Wednesday, November 21, 2007

OKLAHOMA: Editorial--Adoptees Birth Records Shmould Be Open to Them, November 20, 2007

November 20, 2007

Editorial: Adoptees birth records should be open to them

A woman in her mid-40ths once said “As a child, I would look into the mirror and wonder 'Why do I have curly hair?”

Within days of the birth of his child, a young man discovers he is a carrier for a gene that caused a birth defect in his newborn daughter.

Both are adult adoptees who knew from an early age they were adopted. Both insist their quest for learning more about their origins had little to do with disrupting their birth parents' lives. Their quests were for answers to their identity and family medical history.

A leading adoption institute is lobbying to open birth records to adults who were adopted. It proposes they are denied rights given to other Americans — access to their birth certificates.

While Kansas and Alaska never denied adoptees from seeing their birth certificates, six other states have opened their birth records to adult adoptees since 1996. Those states - Alabama, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee - have reported few problems with the new policy.

Maine is the most recent state to opt for open records. Adoptees born in that state will be allowed access to their birth records starting in 2009. A sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Paula Benoit, is an adoptee who uncovered her own biological background while working on the bill. She learned that two lawmakers she was working with were her nephews.

Another advocate of open records is Eileen McQuade of Delray Beach, Fla., who placed her daughter for adoption in the 1960s. “Secrecy was the way it was done at that time - it was not a choice or a preference on the part of the mothers,” she said.

The Donaldson report portrays adopted people as the only class of Americans not permitted to routinely obtain their birth certificates. Giving adult adoptees full access to their birth certificates is a step toward placing everyone connected with the adoptees on a level playing field without the stigma, shame or treatment they have experienced in the past.

Oklahoma should join other states opening their birth records to adult adoptees. Give them a choice in learning more about their origins.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ILLINOIS: Editorial--Birthrights--Adults who were Adopted Should have Access to Birth Records

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, November 20, 2007

Adults who were adopted should have access to birth records

Two people, both over 21, walk into the county clerk's office and plunk down $13 to order a certified copy of their original birth certificate. Only one is able to obtain that piece of paper, which is so important not just for identification purposes, but to trace their ancestry. The other, who was adopted at birth, will get a revised document showing the names of his adoptive parents.

There is no compelling reason to deny adults their original birth certificates, other than to continue a long tradition of secrecy -- borne of the shame that once was attached to unwed mothers. Those were the days when a pregnant woman often left town and returned after having given the child to 'a good family,' meaning a married couple.

A comprehensive new study released last week for National Adoption Month, provides strong evidence that those myths no longer are valid. At the very least, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's findings support changing state laws to allow adopted adults to obtain their original birth information.

Illinois, like most states, keeps original birth certificates and most other adoption records sealed, including any genetic problems in the birth parents' family. That information is released only by court order. Only Alaska and Kansas have always allowed adults to see their original birth certificate. Six other states -- Alabama, Deleware, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee -- have re-established adopted adults' rights to direct access to their original birth record.

Resistance to change has been strong, however. Critics say birth parents were assured confidentiality when they gave up their child, and that it's unfair to 'expose' them later on. That promise should expire when that child becomes an adult and entitled to the same rights as other adults. And why not? The Donaldson Institute found that in states that provide direct access to original birth certificates, the biological parents' lives were not ruined by revealing their names, and in fact many welcomed a meeting. Moreover, abortion rates did not rise and adoption rates did not fall

Julie Tye, president of The Cradle adoption agency, said many biological mothers welcome the chance to see their adult child and know they made the right decision in giving him or her a chance for a better life. Each year, the agency acts as a go-between for about 30 birthmother reunions, including one for a mother in her 80's.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), an adoptee, four years ago sponsored the Illinois law that allows adoption agencies to search adoption birth records for medical information. "There was a time when you could go in and get a birth certificate over the counter, and you should be able to do so again," said Feigenholtz, referring to an earlier era before there were such restrictions. She was reunited with her birth mother in the late 1980's. She plans to introduce a bill early next year that gives all adults access to their birth record. "That's a pretty basic civil right."

Times have changed. Adoption no longer is a hush-hush arrangement a woman makes to avoid the stigma of being an unwed mother. It's time Illinois law changed as well and stopped treating adopted adults like children.

(Paid archives)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

ARIZONA: Letter--Adoptees Deserve Open Birth Records, November 18, 2007


November 18, 2007

Adoptees deserve open birth records

To the editor:

Being that November is National Adoption Awareness Month, I thought I'd take the time to increase awareness of a serious issue concerning adoptees. Adoptees are not allowed, by law, to access their own birth certificates. This means adoptees have no access to their own identities, including their ethnic heritage, genealogy, family medical history, siblings, or birth relatives who may wish contact.

The law claims "privacy" must be protected, but at what cost to adoptees? The adoptees are bound by a contract they never agreed to. Because of that, the adoptees lose their very identities. This is not justice in any sense of the word.

As an adult adoptee happily reunited with his birth family, I strongly urge everyone to support open records access for all adoptees. At no time should "privacy" be used as an excuse to deny human beings their rights to their own heritage.



Link to article

ALABAMA: Commentary by Phillip Tutor--Adopt this Plan--Give Them Access

November 16, 2007

Phillip Tutor: Adopt this plan — Give them access

Let’s start an argument.

There are millions of adoptees in the United States, and only those living in eight states — yes, Alabama’s one of them — can legally get their birth records.

The name of their birthmother? Nope. The name of their birthfather? They can’t get it. Where they were born? Can’t get that, either.

Thus, most U.S. adoptees are the only Americans denied their family histories and medical histories. By the conditions of their birth, they are treated differently than anyone else born here. Even American-born children of illegal immigrants can access their birth records, a right given them by U.S. law.

But U.S. adoptees are cut off from their life stories, through no choice of their own, as though their citizenship and rights are not as valuable as those of others.

So, our argument:

Should U.S. adoptees have access to their birth records?


It’s past time for this paradigm shift in our nation’s thinking about adoption and the rights of adoptees. Anything less perpetuates the stigma that’s unmercifully dogged adoptees for generations — a stigma that, slowly, diminishes with each passing decade.

Before we progress, two points should be clear. I’m an adoptive parent — an old story, written about it before. I’m also the parent of internationally adopted children, so my expertise is filtered through eyes with a particularly global hue. Just so you know.

This has bubbled up because November is National Adoption Month and Saturday is National Adoption Day, designed, according to its Web site, as a “collective national effort to raise awareness” for thousands of children in foster care awaiting adoption.

In 2006, more than 3,000 adoptions were finalized in National Adoption Day ceremonies in 50 states.

More important, the movement to allow adoptees access to their birth records is riding a wave of publicity — some positive, some vitriolic — thanks to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, whose report released this week called for states to treat their adopted citizens as they do all others and grant them legal access to their records. And as you can expect, the report is wildly controversial in child-welfare and civil-liberty circles.

Advocates state the obvious, that adopted Americans should have the same right to know who their ancestors are. What they do with that information — contact their birth parents or simply obtain a birth certificate — is their choice.

Opponents such as the National Council on Adoptions, which represents many religiously affiliated adoption agencies, and a few state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union are fighting for the privacy of the birthmothers, a critically important issue. In New Jersey — to show you how far this argument goes — representatives of that state’s Right to Life organization and the New Jersey Catholic Conference oppose giving adoptees access to their information. Why? They claim the loss of privacy might push women to choose abortion instead of adoption.

Understandably, abortion is an important argument.

But it’s not this argument.

We cannot lose sight of the enormity of the decisions made by women who place their children up for adoption. They are gut-wrenching, life-changing moments in the lives of women who either cannot take care of their child or for some reason choose not to. Whether they select open adoption or the traditional method that includes anonymity, the rights of birthmothers cannot be simply tossed aside.

Nor can we ignore the fact that there are adoptive parents who themselves struggle over the control of their children’s birth records. As an adoptive parent, it’s easy for me to understand that some parents of adoptees are adamantly opposed to having their son or daughter — their adult child, as it may be — contact a birthmother who relinquished her parental rights decades ago. Those are emotions that are acutely raw, and remain so. I know that first-hand.

Clearly, this isn’t a monochromatic, one-sided issue.

Nevertheless, we have to realize that the anonymity and sealed birth records were established in an era when adoption was neither a source of pride nor a process to cherish. Often adoption was a deep, dark family secret, rarely discussed for fear of the stigma that came with an adoption label. As Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Institute, told the Chicago Tribune: “Sealed records are a symbol of a time when adoption was an embarrassment.” And barring adoptees access to their birth records was the one sure way to protect the anonymity of those who had chosen to place their child up for adoption.

That time has passed.

There is no easy, clean answer. This argument is messy and complex. But some things should be done because they are right and just and humane.

This is one of them.

About Phillip Tutor:
Phillip Tutor is the commentary editor. He was formerly The Star's managing editor, news editor, sports editor and sports columnist. He lives in Golden Springs with his wife and two children.

Contact Phillip Tutor:

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

UNITED STATES: States urged to Let Adoptees See Records

CBS News,
November 12, 2007

States Urged To Let Adoptees See Records

NEW YORK, Nov. 12, 2007 (CBS/AP) It is among the most divisive questions in the realm of adoption: Should adult adoptees have access to their birth records, and thus be able to learn the identity of their birth parents?

In a comprehensive report being released Monday, a leading U.S. adoption institute says the answer is "Yes" and urges the rest of America to follow the path of the eight states that allow such access to all adults who were adopted.

"States' experiences in providing this information make clear that there are minimal, if any, negative repercussions," said the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "Outcomes appear to have been overwhelmingly positive for adult adopted persons and birthparents alike."

For years there has been an assumption privacy was in the best interests of the birth parents who give up their children and the families who adopt them, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

Today's report suggests otherwise. It found when states open records:

# The number of adoptions did not drop.
# Abortions did not rise.
# There were no unwanted intrusions.
# Ninety-five percent of birth parents said they were open to contact by their children.

Opponents of open access argue that unsealing birth records violates the privacy that birthmothers expected when they opted to give up their babies. They raise the specter of birthparents forced into unwanted relationships with grown children who have tracked them down.

But the Donaldson Institute says most birthparents, rather than being fearful and ashamed, welcome contact with the children they bore.

Kansas and Alaska never barred adoptees from seeing their birth certificates. Since 1996, six other states - Alabama, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee - have decided to allow access to all adult adoptees.

However, the progression has been slow, and open-records legislation has been rebuffed in many states by a determined and diverse opposition.

Opponents in Connecticut, where bills have failed in each of the past two years, included the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. It depicted itself as a voice for birthmothers who opposed the measure but were reluctant to speak out publicly.

In New Jersey, where a long-running campaign to pass an open-re+cords bill was derailed again this year, the opposition includes New Jersey Right to Life and the New Jersey Catholic Conference. They argue that eliminating the prospect of confidentiality might prompt a pregnant single woman to choose abortion rather than adoption.

Marlene Lao-Collins of the Catholic Conference said she knew of no data supporting the concerns about abortions, "but even if it just happened once, that would be one too many."

Nationwide, one of the major foes of open records is the National Council for Adoption, which represents many religiously affiliated adoption agencies. Its president, Thomas Atwood, says any reconnection between an adopted adult and a birthparent should be by mutual consent - which is the policy in most states.

"I empathize with anybody who feels the need to know their biological parents' identity," Atwood said. "But I don't think the law should enable them to force themselves on someone who has personal reasons for wanting confidentiality."

The Donaldson report says evidence from the states with open records rebuts every argument against the concept. Notably, it says there is no proof that abortions rise, that adoptions decline, or that birthparents are harassed following a switch to open records.

"There has been no evidence that the lives of birthmothers have been damaged as a result," the report says. "In the states that have amended their laws ... few birthmothers have expressed the desire to keep records sealed or the wish not to be contacted."

The most recent state to opt for open records is Maine; a law signed in June will allow adult adoptees to access their birth certificates starting in 2009.

One of the bill's main sponsors was state Sen. Paula Benoit, an adoptee who personally lobbied all her colleagues. While working on the bill, she uncovered her own biological background and learned, to her amazement, that two Democratic lawmakers she was working with were her nephews.

"There are so many adoptees who want to know who they are," she said. "Can you imagine being denied your identity?"Among the many birthmothers grateful to have been found by children they relinquished is Eileen McQuade of Delray Beach, Florida, who is president of the American Adoption Congress and a fervent advocate of open records.

"Secrecy was the way it was done at the time - it was not a choice or a preference on the part of the mothers," McQuade said of the 1960s, when she placed a daughter for adoption. "We treat adoptees as if they're forever children - it's absurd."

The Donaldson report depicts adopted people as the only class of Americans not permitted to routinely obtain their birth certificates.

Giving them full access "is a matter of legal equality, ethical practice and, on a human level, basic fairness," the report said. "It is an essential step toward placing adoptive families, families of origin, everyone connected to them and, indeed, adoption itself on a level playing field within society, without the stigma, shame and inequitable treatment they have experienced in the past."

"The mythology around adoption is based on the notion that you should be protecting someone from something," said the institute's executive director, Adam Pertman.

"But that's not the reality," he said. "Adoptees are not behaving poorly, they're behaving very respectfully, and birthparents do not appear to be a frightened class that wants to hide."

Link to article
Also see video at link