Newborn Fever - Flocking to an adoption mecca


Katrina slept through most of her adoption hearing last
week in the sun-washed Charleston, S.C., courtroom. Her would-be mother and father sat nervously alert. An attractive, wealthy couple from out of state, they eagerly testified about their four-acre country estate, swimming pool and well-protected play area as proof of their parental fitness. Yet it was Katrina, at 15 months all blond ringlets and neatly pressed ruffles, who spoke most eloquently on their behalf. Waking up in time to accompany the woman to the witness stand, Katrina clung hungrily to her side, cooing "Mama".
Katrina's new mother and father are one of hundreds of couples who flock to Charleston every year, drawn by the promise of easy adoptive parenthood. In most areas of the country, adoption is a frustrating process, burdened by the red tape and interminable waiting lists of state adoption agencies. Although a few other states also allow adoptions in local courts by nonresidents, South Carolina offers a unique blend of lax laws, aggressive lawyers and open-minded newspapers that accept classified ads from couples
seeking babies. Federal regulations that are more rigorously enforced elsewhere, like the requirement that state officials conduct a "home study" of the prospective parents' fitness to adopt a child, are routinely waived by South Carolina's lenient family-court judges. In 1982 there were six times as many privately arranged adoptions—many of them made by non-residents—as placements made through the state's official adoption agency. To some, the situation has turned Charleston into a notorious baby
bazaar; to others, it has made the genteel city a welcome haven for couples anxious to secure a child.
Katrina's case was handled by two of the nation's more controversial adoption lawyers: Stanley ("Mr.Stork") Michelman of New York City, who was indicted but acquitted in
1979 of arranging illegal adoptions, and his frequent collaborator, Thomas Lowndes Jr., a well-known Charleston attorney who handles more than 100 adoptions a year.
The two attorneys encouraged the couple to place an ad in the Charleston
News & Courier Post, which carries dozens of classified pleas each week. Most of the ads promise love for the child and remuneration to the mother. All of them end on a desperate note: CALL COLLECT ANY TIME.
The couple's ad got a response. And after they spent $12,326 in lawyers' fees and maternity payments, their prayers were answered. Thanks in part to the loopholes in the state's laws, they whisked Katrina home four days after her birth. Some adoptions can be settled in as little as one day.