Why Should We Care About the Fight to Open Adoption Records?
Adoptee Rights & Access to their Original Birth Certificates
In the US, 48 states continue the practice of sealing adopted children’s original birth certificates (the OBC) upon finalization of the adoption. In all but 4 of those 42 states, adult adoptees do not have unrestricted access to their OBC like all other people do at the age of 18.
Right now, only Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Alabama allow unrestricted equal access to all adoptees over the age of 18. In Rhode Island, they have restored access to all adoptees over the age of 25. Washington State, Illinois, and Ohio now have had successful legislation introduced that does allow many adoptees to access their OBC’s, BUT it is not EQUAL access as they still have birth parent vetos’ in the laws ( in Ohio it;s a one yer window in tie where the birth parents can have their names removed, but medical information still goes through) and that gives one party the ability to control another party. New Jersey, Colorado and Connecticut have also recently changed their laws. Unless the adoptee’s birthparents had the knowledge that they could apply for the OBC before the adoption records were sealed, then that adoptee might never see the record of their birth and even then, the ADOPTEE as an ADULT Citizen of the US is NOT treated the same as other US citizens in regard to their legal documentation.
This is one of the many areas of adoption legislation where the states have power over making the laws. Alaska and Kansas never sealed theirs at all, but the other 48 did, some as early as the 1930’s and some not until the 70’s. Some sealed records laws, such as NY, can trace their roots back to the corrupt practices of Georgia Tann and other unscrupulous lobby groups who must have been hiding something.
Now, we all know that a birth certificate is a very important legal form of identity needed at various times throughout one’s life for many reasons such as getting a driver’s license or a passport or getting married and the states, in their supreme wisdom, do issue adopted children another birth certificate for them to use. This is called the amended birth certificate of the ABC. On it, depending on what your states artistic license, the adoptive parents are frequently listed as giving birth to the child in the city of which they live, but which the child was not born in. It works for getting into school and getting married. It might or might not work if the government ever goes for that whole ID law since they frequently look different than the standard OBC, but as a parent it will serve you well.
Adoptees are can be denied:
- Passports, driver’s licenses and the right to vote
- Health Insurance approval for genetic testing
- The Civil Rights to access their OBC
Adoptees are the only group of US citizens denied access to their OBC( besides those in the witness protection program). It truly is a form of discrimination as the adoptee has no way of choosing the circumstances of their birth, relinquishment and adoption, but the circumstances of their birth is held against them long into adulthood.
Why Should Adult Adoptees Get Their OBCs?
- It’s their right along with every other American.
- It allows them their identity; which is a right of all children according to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child ( see articles 7 to 10)
- It gives them access to their medical history; which is recommended by the US Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative
- The government has no business legislating to whom adults can have or not have a relationship with.
All these facts are true.
Why OBC Access for Adoptees is Scary to Some:
- Birthmothers were promised confidentiality and they can’t break those promises even if they are only implied
- If adoption was not confidential, then the abortion rates would rise
- If adoptions were not confidential then adoption rates would fall.
- Mothers who relinquish their children to adoption do not want to know their grown children.
- If we open records then adoptees might force themselves on their poor unsuspecting mothers and ruined their lives.
All these points, despite being promoted by the National Council for Adoption, many agencies, many churches and religious organizations and right to life groups, are false.
Mothers who relinquished could not have been promised anything of the sort by the state governments because there was no confidentiality to give. Let us remember that the OBC is a matter of public records until the adoption is finalized. That can take months and until that time, the birth certificate clearing stating who gave birth to whom is sitting at a country clerk’s office. Look who can get access for instance just in Georgia. What do you think would happen if the child never was adopted? The record would continue to be open forever. Now mind you the birthparents have no rights after signing the relinquishment papers, so they can’t force the child to be adopted nor seal the record. No confidentiality. Period.
Plus if there ever was one shred of paper claiming a birthmother anonymity, then the NCFA would have it plated in gold like the Holy Grail. They have not because it does not exist. Many mothers have gotten their records from agencies to check and no written promise has ever been found There is even a study on that that shows this is FACT.
In Kansas and Alaska where the OBC was never sealed, abortion rates were lower than neighboring states. In states that opened up the OBC’s, the abortion rates sub-sequentially dropped.
On the same note, the same states have higher adoption rates when there is open records and no secrecy. In fact, the some of the openness in adoption can be traced back to a study done by the NCFA and the Family Research Council called The Missing Piece where they studied the feelings of mothers who relinquished (while blindfolded) and learned that women would be more open to adoption as a choice for an unplanned pregnancy if they could know where their child is and how they are fairing. The findings of that study were turned into the federally funded Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program. Kind of odd that the same information they use to create more adoptions is also use to keep records sealed.
In other countries and in the US where we can see historically the rates of the contact vetoes issued by birthparents, across the board less than 1 to 4 % of relinquishing mothers employ the contact veto. The simple fact is that it is less than 2% of all relinquishing mothers desire to never set eyes on their children again. The contact veto allows a birthmother to say that she refuses contact. In fact, in New Zealand, after 20 years of open records, they decided to forgo the veto clause since the numbers were so low. The great majority of mothers desire to know what happened to their babies and, in fact, had never forgotten them at all.
Adoptees don’t always want full on relationships with their birthparents, but even if they do and even if their birthparents don’t, we have other laws in this country that are set to keep unwanted people in our lives. Stalking, harassment and privacy laws come to mind.
The discussion can go on and on, but this is the ONE area where universally adoptees, adoptive parents and birthparents, all agree:
Adult Adoptees over the age of 18 should have the unilateral right to access their original Birth Certificates because it is their truth, their history and their lives.
What they do with that information, as adults, is their business as adults to make adult decisions based on what they personally need.
Bastard Nation, CARE, The Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institute, the American Adoption Congress, Concerned United Birthparents and Adoptee Rights, plus many more groups, support adoptee access to the OBC as well.
To support adoptees access to the document of their legal birth you can:
- Write letters to your legislators and if you are an adoptive parent, then your voice actual will carry the most weight.
- Sign up for the ARC Mailing List
- Send in Donations.
- Talk to people because most regular folks have no idea this issue is happening and are also horrified when they are told the facts. Educate the masses.
- If you are a birthparent, please sign the PETITION saying that you support open records access for your adopted child.
It is the government sentencing of legal discrimination against adopted people.
And every one of us who have a smallest role in this adoption picture should be screaming for justice.
I, as a parent of an adopted person, can and I do. This is why my vacation time at work gets used every year when I go to the Adoptee Rights Protest.