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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pro-life Ideology and Adoptee Rights

There are some ideologies that simply can't be moved by any amount of data or research.  The pro-life position that an adult adoptee's access to her original birth certificate will somehow lead to more abortions seems to be just such an ideology.

Recently, in response to one of my posts, a commenter wrote this:

"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."

Unfortunately, this opinion is rather widespread, even though the facts directly refute what this commenter is saying.  Rather than repeat all the statistics, as I and others in the adoption reform movement have done many times, I'll share the conclusions of several comprehensive studies and refer readers to the original source, when I can.

A 2010 study by the Evan B. Donaldson Institute concluded that there is "no discernible relationship between a state's policy on access to OBCs (original birth certificates) and its abortion rate."  The Institute paper noted that abortion rates in Kansas and Alaska, two states that never sealed birth certificates from adoptees, are lower than the national average.  The study likewise shows that those states that have reopened OBCs to adult adoptees have lower abortion rates post-access than pre-access.  When "open" states are compared to states that remain closed, abortion rates vary up and down, but there is no pattern and no statistically-significant trend.  The variations, the authors conclude, are most likely caused by social and cultural factors, as well as accessibility to abortion services.

While the data is limited about any link between a woman's decision to abort as opposed to her decision to place her child for adoption, a 2005 survey of 1,209 women and comprehensive interviews with 38 women about their reasons for choosing abortion failed to uncover one case in which the promise of confidential adoption was a factor (Finer, Frohwith, Dauphinee, Singh and Moore, 2005).

The link between adoption and abortion is further explored in a 2010 article by Jessica Arons entitled "The Adoption Option: Adoption Won't Reduce Abortion but It Will Expand Women's Choices."  Published by the Center for American Progress, Arons' study notes that both adoption and abortion rates have fallen in recent years, even as births to unwed mothers have risen.  After analyzing the current data, Arons concludes: "Abortion has not caused the low rates of adoption in recent years; rather the low placement rates are a direct result of more single women choosing to parent on their own."

During the last legislative cycle, Larry Newman of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE) prepared a detailed analysis to refute New Jersey Right to Life's claim that adult adoptee access would lead women to choose the abortion option more often.  His study confirms the results of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute research.  Tennessee reinstated adult adoptee access in 1995, Delaware in 1999, and Oregon and Alabama in 2000.  None of these states has seen an increase in abortions post-access, and in fact, several have seen a significant decrease in abortion rates.

Newman also noted that in Oregon, more teenagers chose life over abortion in the years following the passage of OBC legislation than in the years preceding the bill's passage.  His conclusion overall is that adult adoptee access will neither reduce nor increase abortion rates: it will have no effect because similar bills have produced no statistically significant trends.

Unfortunately, we have found that all these statistics do little to assuage the fears of many, but not all, members of the pro-life community.  Catholic Child Welfare Supervisor James L. Gritter saw the light years ago.  In 1995, he wrote, "Closed records turn adoption's boldest and most honorable claim -- that it serves the best interests of children -- into a flagrant and vile lie.  Any system that denies people fundamental information about themselves cannot in good conscience claim to serve them."

The Rev. Thomas F. Brosman, an adoptee himself and a priest at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Bayside, NY, likewise speaks out for an adoptee's right to know his own truth and history.  Many opponents of adoption reform, he says, are driven by their ideology and  the understandable desire to settle for easy "either-or" answers in a complicated world.  Some pro-lifers do seem to see a complex issue this way:  in their minds, the solution to an unwanted pregnancy is either adoption or abortion.  Adoption is good; abortion is bad.  There is no need to investigate the subject any further to determine whether, in fact, adoption is always good, or whether, in fact, somebody's human rights are being violated.

Some pro-lifers fail to recognize that the child-to-be will in fact become a full-grown human being deserving of all the rights that other human beings enjoy.  She certainly does not deserve to be yoked to a lifetime restraining order preventing her from ever knowing the truth about her own personhood.  For example, as an adult adoptee and a former cancer patient, I was unable to participate in a medical protocol because I had no access to my original family history.  If that is not blatant discrimination, what in the world is?

As I try to explain to adoption reform opponents, I am a part of my original mother's private history, not a separate entity that exists outside of it.  Together, we co-own my birth information, and how we conduct our private business is up to us.  Some pro-lifers seem to jump to the conclusion that if the child knows the truth, everyone will know the truth, and the mother will be unfairly affected.  What do they think -- that I am going to run a newspaper ad or take out a billboard announcing to the world who my original parents are?

My private past is just that -- private, between my original mother and me.  No pro-life advocate, attorney or legislator has the right to interfere with that private relationship.  Like it or not, my original mother is part of me.  The truth is the truth, and genetic links cannot be severed and never addressed again, as if they had no importance.  Science tells us that genes do matter -- and no amount of rationalizing or wishful thinking can alter that basic fact.

Finer, L.B., Frohwith, L.H., Dauphinee, L.A., Singh, S. & Moore, A.M. (2005). Reasons U.S. women have abortions: Quantitative and qualitative perspectives. Perspectives on sexual and reproductive health, 37, 3, 110-118.

You may also like:

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices
An Elegant Catholic Voice for Adoptee Rights 


  1. Another key research paper was produced by the Guttmacher Institute in 2008.

    "Without being asked directly, several of the women indicated that adoption is not a realistic option for them. They reported that the thought of one’s child being out in the world without knowing if it was being taken care of or by whom would induce more guilt than having an abortion."

  2. I think it's very telling that states with open records have not seen a rise in the abortion rate and, in fact, as the study states they have lower rates than states with closed records. Has any study been done to show degree of correlation? Anon seems to be aiming to prove causation.

    I also wonder where a birth parent's right to anonymity comes from. I don't recall that it's a legal right, especially when countered with the right of a person to his/her identity.

    1. A birth parent's right to anonymity from his or her own child is definitely not a legal right, as the following court decisions demonstrated: (1) The Oregon State Court of Appeals decided in 1999, after a small group petitioned the courts to overturn the law that would grant adult adoptees equal access to their original birth certificates: The state may release original birth certificates to adoptees "without infringing on any fundamental right to privacy of the birthmother who does not desire contact with the child."

      (2) The U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Circuit) said this in 1997, after another group petitioned the courts in Tennessee to overturn the law that would grant some adult adoptees access to their own birth certificates: ..."If there is a federal constitutional right of familial privacy, it does not extend as far as the plaintiffs would like." The Sixth Circuit Court further explains: "A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event -- the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth."

      So according to several court decisions, there is no constitutional right to privacy for original parents, yet opponents to adoption reform have consistently insisted that there is. According to a thorough academic study by legal scholar Elizabeth Samuels, birth records were originally sealed from adoptees to protect the adoptive family from "unwarranted intrusion" and the child from the "shame" of illegitimacy. We know now that most mothers did not ask for anonymity from their children and that today, the vast majority do not want it. I think opponents oppose adult adoptee access because they either misunderstand the issue, or they feel it is in their best interest financially to maintain the status quo. Sealing birth records for life from the adoptee, in my opinion, is highly unethical and indefensible. I think it's nearly impossible to establish the degree of correlation between abortions and more openness in adoption because of the other factors that weigh in -- social and cultural environment, accessibility to services, etc. But the data makes it very clear that more openness does not increase the rate of abortion.

    2. That's what I thought :-) I just didn't have the sources to back it up.

  3. "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."

    My mother most assuredly did not make a "CHOICE" nor would she ever have made the "CHOICE" to give me up. As an unwed mother in the BSE, society FORCED her to give me up. She never wanted nor asked for nor even expected lifelong anonymity. Even today so many women are still being COERCED into giving up their child for adoption that I think it is only rare cases where it is actually a free CHOICE.

  4. Sadly those with that idea are so firmly entrenched in the ideology that regardless of what proof you provide them they will deny it is valid.

    The mere fact that any judge in any state has the power to deem an adoptee has "good cause" negates any "promise" made by an adoption agency. In my case no one contacted my mother and requested permission - the judge just approved the petition. I was free to do with the information as I wanted.

    Great post as usual.

  5. The right to "anonymity" thing really annoys (angers, more like) me. There is no such right. That there is a right to a degree of privacy can be argued, but privacy and anonymity are not the same.
    Privacy means to be free from *public* attention, and birth is not a wholly private matter because it involves more than one person.

    1. What you say makes perfect sense, and it does become exhausting having to argue that same point over and over again. Birth "involves more than one person." The person born has the right to know his or her roots. Period. Adults can work out their personal affairs on their own, just as they do in every other area of life.

  6. Exactly. And the pro-life lobby makes such a big deal about when personhood begins (at conception even, for some of them), you would think they would respect the right of every *person* to their own history and OBC. For them to insist that anonymity is a relinquishing mothers right is contradictory and makes no sense.

  7. Susan- I finally grasped on a deeper level what original birth certificate rights are all about... through your post- Thank you.

    1. Thank you for reading my post and commenting! Every once in a while, I feel as if I'm wasting my time here, just blowing words out into the wind. The powers-that-be are so entrenched, and it is so difficult to change a culture. It's comments like yours that keep me going!

  8. These groups cling to privacy to hide the true facts of the adoptions that were not above board. Can you imagine the slew of possible lawsuits if there were access to all these records?

  9. Experience in other countries and those U.S states that have opened adoption records to adult adoptees has not shown that to be the case.


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