Gov. Florida Man

Shaming Unwed Moms Was the Law in Jeb Bush’s Florida

The so-called Scarlet Letter law passed in Florida under Jeb’s watch. But the way he tried to fix it made it less offensive (kinda) but still pretty weird.

06.10.15 9:15 AM ET

Remember that time when Governor Jeb Bush allowed a bill to become law that required unwed, pregnant women to publish their sexual history in the newspaper in order to give their babies up for adoption?

No? Well, it happened.

But this was just the beginning of the weird parental follies of Florida in the early 2000s.

In 2001, Bush didn’t veto adoption-overhaul legislation that included a provision making it harder for unwed mothers to put their children up for adoption, as The Huffington Post recently reported.

And by taking a pass, he allowed a particularly offensive provision to become law.

This provision required any woman who wanted to put her child up for adoption, but who didn’t know who the father was, to take out an ad in a local newspaper listing her name and description, as well as the name and description of each possible father and the locations where the baby could have been conceived.

In other words, women had to broadcast her sexual histories to, well, pretty much everybody before attempting to find stable homes for her children.

The law’s sponsor, state Senator Walter Campbell, said the provision was designed to keep “potential biological fathers from coming back and taking children out of adoptive parents’ hands.” And the law didn’t include an exception for women who became pregnant because of rape.

“You cannot just allow someone to say they were raped and use that as an excuse not to provide a name,” said Deborah Marks, who helped draft the law, at the time.

Alvin Coen, a veteran adoption lawyer, told the New Pittsburgh Courier at the time that concerns about birth fathers interfering with adoptions were baseless.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the state House and by a 30-8 vote in the state Senate. Bush said he decided not to veto it because Campbell told him the newspaper-reporting language would get fixed. That didn’t happen. What did happen? More abortions. The Orlando Sentinel reported there were almost 2,000 more abortions in the first six months of 2002—after the legislation went into effect—than in the first six months of 2001.

After state courts declared the law unconstitutional, Bush signed legislation repealing it. The bill that took its place put the fathers-rights onus on potential fathers. The law still exists today.

“In place of the publication requirement, the new law establishes a ‘’father registry’ through which men who believe they may be fathers must provide the name, address, and physical description of the mother and the date and place where conception took place to protect their parental rights,” The New York Times reported.

This wasn’t the only time children’s issues have gotten the former governor in trouble. As governor, Bush drew sustained criticism for his adamant opposition to gay adoption. And Bill O’Reilly leveled harsh criticism at him after a young girl’s disappearance from the state’s foster-care system went unnoticed for years. Her death led to an overhaul of how the state handled foster care.

Basically, Florida men have some major issues when it comes to dealing with vulnerable children. And in the early 2000s, it appears Jeb Bush was no exception.