Long-time member of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE) Carol Barbieri recently wrote a powerful op-ed piece for the Newark Star Ledger entitled "Christie's 'compromise' on Adoptees' birthright bill unfair." I encourage you to read the article and the many comments that follow. The comments commending the piece are balanced and factual, and they often explain the history of adoption and the discriminatory nature of current adoption law. The few comments disparaging the article are emotional and dramatic, and no facts are ever presented as supporting evidence.
Welcome to the world of adoption reform in New Jersey! The comments written in response to Barbieri's op-ed closely mirror deliberations as they occur during public meetings. Members of the adoption reform community appear with indisputable facts that have been gathered from states that have enacted adoptee rights bills allowing fully-grown adopted people to apply for and secure their original birth certificates just like any other citizen.
The statistics show that (1) abortion rates do not go up in states that have enacted adoptee rights bills, nor do adoption rates go down; (2) birth mothers do not live in dire fear that their offspring might someday find them -- in fact in Oregon, where adult adoptees have had access to their original birth certificates since the year 2000, fewer than a quarter of one percent of birth mothers have filed "no contact" preferences; (3) for those few birth parents who may not want to be found, the bill Gov. Christie rejected provided a one-year window during which those birth mothers could remove their names from the birth document.
This last compromise on the part of adoption reform advocates is particularly difficult for many of us in the adoption community to support. Birth mothers have never had an absolute or constitutional guarantee to anonymity from their own offspring, and we are loathe to provide them with a legal provision that they have never had. We believe that every adopted person has a right to know his or her own birth information, and that no adopted person should ever be left behind. The only reason we reluctantly agreed to this provision is that we felt it would finally -- after more than 30 years of lobbying -- get us to the place we need to be. After one year, the provision would disappear forever, and every adoptee going forward would have the same rights as every other American citizen to secure his or her own birth document.
Now reasonable people can disagree over whether such a provision should ever be made in the interest of moving the adoption reform movement forward. Other states have successfully passed "clean" bills (Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island), and it sickens me that some adoptees will be hurt by a concession to the fears of some legislators. Many more adoptees will be helped, however, and after that first year, the culture of adoption will thankfully begin to change. But we realize this compromise is unacceptable to many and hurtful to some, and after making such a huge and difficult concession, we are deeply offended by some of Gov. Christie's remarks, such as "Adoptees want everything" and "Some adoptees won't compromise."
But back to the comments section in response to Barbieri's op-ed piece. Read through what some of the opponents to adoptee rights have to say. In most cases, they are repeating myths, the same myths that opponents to adoptee rights bills propagate during every legislative cycle.
The lobbies that have consistently opposed adoptee rights bills include the New Jersey Catholic Conference of Bishops, New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey Bar Association, the National Council for Adoption, and NJ-ACLU. The myths that they put forth in direct opposition to collected facts are (1) Adoptee rights bills will increase abortion rates and decrease adoption rates; (2) Adoptee rights bills will violate a birth mother's right to privacy (Remember the Oregon statistics? They are supported by data from every other state that has enacted an adoptee rights bill.); (3) Adoptee rights bills may have "a chilling effect on adoption."
Instead of alluding to any established fact, Gov. Christie once again repeats the opposition's myths in the language of his "conditional" veto. He claims, in direct opposition to studies showing that most birth mothers neither asked for nor desired lifetime anonymity from their surrendered child, that "for many birth parents, the protections of anonymity are a significant consideration when choosing adoption." This statement is patently false -- most birth mothers today insist on some degree of openness, although such agreements are not legally enforceable, and birth mothers of the past simply had no choice. Anonymity was forced on them; they did not choose it.
Gov. Christie also claims in his veto that "I also strongly empathize with the adopted child, and adoptive parents, who may long to know the identity of the birth parents." Huh? The bill that Gov. Christie rejected had nothing to do with adopted children -- it was concerned only with the rights of adopted adults. One begins to wonder at this point whether the governor even read the bill. Finally, Gov. Christie says he cannot support the adoptee rights bill as approved by the Assembly and Senate because it may have a "potential chilling effect on adoption." Now where have we seen that language before?
Instead of simply restoring the right of adult adoptees to know the truth about their own lives, a right that they once enjoyed, Gov. Christie proposed that we create a massive bureaucracy that would require adult adoptees to employ a state-approved "confidential intermediary" to locate birth parents and secure their approval for any level of contact. So now Gov. Christie, the spokesman for less government, wants to micro-manage any potential relationship that might occur between two fully-grown adults, even though the vast majority of adults involved do not wish to be yoked to such an intrusive, expensive and ultimately unworkable system.
Here is what Gov. Christie actually did in his "conditional" veto: He simply resurrected a bill that had been introduced by Assemblywoman Joan Quigley as a last minute "alternative" to the bill that was about to be approved by the Legislature after months of deliberations. Quigley had refused to meet with adoption reform advocates, and her bill was a direct response to the concerns (acutally "myths") expressed by the powerful Catholic lobbies and the New Jersey Bar Association.
Quigley's alternative reflected the demand of the lobbies that the only acceptable path for adult adoptees to access a copy of their own birth certificate was a confidential intermediary system, a program that is demeaning and disempowering for adult adoptees, who are simply asking for the freedom to manage their own lives.
In his "conditional" veto, Gov. Christie deleted nearly every word of the bill that had been approved 27-10 in the Senate, and 44-26 in the Assembly, and inserted in its place the Quigley bill, which never received any public input at all. For those who think Christie's action was any kind of compromise, please note that adoption reform advocates were heartbroken, while long-time adoption reform opponents were elated. A fair compromise? I don't think so. And people wonder why we in New Jersey tend to be cynical about politics.
Here are the facts: Adult adoptee access is not a new and untested concept. England opened its records to adult adoptees in 1975. The states of Kansas and Alaska never sealed adoptees' birth records. Alabama reinstated access in 2000, having only sealed records from adoptees in 1991. Oregon approved an access law in 1998, which took effect in June of 2000. New Hampshire's access law took effect in 2005 and Maine's in 2009. Rhode Island's governor signed an access bill into law last summer.
Here's what the collected data tells us: By 2011 in Oregon, 10,410 adoptees had applied for and received their OBCs. Eighty-five birth parents requested no contact during that time period, and not one complaint was issued about an adoptee approaching a birth parent against his or her will. In New Hampshire, 1,315 adoptees received their OBCs from 2005 through 2011, while just 12 birth parents requested no contact. In the two years after Maine enacted its bill, 848 adoptees received their OBCs, and eight birth parents requested no contact.
By every standard, these "clean" adoptee rights bills are working well. And yet Gov. Christie has the nerve to continue saying that "adoptees want everything" and "adoptees won't compromise." New Jersey Assembly and Senate members are to be commended for considering the facts and voting accordingly. Gov. Christie should be questioned and criticized for his hypocrisy and inconsistency on this issue. His "conditional" veto was a cynical political maneuver that completely ignored the facts even as it elevated the "myths" that adoption reform opponents continue to spread in their efforts to maintain the status quo.
You might also like:
Gov. Chris Christie, Adoptee Rights and Political Games
Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?
ACLU-NJ Misses the Mark on Adoption
Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries