Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mormon Opposition to Open Records

When I told Rebecca, my surrendered daughter who is a Mormon, that her Church opposed legislation allowing adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates, she asserted that I was misinformed: The Church had no position on opening records; she insisted; it was only the old fuddy duddies who ran LDS Family Services who opposed opening records and they would soon be gone.

Contrary to Rebecca’s assertion, the Mormon Church does oppose opening records. Furthermore, it stretches credibility to believe that LDS Family Services would take a position which had not been approved by the Church. LDS Family Services agencies comprise 26 percent of the 197 member agencies of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) the leading opponent of open records legislation. It sends emissaries to oppose open records at public hearings all over the country; it initiates letter-writing campaigns opposing open records. Without NCFA and its “official” sounding name, it’s almost certain more states would have open records laws by now. Make no mistake; LDS is the enemy of open records.

NCFA claims that it opposes opening records in order to protect "the principles of mutual consent and the option of privacy in adoption," but that’s just a cover for the principles of Mormonism, that is that your only family is the one to which you were sealed in the temple; this is the family with which you will spend eternity. Keeping records closed helps perpetuate the Mormon tenet that single pregnancy is sinful and ought to be concealed by surrendering the baby for adoption. Finally, it actively discourages adoptees from searching for their natural mothers, and makes searching seem like something that a good Mormon would not do. (Ironically, Troy Dunn, also known as “The Locator,” announces that he is a Mormon who searched and found his mother’s biological family in the opening sequence of each show. Go figure.)

Let’s look at how LDS beliefs and practices encourage and further sealed records. It starts with the Church’s reliance on abstinence only-sex education and includes the Church’s opposition to abortion, and insistence that single mothers surrender their babies. These same conditions created a baby glut in 1960's. There’s no hard data but it appears likely that without an aggressive adoption program, there would be more Mormon babies available than couples willing to adopt.

Mormons marry and begin their families early. Thus they have fewer age-related fertility problems than the general population. LDS Family Services excludes gays, single people, and those who are not “temple worthy” from adopting. At the same time, Mormons eschew childlessness, putting pressure on infertile couples to adopt. Many couples, however, are reluctant to adopt if there is a likelihood that the child may reunite with the first family. They may turn to foreign adoptions where reunion with birthparents is often impossible.

The Church actively promotes surrender and adoption. Its monthly publication Ensign has frequent articles encouraging pregnant single women to surrender their babies. Each ward, an organizational unit consisting of about 200 families, has an adoption coordinator who identifies pregnant single women and counsels them on marriage or adoption. Each ward holds annual adoption promotion programs during Sunday services. LDS Family Services has adoption agencies throughout the country. (See earlier post. And post about Rebecca's hurtful email.)

Although Mormon adoptions today commence with some degree of openness, adoptive parents have the power to deny contact between the adopted child and his natural parents. A mother-to-be may meet the prospective adoptive parents at the LDS Family Services offices but they are not given each others’ names or address. Adoptive parents are required to send pictures and letters to the natural mother through LDS Family Services offices until the child is three. The natural mother may send letters and pictures as well. However, LDS Family Services reads the letters and may censor them or refuse to forward them to the adoptive parents. The parties can agree to meet and to continue contact after three years, but this means that the adoptive parents have complete control over whether this happens or not. If they wish to cut off all contact, they may do so; remember that the first mother was never given their name or whereabouts. At this point, the so-called open adoption can in effect become a closed adoption, just as surely as mine was in 1966.

As usual, as in the past, this puts all the power in the hands of the adoptive parents, leaving natural mothers once again at the mercy of adoptive parents, who could turn out to be just like the ones Lorraine wrote about in the previous post.

It seems obvious that Church leaders fear that opening records – giving adoptees the right to their original, first biological heritage -- would encourage reunions which would in turn discourage Mormons from adopting domestically. The inevitable result would be single mothers keeping their babies or placing them with non-Mormon families. But adoption by non-Mormon families would work against the Church’s fierce drive to increase its membership. Remember, one of its main goals is to increase membership -- that is the point of the two-year mission that all good Mormon men undertake. Additionally, if women kept their babies, the single-mother families might draw into question the Church's teachings that a proper family consists of a married man and woman and their children.

How do we combat this? Certainly it is an uphill battle, and with the LDS, we will never win in our lifetimes. But that means that we have to work all the harder to spread the message that the vast majority of first mothers desperately want to know the children they surrendered and pray for a reunion.

In a few days, I’ll post about reading my granddaughter’s blog – and learning that she has obliterated me from her “heritage.”

--Jane

12 comments :

  1. Thanks for an accurate detailing of LDS adoption practices and NCFA connections.

    In California, LDS Inc. is pushing "Proposition 8" to outlaw gay marriage, and they are putting their full weight behind this mean-spirited political campaign. They do not hesitate to mix religion and politics or to tell their members how to vote, not just what kind of underwear to wear!

    I often read an ex-Mormon list, "Recovery from Mormonism" and there are many tales of birthmothers and adoptees that are not pretty. If you are an unwed mother, a gay person, or in any way not "worthy" in the Mormon church, you are fair game for all sorts of cruelty and abuse.

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  2. Jane,

    I had spoken with Lorraine on this issue recently. Most of the cases of parents contesting the adoption of their children are LDS adoptions.

    Camira Bailey is a good friend of mine. We have spoken several times. She is a mother who changed her mind at the hospital. Shortly after birth, she and her mother were separated. Both the LDS social work and the Hospital social worker coerced her into relinquishing. For some odd reason, the hospital did a drug test which came back positive. It was a false positive. Further testing proved so. She was coerced with threats of CPS action against her. I have more details. Her child I believe was born in February/March of this year.

    Shawn McDonald was another one as well. His girlfriend began dating a Mormon guy. He had to fight to get custody of their first child. That was when he found out she was pregnant with their son. He immediately file on the putative registry here in Texas. He is now been fighting for three years. The courts have awarded him $75-100,000 dollars for attorney fees because he was contesting. He currently has a very liberal visitation. The jury in this case awarded guardianship, not adoption, to the "prospective adoptive parents." He also filed a tort case where he settled for $650,000 against the church and the LDS Family Services out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The Department of Family and Protective Services also slammed the agency and the social worker for denying his rights. This is online at their website. His case is currently on appeals in Texas. There is another fellow out of Houston with the same situation. I do not know his name.

    Cody O'Dea is another one. This list is pretty massive. Matt Tenneson, Joshua Simmerson, Brynden Ayre. The O'Deas also set up a website called babyselling.com. You can see most of the court records there. There was also a court record from case out of Oklahoma. You can email me at amyburtfourtyatyahoo.com

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  3. I just checked the Ensign magazine for "adoption" and something like 720 came up and if you go to the page (click the hyper link above) you will see how they articles encourage the girls/young women to give up their babies. It's rather sickening. But enlightening.

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  4. I am very sorry to hear about your experience with adoption. I am an LDS birth mother and my experience has been VERY different. When i went to LDS family services I was not pressured to place my little boy for adoption. We actually worked out the possibilities of keeping my child (like a budget and housing options). I came to the decision through much pray, meditation, and discussing with my family and others.

    I love my little boy very much and searched through hundreds of adoptive parents. I wasn't going to place him with any one until I found the right people. I finally found them and my experience has been wonderful. We sent our letters though the agency for the first 6 months until the adoption was finalized and then after that the agency told us contact was our choice. The adoptive family and I exchanged email addresses and I know their first and last names, their phone numbers, addresses, and we email often. After the adoption we have met and I am very happy the way things have been.

    Never have I once been made to feel like I was not a member of my little baby's family. I mean the church has never told me that he was no longer mine and I have never felt discarded. As far as contact in the future if the parents decide they don't want anymore contact that would be very hard for me but you have to remember that is what I agreed to when i signed my parental rights over to them. I hope that doesn't sound uncaring but that is what an adoption is.

    I don't know where you found that the church does not open up records because my adoption and others have been very open. I have no doubt that in the future if my son wants to contact me he will be allowed to. I love him with all my heart and I think about him EVERY DAY. His pictures are all around my room and I love hearing from his mother about the different things is his life. I am grateful I made the choice to give him more then i could have given him. I'll be honest, there are very hard days where I miss him so much I cry my self to sleep but over the years it has gotten better and I always know how grateful his adoptive parents are to me and how much they love him.

    I think adoptions are case by case because my adoption has been nothing like you described.

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  5. Open or semi-open adoptions are not to be confused with sealed adoption records.
    Lloyd Campbell, director of LDS Social Services, is on record as saying that non-disclosed adoptions (sealed records) provide protection for the birth mother and adoptive parents.
    Keeping adoption records sealed may not be "official" policy but it would be most certainly the church's preference. And given the history and attitudes of the LDS church I can't see that changing any time soon. If ever.

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  6. I don't think adoption should be an abrogation of all rights of the first mother, as you indicate you believe the adoption is. That little boy your pray for will always be your son in some ways, even though he is part of another family also. He remains a part of your family, and always will.

    LDS has fought all efforts to open up records legally, and so while you may have had a different experience, the church remains committed to sealed records, and very much encourages young women and girls to give up their babies.

    Even a cursory reading of some of the articles listed at the Ensign magazine page certainly gives that impression. If you hit the hyperlink in the piece above, it will take you to the page that lists 724 articles about adoption, most of them encouraging single women to relinquish their children.

    Your son may have more materially in a two-parent family, but you could give him what they can never hope to: the love and understanding of his...mother. His biological, genetic, first, original mother. The one he will look like.

    And he would never have to deal with the feelings of abandonment that so many adopted people do.

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  7. Jane - I was going to ask since you haven't posted since Megan's e-mail, if you don't mind sharing, have you had any further conversations regarding her request and how did you end up handling that difficult situation?

    Hugs,
    Kristy

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  8. Kristy,

    No, Megan and I have not had any further communication.

    Jane

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  9. Here is a recent post from my blog that quotes directly from the LDS Church's Handbook for leaders: http://letterstomsfeverfew.wordpress.com/

    As an active, temple-married LDS woman who relinquished her daughter in the LDS Family Services Adoption system 17 years ago, I can attest to the veracity of your assertions that the LDS church, by policy, is against open records for adoptees. Also, as a matter of policy, unwed mothers are urged and pressured to relinquish their child(ren) to those who are deemed "worthy."

    Sad but true.

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  10. I was adopted in 1975 through the LDS church, and am no longer a member (though have not waded into the morass of trying to have my name removed from their rolls) and want to start the process of trying to find out about my birth parents.
    Whether or not I ever meet them is not as important to me as knowing my heritage and family medical history.
    I was hoping you could provide me with some tips on where to begin.

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  11. Matt H:

    No matter how you feel toward your birth mother, we urge you to approach her, if you find her, with a more open attitude than: I only want my medical records.

    One doesn't know what one will find, or if she will be receptive, and we wish you a good journey. As noted elsewhere, we will be posting a sample letter to write to your first mother in a few days, and then it will be kept at the blog as a permanent page (listed under the blog title).

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  12. Matt,

    Some tips on searching: Register with the free online International Soundex Reunion Registry.

    Get your original birth certificate. Information about applying for it is likely on the Ill State website. If you have any problems, contact your state Rep or Rep. Sarah Feigenholtz who is also an adoptee and the chief sponsor of the Illinois bill.

    Contact LDS Family Services and ask for information. It's possible your mother left information with them and asked them to pass it along if you ever contacted them. It's also possible they may give you "non-identifying" information which may provide some clues.

    Check out the search information on the American Adoption Congress website. Besides search information, you may be able to find a support group near your home, invaluable both for searching and navigating a reunion.

    Read search and reunion related books to prepare yourself. Reunion is often not just a one-time thing where you simply get answers to your questions; it can be a profound experience both for you and your birth family. It may also affect your adoptive family and, if you have them, your spouse and children.

    Good luck!

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