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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Media and Adoption Issues

Usually, I am deeply disappointed with the media's coverage of adoption issues.  Editors and writers often repeat the claims of those who would continue to seal birth records without challenging their logic.  After all, a number of states have restored the civil rights of adult adoptees to know their own identities, and we now have public records to show the effects of such laws.   The data clearly shows that there was never any legal guarantee of anonymity for original parents; it clearly shows that very few original parents desire anonymity, as well.

The same is true for that emotional red herring: the abortion argument.  Not one coherent fact has ever been produced in support of the contention that abortions will increase if a woman cannot be guaranteed secrecy.    Plenty of evidence has been advanced, however, to show that more openness in adoption actually decreases the likelihood that an expectant mother would choose abortion over adoption.

Unfortunately, the data that supports the right of adult adoptees to have access to their own original birth certificates rarely shows up in the mainstream media.  While it loves to tell sentimental reunion stories, the media seems to be most reluctant to cover the factual and more complex issues about discriminatory adoption law.

The 2010  ABC News article entitled "Graying Adoptees Still Searching for their Identities" was a welcome exception to the rule, in that it covered the history of why records were sealed in the first place and how the continuance of that practice has impacted the people  directly involved.  Some of the comments to the article were so illuminating and perceptive that I'd like to repeat them here. (I have highlighted key points on my own.)  Here is powerful testimony from an original mother who placed her son for adoption:

"Of course I, in the 1960's, did not want the secrecy forced by agency and law when I gave up by baby son for adoption  It was simply the only way I could, I -- believing another social fantasy -- thought, give him a chance for a good family life.  For years I felt loss so much that I could not even recognize its source, and it was many years before I had another child.  When my firstborn son grew up and searched and found me was one of the happiest times of my life.  And for him too this was joy -- for both of us the beginning of a firmer wholeness, though he grew up well loved by his adoptive parents.  I think we all need to recognize it is criminal to prevent people from knowing who and how their mother or child is; and we need to remember the effects of not knowing extend beyond mother and child to siblings, partners, and on and on.  Open the records; not to is pointless and hurts people."

Also offering thoughtful commentary on the article was this adoptive parent:

"I adopted my son at birth, and am in an open adoption with his first mom.  We know each other's names, extended family members, have been in each other's homes, e-mail one another, are Facebook friends, etc.  But still, because of the law, my son will never be able to access his original birth certificate.  It is a document that is his, and relates directly to him and his birth, but he cannot have it.  Instead he has a birth certificate that says, in effect, he was born to us.  Seems a little silly, doesn't it?  All of that 'protection' of all of us going on.  I know that is not the case for everyone, but it does seem that there are a whole lot of people being 'protected' that don't want to be, there are a whole lot of people with great reasons for wanting to find information about their family history, and something needs to happen so that people, ADULTS, are able to do so (contact one another) if they need to or even want to."

Here is a grown adoptee's perspective on the lack of logic that promotes the practice of sealing records:

"To keep a little perspective on this matter for those who see the release of original birth certificates as putting adoptees at risk for disappointment -- or worse: Over half of marriage licenses issued to 'happily-ever-after' in-love couples will one day share courthouse archives with divorce papers, which spell out every imaginable maltreatment between the parties.  Does this mean we should ban access to marriage licenses?  Or ban divorces?  Or take it upon ourselves to decide who should get marriage licenses or divorce decrees?  Terrible things happen in marriages -- case in point, the O.J. Simpson murder.  Our laws don't obliterate the identities of the brides when they become part of a new family.  But when a child, born into one family, becomes part of another family, states take it upon themselves to obliterate his identity and create falsified documentation to support it.  Not only that, but he will be forbidden to see, much less obtain a copy of, his authentic document of birth.  This atrocity is totally out of synch with all other aspects of our democratic system."

Here are a few more words of wisdom from mothers who relinquished their children and grown adoptees:

"Adoptees who want to know the truth should not be kept from their own truth by a handful of people that think they know what's best for everyone.  How dare the government think that they have any say or part to play in people's personal history or birth records."

"Never did I want to be anonymous to my own child.  I am so sick of the 'experts' (churches, ACLU, NCFA) speaking for me and other birthparents, trying to protect our privacy, privacy that we never asked for!  For the 1 or 2 percent of birthmothers out there that truly do not want contact, then just say 'no thanks.'  But this subject is really not about contacts and reunions!  It's about the civil rights of a portion of US citizens who are treated as perpetual children, never being trusted with growing up and making their own choices regarding what is truly theirs; their truth about who they are."

"No one has the right to make an agreement on behalf of a child that they will be bound to past the age of majority that will violate that person's civil rights -- NO one.  Adoption is not another 'form of abortion,' it is not the witness protection program."

"This legacy of secrecy and shame has cost us so much.  We've lost the right to heritage, history and quite possibly to know our natural families.  And what's worse: we the 'graying' adoption generation are largely ignored as important, experienced voices in shaping today's adoption best practice."

I encourage all legislative decision-makers to read both the 2010 ABC News article and the 68 comments that follow.  Of the nearly 70 comments, just five were negative, and several of those writers were clearly misinformed.  For example, one commenter opposing adult adoptee access claimed: "More people are protected than they are punished by current adoption law."  What a nonsensical statement considering the fact that in Oregon, which has allowed adult adoptee access since 2000, fewer than 1 percent of original mothers have indicated that they would prefer to have no contact with their relinquished children, now adults.  Other states that have reinstituted adult adoptee access have similar results.  You can see the data  here.

Legislators, editors and writers have a responsibility to be better informed about adoption issues than the general public.  Too many decision-makers and media professionals are relying on biased lobby groups -- groups that have  idealogical agendas or that profit financially from placing children for adoption -- for their adoption information.

ABC News Writer Susan Donaldson James is to be commended for her article spelling out the realities of adoption law.  Her piece and the responses should be required reading for anyone involved with the adoptee rights movement or considering the merits of an adoptee rights bill.

For further information, see:

Graying Adoptees Still Searching for their Identities

American Adoption Congress Statistics on Adult Adoptee Access


  1. As always a great post that covers all of the issues in the most succinct and emphatic way. You should have been a lawyer, Susan.

    I have also likened being adopted to being in a witness protection program (as one the comments alluded to). An adoptee's entire past is sealed, we are issued a new identity with falsified documentation to support it, we are often whisked out of town and have to start a new life with no ties to the past.

  2. You did it again, what a great post!!

  3. Excellent points, especially the analogy to marriage licenses.


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