Unfortunately, adult adoptees in the United States are still not respected as autonomous human beings capable of making intelligent and appropriate choices. If they were, how can we possibly explain the fact that in most states, adopted adults are still denied access to their own original birth certificates?
Amanda Woolston over at Declassified Adoptee has written a perceptive post on this issue here. As she explains, opponents to adoptee rights usually frame their argument around three themes: boundary issues, in which the assumption is that adult adoptees cannot manage boundaries or relationships without supervision; secrecy issues, in which the assumption is the original parents are cowering in shame and must therefore be protected; and social issues, in which the assumption is abortions will go up if adoptees are allowed access to their true birth records.
The data disproves all these assumptions, yet they remain prevalent. To be clear, what adult adoptees are asking for legislatively is the opportunity to secure their true and original birth certificates. When adoptions are finalized in the United States, the child's original birth certificate is sealed away, and an amended one, listing the adoptive parents as the mother and father, is issued.
This bizarre and outdated practice was initiated during the shame-based era around the mid-twentieth century, and it was never intended to protect the anonymity of original parents -- surrender documents reveal that the intent, rather, was to protect the adopted child from the "shame of illegitimacy," and the adoptive family from "unwarranted interference or intrusion." The assumption at that time was that the original mother would forget the child and move on with her life, and that the child would forget that she ever had other parents.
Now, many years later, of course, we know better. The data maintained by those states and countries that have restored adult adoptee access shows that the vast majority of original parents are not paralyzed by shame and are most often happy to hear from their surrendered offspring. Meanwhile, scores of adoptees search for their original families every year in spite of the legal obstacles because they feel deeply that they are entitled as human beings to know their own personal history. Whether the adopted adult elects to search or not, she should have the freedom to secure her own birth certificate, just like any other American citizen. Denying her that right is so discriminatory that it amazes me that it continues to be an accepted practice.
What is the justification for denying the adult adoptee equal rights? As Amanda points out, it is rooted in a negative view of the adoptee and often the original parents as well. Some legislators infer that adoptees are "stalkers" who cannot be trusted to respond appropriately, should they use their true birth certificate to search, and should they encounter a negative response. I find this viewpoint particularly insulting, since my original mother was one of the few who was not open to a personal meeting. We had a helpful phone conversation, and that was the end of our contact. Neither of us was harmed, and we handled our private past -- which we co-own -- like the adults we both are.
Other legislators assume that original parents are so overwhelmed by shame that adult adoptees cannot possibly be allowed to know who they are. First of all, this scenario ignores the fact that many adoptees find their original families every year -- an estimated 40 percent of them received some identifying information in their adoption decrees. The idea of guaranteed anonymity for the birth family is truly a myth.
Secondly, this shame-based view treats neither the adult adoptee nor the original parent with any respect. The assumption is that the adoptee is likely to tread into a place where she is not wanted, and that the original parent will not be able to handle the shock of hearing from her relinquished offspring. Never mind the fact that legally, courts throughout the United States have always had the right to open adoptee birth records "for good cause." (at the adoptee's time and expense, of course) Meanwhile, reunion stories in the media have become so commonplace that it boggles the mind to think that any original parent could ever be totally shocked to receive a call or letter.
The assumption that abortions will increase should the adult adoptee be granted access to her true birth record may be the most difficult assumption to refute, even though statistics show that there is no relation between abortion rates and adult adoptee access. As Amanda points out in her post, adoptees are punished because we cannot figure out as a society how to address women's health issues. The civil right of the adult adoptee to know her own personal history must take a back seat to the ongoing debates about abortion and women's reproductive choices.
As an adult adoptee, I personally resent being held hostage to this ongoing debate about women's health concerns. My rights as a human being should not be compromised because of the social views of a minority of citizens. Human rights are human rights. Every human being has a right to her own identity and her own genetic make-up. In what other area of life do we deny a population equal rights to support an ideological argument?
If adoptees and original parents were truly respected, they would be treated like the adults they are -- capable of managing their own personal affairs without agency or state interference. The argument over adoptee rights, as Amanda points out, would then take on a totally different framework.
Instead of saying or thinking, "Adoptees are likely to have a dreadful effect on an original parent's life," we would say, "Adult adoptees should have the opportunity to have positive relationships with their original families."
Instead of saying, "We must maintain a system of secrecy and lies so that adoption remains a viable option," we would say, "Adult adoptees can often be an asset to their original families, and the truth may very well allow all parties a sense of closure."
Instead of saying, "A woman must be allowed to remain a lifetime secret to her own child," we would say, "This child and every child is worthy of respect and equal treatment under the law, so it is imperative that we address the unjust social policies now in place."
As an adult adoptee, I respect myself. But unfortunately, my state's laws don't respect me.
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Pro-life Ideology and Adoptee Rights