Commenting on the recent failure of Congress to approve even tepid gun control measures, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote: "The story of reform in America is that it often takes defeats to inspire a movement to build up the strength required for victory."
As an adoptee rights activist, I couldn't help but relate to what Dionne is saying here. The fight for gun control and the struggle for adoptee rights have each become so politicized that the facts are often ignored and progress seems all but impossible.
I can't even begin to imagine the disgust and betrayal that families who have lost loved ones to gun violence must feel at our government's paralysis and ineptitude. Will they now redouble their efforts to press for legislative changes? Or will they conclude that no matter what they do, it is simply impossible to compete with the well-funded, special-interest lobbies in Washington?
As a proponent for adoption reform in the state of New Jersey, I have felt both ways. At times, I feel that no matter what we do, we just can't compete with the entities that have easy access to legislators: the NJ Conference of Catholic Bishops, NJ Right to Life, the NJ Bar Association, the National Council for Adoption, and ACLU-NJ. Then later, often fueled by a dramatic setback, such as Gov. Christie's "conditional" veto of an adoptee rights bill that already contained a significant compromise, I feel compelled to keep pressing on.
Several members of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE), adoptee Pam Hasegawa and original mother Judy Foster, have been lobbying for over 30 years now for the right of adopted adults to access their own factual certificates of birth (OBCs). Having worked with the group for 10 years now, I am awed and inspired by their hard work, perseverance and integrity.
It is truly discouraging that NJCARE's position that adopted adults should be treated equally by law and have the same access to their original birth certificates that any other American citizen has is still considered controversial by some lawmakers. Once, as Foster was explaining to a legislator that she was never promised anonymity from the child she relinquished, the legislator responded, "Well, you should have been!"
And that, unfortunately, is the response of many power brokers to the adoptee rights issue -- don't confuse me with the facts! Instead of listening to the people who have actually lived the adoption experience, they listen to those who facilitate adoptions and who profit from adoption transactions.
Another huge hurdle for the adoptee rights movement is that the issue has become intertwined with the ongoing political battles over abortion. The immediate reaction in some circles is to see adoption as the win-win solution to the abortion dilemma, and the fear is that abortions will increase should we make adoption a more transparent process.
The reality, however, is that there is no link at all between abortion rates and adult adoptee access -- today, we have plenty of data compiled from open access states to substantiate the fact that there is no correlation.
We have actually been told by some NJ legislators that the facts don't matter when it comes to this issue -- it is all about politics. I, for one, don't know exactly how to proceed in the legislative arena when facts don't matter. I am a logical, straightforward type of thinker, and if all the data supports the right of adopted adults to be treated equally under the law, then laws guaranteeing that right should be enacted.
Instead, what I have witnessed over the past 10 years is an Assembly Speaker who refused to meet with us and who would not release to the Assembly floor an adoptee rights bill that had widespread support; an Assembly member who added such expensive and unrealistic amendments to an adoptee rights bill that it had no chance to move forward; another legislator who introduced an "alternative" bill at the very last minute when the success of a balanced adoptee rights bill seemed imminent; and a governor who "conditionally" vetoed a bill that had been discussed and debated for several years, and basically replaced it with the "alternative" bill that had received no public input at all.
To say that my faith in the democratic process has been undermined would be an understatement. Yet when NJCARE recently held an organizational meeting in anticipation of a new adoptee rights bill, to be introduced shortly, I attended. In spite of all the setbacks, there are a few glimmers of hope. We have some new, sharp and energetic members. And in Ohio, in a dramatic turnaround, Ohio Right to Life and the Ohio Catholic Conference recently testified in favor of an adoptee rights bill.
Change may be unlikely, especially with Gov. Christie at the helm, but I have to believe that it is possible, even here in the state of New Jersey.
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