couple of their choice in an open adoption. Plaintiff Lancaster has chosen the prospective adoptive parents because she believes they will provide a bright, stable, and happy future for her child.

That’s right–Lancaster believes that she may be 1/64th Cherokee. I dare say that’s rather a precise figure to be providing for something that may be. Allow me to slice you up precisely 1/64th of a pound of what I believe may be pure and unadulterated baloney.

The true agenda becomes crystal clear in the next paragraph in the complaint:

Plaintiff Lancaster chose a non-Indian couple, Joseph and Sarah Bateman, whom she met through an adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services. Despite the fact that neither biological parent is a member of an Indian tribe, she has been advised that the Cherokee Nation has been notified of her suspected Indian heritage and that ICWA’s preferred placement provisions may apply to block the planned adoption, because the Cherokee Nation has taken the position that it may deem her child a member of the Nation solely on account of a trace of Indian blood, over her fit parents’ objection.

But wait. The Post and Courier reported on July 25 that: “Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, disputed Lancaster’s account. Nimmo said Lancaster told an adoption agency that she is Cherokee, so the agency reached out to the tribe to determine whether the ICWA applied.”

The article continues on to say that “Lancaster isn’t an enrolled member of the tribe, Nimmo said, so the ICWA would not be invoked.”

The crucial point is the enrollment. Tribes cannot — and do not — seek to intervene in the lives of people who are merely thought to be of Native American ancestry. They lack both the legal authority and the inclination to so intervene. To cast those who have historically been the victims of unwarranted interventions as the aggresors in this regard is not only preposterous, but it also borders on an attempt to perpetrate a fraud upon the court.

I believe that attorney Shannon Jones — who represented Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown, in court — hit the proverbial nail right on the head, as The Post and Courier reported:

Shannon Jones, an attorney representing Brown in Family Court, said the civil suit is critics’ latest attempt to upend the ICWA after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt it a blow last month. She said the adoption industry also has a financial stake in tapping a “pool of babies” to satisfy the demands of families looking to adopt.

“They’re going to launch every attack against ICWA that they can,” Jones said. “But there’s a … requirement to protect Indian nations and guarantee their survival.”

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter; the adoption industry, and its major league player Bethany Christian Services.

As the civil complaint itself explains, “many of the nation’s leading adoption agencies (including the many affiliates of Catholic Charities) assure women dealing with unplanned pregnancies that if they choose adoption, they will be able to select the family with whom their child will be placed.”

The Nation revealed Bethany Christian Services as offering so-called “crisis pregnancy” services to lure in women who were thereafter coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. The article explains that crisis pregnancy centers “have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to ‘choose life’ but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.”

Bethany Christian Services is the largest adoption provider in the nation, with over 80 locations in the United States, according to its own information provided at ImPregnant.org. The web site states that “Bethany Christian Services has been assisting women with unplanned pregnancies for more than 65 years,” and that it has thus “served more than 71,000 women.”

Bethany’s reach also extends to over a dozen locations in other nations. It also has an interesting history in the courts. In early 1993, an Illinois court dismissed a lawsuit against the agency alleging fraud in the adoption of a Korean girl with undisclosed cerebral palsy. In 1997, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed a case in which Bethany caseworkers “perjured themselves” causing the plaintiff to lose his parental rights.

Adoption of Daniele G., 105 Cal. Rptr. 2d 341 (2001) clearly describes Bethany as an adoption agency filing a termination of parental rights petition. That’s right; an agency with a compelling financial incentive itself makes the determination as to whose parental rights are to be terminated, and argues the case in court.

Until July 2005, Bethany Christian Services had a policy of only adopting out children to Protestant families, to the complete exclusion of Catholics. (Perhaps the company missed some of the finer points of Marcia Robinson Lowry’s painstakingly crafted Wilder decree, which stemmed from discriminatory practices on the part of New York City’s predominantly Catholic foster care agencies).

In 2009, an Ohio court ruled that a Bethany Christian Services caseworker had immunity for “a report that was said to be biased and prejudiced” in a custody evaluation. In 2010, a Virginia couple filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and misrepresentation, in which case Bethany filed for a gag order which was denied.

Elsewhere in Bethany’s expansive adoption empire, between May 2008 and April 2010, Georgia cited the company 8 times for a total of 27 rule violations. In May 2011, the Michigan Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing found a “pattern of not taking into account the children’s racial, ethnic, and cultural identity, heritage, and background when they are clearly an issue.” The report cited 3 prior investigations that “established that Bethany Christian Services failed to appropriately consider placing children with relatives.”

Of note also is In re Adoption of MRB, 25 A. 3d 1247 (2011) in which the Superior Court of Pennsylvania clearly describes Bethany as directly filing petitions to terminate parental rights. Bethany itself also filed the appeal of the lower court’s ruling in favor of the parent. See also In re JMA, 240 P. 3d 547 (2010), a Colorado case wherein a father “was provided the antithesis of procedural due process.” Bethany filed the petition in a county in which the parents did not reside, and terminated the father’s rights based on notice by publication in a newspaper.

According to Bethany’s 2011 financial statement, the company had net assets of $49,071,528 and revenue of $75,228,788. Among the revenue sources are $40,990,140 in income from child support, and $22,643,757 in service fees.

There you have it–Bethany Christian Services in a nutshell that no one seems inclined to crack open.

The bottom line is that there is a lucrative market in brokering babies, and with the exorbitant adoption fees that are charged, it is typically upper-class couples who are able to make that payment. The reality is that the majority of prospective adoptive parents “on the market” for a private adoption are in search of a baby with a pale complexion. A 1/64th Native American baby will do just fine, thank you very much.

And, oh–do you accept American Express? I maxed my VISA out on my last attempt at a private adoption. That’s why I came to you; because you’re a Christian agency.