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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?

Why do state bar associations routinely oppose adoptee rights bills?  In New Jersey, the answer seems quite clear -- to promote the business interests of attorneys.  In 1992,
the New Jersey Legislature passed bills S685 and A1418, measures that in effect deregulated the adoption industry and allowed many more privately-arranged adoptions to take place.  The main advocate for the change in law was the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA).

In New Jersey, attorneys often assist in completing private domestic adoption arrangements.  When mediating and/or completing such transactions, attorneys apparently feel it is in their best interest to assure adoptive parents that they need not be too concerned about birth families.  Not surprisingly, they express little interest in the rights of the human beings actually being adopted.

The NJSBA has published a booklet for prospective adoptive parents entitled "What You Need to Know about Adoption."  The most telling words, in my opinion, appear in this section:

"In New Jersey, all records relating to adoption proceedings, including the complaint, judgment and all petitions, affidavits, testimony, reports, briefs, orders and other relevant documents, are sealed by the court clerk, and may not be opened to inspection or copying without a court order, which almost never occurs."

So much for the testimony of NJSBA representatives in public hearings, where they have been telling legislators for years that adoptees can receive their medical records simply by petitioning the courts.

Another illuminating portion of the NJSBA handbook for prospective parents is this paragraph:

"An open adoption is when the birth parents continue to have some contact with the child after the adoption.  This contact can be as minor as a simple letter or card on the child's birthday, or as intimate as visitation.  While open adoption is a legal option in some states, it is not legally enforceable in New Jersey.  In other words, while adoptive parents may agree to permit some form of contact between the child and the birth parents, they are not legally bound by these promises, even if they are made in writing."

If I were to paraphrase these two sections of the NJSBA handbook, I might say something like this:  As prospective adoptive parents, you hold all the cards, and you need not worry about the rights or interests of the original parents, or for that matter, the rights of your child to know who she actually is and where she comes from.
Once we get the papers signed for you, you can be assured that you don't have to have any contact with the birth parents -- ever.

The only part of the handbook that refers, somewhat indirectly, to the child's best interest, is this lone sentence: "In some cases the court may choose to provide an adopted child with medical information without releasing information about the birth parents."

Naturally the NJSBA conveniently leaves out the fact that the Child Welfare League, along with countless other reputable adoption organizations, has maintained for decades that secrecy in adoption does not serve the best interest of the child.  The child's "best interest," obviously, is not the NJSBA's top priority.

When they appear publicly to oppose bills that would grant adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, NJSBA representatives tell us that birth mothers have been assured of anonymity from their own offspring.

Tom Snyder, the former chair of the family law section of the NJSBA, has questioned whether adoptee rights bills are fair to birth mothers, who he says were "assured of confidentiality."  And "what about the rape and incest victims?" he asked in the first minute of a 2010 National Public Radio interview with Diane Crossfield, a founding member of the Adoptee Rights Coalition.

In making such pronouncements, Snyder omits a number of key facts.  (1)  Historically, the promise of anonymity was made to adoptive parents, not to original parents.  (2)  Rape/incest victims comprise a tiny minority of mothers who have placed their children for adoption, by some estimates less than one percent. (3) A birth parent right to privacy does not exist in the NJ Statutes, as Snyder himself admitted to Senator Loretta Weinberg under questioning during a 2006 public hearing. (4) The vast majority of original parents neither asked for nor desire anonymity from their own children.

As for Snyder's reference to rape and incest victims, Pennsylvania adoptee Amanda Woolston responds, "When people use their shame-ridden arguments to further their own cause, they forget one thing -- there are adoptees and First Mothers who actually live this reality who are impacted each and every time rape/incest is brought up in a shameful context.  Shame on anyone who does such a thing to these mothers and adoptees."

A product of rape herself, Woolston, an incredibly articulate mother of two, says, "I am not ashamed."  For the record, Woolston's first mother is not ashamed of who her daughter is either.

In its efforts to thwart adoptee rights bills, the NJSBA has repeatedly asked for birth mothers desiring secrecy to allow their attorneys to testify on their behalf.   Consider this letter sent out by the NJSBA on January 5, 2007:

"Dear Family Law Section Member:

We are once again, requesting that anyone who has a client who is a birth mother, who would be willing to let you testify on their behalf in opposition to S-1087 (an adoptee rights bill), please contact ...

So far, only one person has come forward willing to have their attorney testify on their behalf.  This legislation has already passed in the Senate and is poised for Assembly vote in the near future.  We desperately need others."

The letter, I believe, speaks for itself.  Birth mother privacy is simply the smokescreen the NJSBA uses to promote its own agenda: to present adoption to prospective adoptive parents as an arrangement that "establishes the same relationship between the child and the adoptive parent or parents that would exist if the child had been born to them." ("What You Need to Know About Adoption," NJSBA)

While the NJSBA may just be referring to legal reality here, it's evident to me that this is the rosy picture that adoption attorneys in New Jersey want to paint.  In the NJSBA literature, there is no mention about the complexity or the psychological realities of adoption.

In its handbook for prospective adoptive parents, the  NJSBA comes closest to describing current adoption reality in its final sentence:  "The New Jersey Legislature has been considering legislation for several decades that would open adoption records."

This sentence is not quite accurate since the adoptee rights bills under consideration would not have "opened" adoption records: they would simply have allowed an adult adoptee, at age 18, to apply for and secure a copy of his or her original birth certificate, just as any other citizen is able to do.

Of course, the NJSBA doesn't mention that during every legislative cycle, it does everything in its power to defeat these civil rights measures, opting instead for mutual consent registries, which have a documented failure rate of over 90 percent, or unworkable confidential intermediary systems, which are unfair, expensive and demeaning to the adoptee.

We adult adoptees, original parents, and adoptive parents who have educated themselves on their own, must do our best to educate prospective adoptive parents about the challenges and realities of adoption, because it is quite clear that the NJSBA is not going to do it.  Their representatives will continue to "sell" adoption to birth and prospective adoptive parents, even as they oppose the very reforms that would make the practice more ethical and humane for all parties involved.


You might also like:

Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries
Sealed Records -- A Secret the Industry Would Like to Keep












17 comments:

  1. The organized and well-funded attorneys will continue to play this game. They have nothing to lose and everything (with a dollar sign) to gain. Everything you have posted here is what was done/used to steal newborns from their mothers during the Baby Scoop Era. The adopters were and continue to be the only ones of the so-called "adoption triad" to be the winners. No, the adoptees do not win when they are brutally separated within hours of birth from their first mothers, and the natural mothers and fathers and biological siblings lose out on life-long relationships with their own kin. Adoptees can only change the situation by turning off the spigot of newborns flowing to adopters domestically and internationally, and beating the lawyers with their own business plan. When lawyers "earn" $15,000 to $20,000 in billing hours/fees, it is not likely the vultures will ever stop their swooping down on vulnerable pregnant women.

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    1. "The adopters were and continue to be the only ones of the so-called "adoption triad" to be the winners." I agree with everything you said except that one point. From my point of view, there are no "winners" WITHIN the "so-called adoption triad". Sorry, but, adoptive parents are just as much mislead and misinformed (and therefore victimized) by the for-profit adoption industry. Most are completely blindsided when their adopted children exhibit "issues" surrounding their adoption, (usually in early adolescence, if not earlier). The ONLY winners in this system are the people who are making tons of money from it. Perpetuating the other myth, (i.e. that adoptive parents are all in bliss) divides the triad. I urge you to find and reach out to adoptive parents that have woken up to the scam that brought so much pain into their children's lives and in many cases has cost them and their families in terrible ways. A unified triad will have much more clout in the efforts to change legislation and in the struggle for adoptee rights.

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    2. Thanks for commenting here, Corie. I agree with you that adoptive parents are often blindsided. My adoptive mother, for example, had no idea that records were sealed; she thought that I would be able to get my information as an adult whenever I wanted it. Unfortunately, there still are those adoptive parents who would rather not deal with or acknowledge original families -- I have heard them testify at legislative hearings that this is the reason they have gone abroad to adopt.

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  2. I love your paraphrase - I think it's totally accurate.

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  3. I would hope that you know not all attorneys agree with this. Of course, I practice in Oregon, where open adoption agreements ARE enforceable, and records open when adoptees turn 18. Over the years, I adopted 5 children from foster care--only one was officially an open adoption with a contract, but they all opened up, usually in our children's teens.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie. I know all attorneys do not agree with the Bar Association position, but unfortunately in New Jersey, those who don't agree are not speaking out. The NJ Bar Association has been an outspoken opponent to adoption reform for years. Any ideas how to deal with its unyielding position? Presenting the facts has not worked! Glad you have supported your children's rights to know who they are!

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  4. Great post! The same seems to be true of "adoption attorneys" everywhere in this great land of freedom for all. Unless you are a first mother like myself who railed against the law at the time of surrender but had no meanns to change that provision or an adoptee no matter your age.

    then the "freedom" part is Oh sorry, opps...too bad.

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  5. The simple fact is birth mothers (and fathers when involved in this decision) have made a decision, a choice, to give up their child to the adoption process. Mothers have a right to choose.
    In fact, 100% of all birth mothers have the right to choose the amount of openness in the adoptive relationship, and she will select the family that is open to her request. This has resulted in 67 percent of private adoptions having pre-adoption agreements of at least a semi-open adoption. The 33% that don’t have pre-adoption agreements are at the request of the birth mother. Don't these mothers have a right to anonymity? If you take that away, what will be the choice of these mothers? We don't have to guess. In states that took away the privacy rights of birth mothers, abortions rose. As of 2007, the breakdown of adopted children in the United States: Private domestic, 677,000 (38%); foster care, 661,000 (37%); international, 440,000 (25%). Source: All information (except for "More general adoption statistics on the birth mother") is taken from the U.S. Department of Health’s 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents (NSAP): ( http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/09/NSAP/chartbook/chartbook.cfm?id=1)

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    1. Hi Anon,
      Thanks for commenting. I don't believe your conclusion that birth mother anonymity affects abortion rates is correct. Kansas, which never sealed birth records from adoptees, has always had a lower per capita abortion rate than all the sealed records states surrounding it. In Alabama and Oregon, where birth certificates became available to adult adoptees in 2000, abortion rates went down, not up. To my knowledge, there has never been any definitive research linking adult adoptee access to abortion rates. I am on vacation this week, but will write a post addressing this issue when I return home. You may be interested to know that we have several members of pro-life groups who participate in our adoption reform group. Also, in Michigan, The Catholic bishops are no longer opposing adult adopee access, as they realize abortions do not increase when adult adopts are granted their civil rights.
      In my own case, I was not able to participate in a medical protocol as a cancer patient because I had no access to family medical history. If that is not discrimination, I don't know what is. Nobody owes me a relationship, but as an adult, I have the right to the truth about my own person. Historically, birth records were never sealed to protect the biological parents -- they were sealed to protect adoptive parents. I will find the research that addresses your concerns when I return home.

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    2. Susan, thank you for sharing your story about not being able to participate in a cancer trial. This is not simply "too bad" but horrific. No one would argue this is just or right. However, I would like to point out a few statements from pro-open adoption and ask you two question. Do you agree with both of these statements from the two entities I cite below that it is possible to "successfully search" for these records w/o the state opening and providing the birth records?
      1. " ...many who do get their birth certificates or other documents never search, while others successfully search (a growing phenomenon because of the internet) without any of their documents"-SOURCE: "For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees" Evan Donaldson, Adoption Institute;
      2. "The balance also tips in favor of the adult adoptees’ claim of access because: the birth information is often available elsewhere anyway, even if difficult to obtain;"-Sealed Adoption Records, Report of the Connecticut Law Revision Commission to the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly,Prepared by David D. Biklen, 1999

      My second question is: would it be acceptable for the pro-open records proponents if the names and contact information on the birth certificate was redacted?

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    3. Without researching your question specifically, I'll answer the best I can, given what I've read. The estimate currently is that over 50 percent of adoptees search. An estimated 40 percent of adoptees had their birth names on the adoption decree; I did, and I believe that information enabled a private investigator to find my original mother quite easily. However, all of this effort required a great deal of time, aggravation and expense on my part, which I resent. I believe adoptees as adults should be treated just like any other citizen; they should be able to apply for and receive their own legal documents of birth at the age of majority with no strings attached. What they do with their own legal document is their own business, in my opinion. The thought that adoptees will do something harmful and inappropriate is offensive, misguided and wrong, and the statistics in states that have restored adult adoptee access attest to that truth. In Oregon, fewer than one percent of original mothers have filed no contact preference forms since OBCs were restored to adult adoptees in 2000. There have been few complaints filed, and over 10,000 adoptees have received their records. The data in other states that have restored access to OBCs for adult adoptees follows the same trend. Public policy that protects a handful of people at the expense of the vast majority is not good public policy. Public policy that treats an entire segment of the population like second-class citizens is unacceptable. We adoptees are used to tip-toeing around other people's feelings and can be trusted with information about our own personhood. I was able to reach out to my original mother in a more sensitive way than my agency social worker was, and I found a great deal of closure in my own life because I had the opportunity to speak with her. I am a 62-year-old grandmother -- I am capable of handling my own affairs! I try to get people to understand that I am a part of my original mother's personal history, not a separate entity that exists outside of it. We co-own my birth information, and our private business is ours alone, not the state's and not the adoption agency's. Like it or not, she is a part of me, and I am a part of her. As science tells us, genes do matter. Historically, birth records were sealed to protect the adoptive family from "unwarranted intrusion" and the child from the "shame" of illegitimacy, and not to protect the original parent from her own child. The time for adoption reform, in my view, is way overdue.

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    4. Also, Anon,
      I'm not sure whether you are the same Anon who had concerns about abortion rates -- if so, you may find the research in my latest post reassuring. You can read it here: http://nanadays.blogspot.com/2012/07/pro-life-ideology-and-adoptee-rights.html

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    5. My second question is: would it be acceptable for the pro-open records proponents if the names and contact information on the birth certificate was redacted?

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    6. It would not be acceptable to me to have the names of the original parents redacted from the legal document of birth. I believe basic identity is a human right, and the state should not be in the business of protecting people's secrecy from their own offspring. Privacy from friends and neighbors is one thing -- secrecy from the very person to whom you give birth is another. The act of birth by its very nature involves two people, and the rights of both must be respected. A baby is not a commodity or a blank slate; he or she comes with a unique DNA imprint, and no person should have the power, in my view, to subject another human being to a lifetime restraining order that prevents him or her from knowing his or her own personal history. Most mothers do not desire anonymity from their own offspring, as statistics from states that have reopened OBC access tell us. Please see my extended answer above -- adoptees should have the same civil right as every other human being, to apply for and receive their own legal documents of birth at the age of majority. Trust adults to behave like adults -- we do in every other realm of society except for adoption.

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  6. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is not a conservative or pro-life organization, conducted a poll of more than 1,200 patients undergoing induced abortions at 11 large-scale abortion facilities in the United States.
    Among reasons provided to the women as part of the poll, the two most common selections were "Having a baby would dramatically change my life" (74%) and "I can't afford a baby now" (73%). Concerns about their own health were mentioned by only 13% of the women, while only 12% mentioned concerns about the baby's health, though only 3% and 4% respectively gave those as their primary reason for seeking abortion.
    Interestingly, only 14% indicated "husband or partner wants me to have an abortion" as a reason, down from 24% in a previous survey in 1987. This conflicts with research on women post-abortion, among whom 64% reported feeling pressured by others to abort.

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  7. My sister was a birth mother years ago. She chose adoption over abortion thinking a chance at life with a loving family was better than no chance at life or life with a teen mom. She wanted it done and over with so she could move on. She was willing to do the 9 months, willing to get the glares and stares and willing to hear the not nice comments. Our parents supported her although they thought an abortion would have been much easier for my sister.
    Now the state she lives in trying to get birth certificates opened. She feels it was a two way street she got to move on with life and the child got a life. She was young did not have the means to raise a child. If she had to do it over she said she would have had the abortion. There is a reason why woman choose a closed adoption. They should be allowed to keep their privacy. I'm sympathetic to the adoptee who wants information. Mutual consent open the birth certificates for all birth mothers and adoptee families who want an open adoption. Life is not fair not everything is equal. My birth certificate does not have a father's name on it. He took off before I was born. My mother refused to put his name on the birth certificate and refuses to talk about him. Should the gov't force woman to put the father's name on all birth certificates and force my mother to give information about my father. Obviously, he didn't want to be involved in my life, I accept that.

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  8. According to the data, your sister is in a distinct minority of birth parents, and public policy should never be formulated to serve a distinct minority. What makes you think the adoptee would be disrespectful of her feelings? All we're saying is that the adoptee is entitled to the truth, whatever that truth might be. Many adoptees are only looking for genetic information, and will not continue efforts at contact if the mother says no. Your sister did a good thing, but people need to have more respect for adoptees and not assume that they want their original birth certificates so that they can do inappropriate things. I had one phone conversation with my original mother after I had suffered a serious medical problem and gained valuable information that has helped me physically and emotionally. I have respected her wishes and have not contacted her again. Are you saying that a conversation is too much to ask? You may not realize it, but such an attitude shows a profound disrespect for the adoptee and his or her motives. My original mother is not my enemy and never has been. She is an adult forging her way through life the best she can, as am I. She is entitled to her privacy but not lifetime anonymity from her child, and the law is very clear on this point.

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