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Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Open Letter to Executive Director Udi Ofer at ACLU-NJ

Many of us in the adoption reform movement are encouraged by the fact that both Ohio Right to Life and the Catholic Conference of Ohio, both long-time opponents of adoptee rights bills, have now endorsed pending adoptee rights legislation.  Apparently, both groups have come to realize  that granting adopted adults access to their original birth certificates and treating them equally by law to the non-adopted has no effect on abortion rates.  They have also come to see that such bills allow original parents an opportunity to register their preferences for contact, an opportunity that they currently do not have.  These bills restore the civil right of adopted adults to access their own birth documents, while acknowledging the boundaries that original parents might prefer.  They are the best and fairest antidote to the considerable pain and to the violation of adoptee civil rights that the sealed record system perpetuates.

We hope that Right to Life and Catholic Conference chapters in other states will take note, and that they too will come to see that granting civil rights to adoptees does not weaken, but in fact strengthens the institution of adoption.  Catholic bishops and Right to Life groups have been a formidable obstacle to adoptee rights in the past; unfortunately, so have some state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  In New Jersey, we have battled the ACLU for years.  In the past, the organization's leadership seemed to think that denying civil rights to a grown adoptee is acceptable because doing so enables a woman to make private reproductive choices.

The ACLU stance is logically inconsistent with its mission statement, and we are hoping that with new leadership in New Jersey, it will reevaluate its position on this issue.  After all, if Ohio Right to Life and the Catholic Conference of Ohio can admit that they have been mistaken about adoptee rights, so can ACLU-NJ!  Here is my open letter to Mr. Udi Ofer, the new executive director of ACLU-NJ:

Dear Mr. Ofer:

I am a member of the legislative team at New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE), and I am writing to express my strong opinion that ACLU-NJ has been on the wrong side of history when it comes to restoring the right of adopted adults to access their original birth certificates.

The states of Oregon and Alabama restored this right in 2000, and in the past decade, the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have likewise restored this right.   The states of Kansas and Alaska never sealed original birth certificates from adoptees, and Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington all have pending bills.

At its very core, this is a civil rights issue, because adopted adults continue to be treated differently by law in New Jersey than every other American citizen.  That is institutional discrimination, and it continues to exist for no good reason.  If the document that records my own birth does not belong to me, we might ask, “Who does it belong to?”

The history of adoption reveals that records were never sealed to protect original families, but to protect the adoptee from the “stigma of illegitimacy,” and the adoptive family from “unwarranted intrusion.”  Even the courts have ruled that original parents could never have been granted legal anonymity from their own offspring.

Adoptee rights legislation is about civil rights; it is not about reunions.  There is a profound difference between knowledge about one’s own history and relationship.  Obviously, it takes two to agree to have a relationship, and how two adults decide to conduct their own very personal affairs is frankly no one’s business except for their own.

ACLU-NJ in the past has shown a shocking disregard for the rights of adopted people, and it has wrongly assumed that the rights of original parents and adoptees conflict.  Adoptee rights bills are just and effective, and the data from open access states and from those countries that are far ahead of us in restoring adoptee rights is easily accessible.

I implore you to study the facts before the ACLU takes a position on any pending adoption legislation in New Jersey.  I am including for you an article published this year at numerous adoption reform sites that outlines how illogical the ACLU’s position has been.  I write in the hope that you will study it with an open mind.

I and other members of NJCARE would be happy to meet with you to discuss this issue at any time.  Please feel free to contact me at the number below.


Susan T. Perry
Member, Legislative Team
New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE)

To those of you reading this blog post, you can read my article about the inconsistencies in ACLU-NJ's position on adoptee rights here.  Please feel free to use any or all of it in your own lobbying efforts.  Let's carry on with renewed effort.  Progress is slow, but the facts are on our side!

You might also like:

Why do State Bar Associations Oppose Adoptee Rights?

The Ethics of Adoption and Reproductive Technology

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices


  1. It's disappointing that the ACLU has taken that stance.

  2. Come on, ACLU - wise up! I just spoke with my legislature today and he knew immediately that no birth mother was promised confidentiality. There were social workers for adoption agencies testifying in Columbus, Ohio that there was language actually put into the surrender documents that said "you understand that we are not guaranteeing you confidentiality". Private reproductive choices? Is giving birth private? I don't think so, which explains why birth certificates are public record. Why does a birth mother's birth privacy trump my right to see my birth certificate? It's just not even logical! The records have ALWAYS been available prior to adoption finalization. The records have ALWAYS been available by Court Order. There is not privacy. It's a myth!

    1. Lynn,
      The ACLU-NJ's stance has been absolutely mind-boggling. Under the leadership of Deborah Jacobs, who has since left for another position, it continued to insist that original parents and adoptees have "competing interests," and that both parties could meet only be "mutual agreement," to be determined, of course, by a registry or a confidential intermediary. This organization does not understand adoption history or reality -- at all. I think their thinking goes, "If a woman can get an abortion anonymously, she should be able to have a child anonymously." To date, they have been tone deaf to the issue of adoptee rights. I'm hoping that with new leadership, we will see a change.

  3. That the ACLU does not see the injustice of not giving all individuals their identities has boggled my mind for decades. I had hoped with Jacobs gone, things would change. But as I understand it, some other chapters have different views. In Jacobs case, the evil she did lives on behind her. Don't give up NJ, just as we cannot give up in NY.

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