Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Rights do First/Birth Mothers Have? Not many in the US


Allowing first/birth mothers access to the names of their children after being adopted is an issue that does not come up in the United States in the battle to give adoptees their original birth certificates. Given the way some legislators act about first mothers--that most of us are all still cowering in the closet and fear contact from our children--a lot of them would keel over if we started lobbying to be included in the legislation.

After all, what rights do we have? We are the poor women who had the babies we couldn't care for, and we ought to thank our lucky stars that someone else came along and took over.

Yet there is enlightenment across the border in Canada. In Ontario as of June 1, first mothers are able to get their children's new names--unless the individual has filed a disclosure veto, and vice versa. Yes, it's true! Here's how the official Canadian website outlines the law:

Adopted adults and birth parents also have the option to protect the privacy of their post-adoption birth information. Adopted adults and birth parents can:

  • file a notice of contact preference to specify how they would like to be contacted
  • file a no contact notice if they do not want to be contacted, but are willing to have their identifying information released
  • file a disclosure veto if the adoption was finalized before September 1, 2008. This will prevent identifying post-adoption birth information from being released.

As of June 1, approximately 1,100 people--closely divided between adoptees and first parents--had asked that identifying information NOT be released to the other party, according to Canada's premier newspaper, the Globe and Mail. That's less than half a percent of the estimated 250,000 adoptions since 1921 the new law covers. Since this law was hotly contested in Ontario, one assumes that most people became aware of this provision through the many stories in the media. Another 1,400 filed affidavits indicating the identifying information can be released but they wish no contact, or how they might like to be contacted, such as by email. The "no-contact" preference includes a steep penalty if it is violated.

The Canadian law makes me want to stand up and cheer.

While any rights for first mothers are not even whispered as we work for adoptee access to their original identities, it was not always so in the U.S. of A. As one of the old war horses involved in adoption reform for a long time, I remember that back in 1980 when the then U.S. Health and Human Services Department proposed changes in the adoption law, giving first mothers the new names of their children upon reaching adulthood (can't remember if it was 18 or 21) was amazingly enough included. Before the proposed legislation was written, hearings were held all over the country. Florence Fisher, B.J. Lifton, and I were among the many many people who testified at Columbia University to testify for such openness in adoption. Lee Campbell, founder of Concerned United Birthparents, served on the advisory committee (and was the only first mother who was) which wrote the legislation. Here is the wording from that long-forgotten Model Adoption Act:


“There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parents and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth….The birth parents’ interest in reputation is not alone deserving of constitutional protection.”


We did have some support in Congress, but we also had a strong foe in the late Senator John Tower of Texas, adoptive father, known drunk and womanizer in DC, as well as the National Council of Adoption. To those who do not know, NCFA is a consortium of adoptive agencies (including Mormon [LDS] and Bethany Christian Services) who have been opposed to openness in adoption from their origin. In fact, NCFA is a direct outgrowth of the movement for open adoptions. The Gladney agency in Texas is a founding member.

Somewhere in my voluminous files I have the original 1980 bill, and when I can fish it out I will post the wording that speaks more directly to first mothers and their rights.


In the meantime, what do First Mother Forum readers think? Adopted people, first mothers, adoptive parents, let us know. --lorraine

17 comments :

  1. Well, I don't like the 1100 figure....I have to wonder truely if it is accurate and who released that number to the public(you know me Lorraine, The Skeptical Adoptee, LoL)I guess I will never understand, if it is accurate, how any woman could inflict that kind of child abuse on her child-to deny her child knowing who he or she came from...that is just wrong and unforgivable imo, and I think all Adoptees owe their Mothers at least the benefit of the doubt and to listen to their side of the story as to why they were given away too-but in lieu of all this, Canada seems to be shaper up alot faster than the U$A...when it comes to Adoption, America is NOT the greatest countyr in the world...

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  2. Ah...I've edited the piece to include the source--the Globe and Mail newspaper, and everybody please note that the number of those asking for no disclosure is DIVIDED BETWEEN BIRTH PARENTS AND ADOPTED PEOPLE. So adoptees are also closing the door on contact to their birth mothers.

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  3. Excellent article, Lorraine,

    The whole secrecy thing is idiotic. I don't support disclosure vetoes, however. We don't have them in Oregon where adoptees gained the right to obtain their original birth certificates courtesy of the voters in 2000. I haven't heard of any case of a woman's life being ruined by the knock on the door.

    Oregon doesn't allow birthmothers to obtain identifying information except through a mutual consent registry. I suspect that will not change for a long time. It's kind of ironic. On the one hand people believe mothers give away their children because they don't want them. On the other hand, they believe mothers are lurking around for 21 years just waiting to reclaim Johnny.

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  4. I think this law is a mess. It has nothing to do with equal access. It's all about appearances. The very fact that vetoes are allowed at all in Ontario demonstrates that access to one's OBC is not respected as the fundamental right it really is.
    Even though the number of vetoes (either way) has been relatively few, it's a continuing injustice that some get continue to be denied while others get their "stuff".

    Above and beyond that, there's a lot else that's wrong about this new law.
    For instance, no more government assistance in finding people who may have moved or changed their names. Which puts an additional burden on adoptees and birth parents who don't have much money, no computer (hard to believe, I know. But it happens, really it does) or who lack the ability to conduct their own searches with the often blurry and out-dated information they have.
    The new law also neglects to include a requirement that people who put a veto supply medical information to be left with the ministry.
    And adoptive parents who might want to conduct a search on behalf of their minor adoptive children have no avenue through which to do so - even if it's in the child's best interest.

    The original bill 183 gave full disclosure to the adoptee and the birth parents were given access to the adoptee's adoptive family name.
    But it was challenged by lawyer Clayton Ruby on behalf of three adult adoptees and a birth father, and was struck down only a couple of days after being passed because it supposedly violated birth parents' "privacy" by not including a disclosure veto (though it did include a contact veto, plus the possibility of a stiff - $50,000 - penalty for breaking it) by Justice Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court who claimed the law breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    There are other countries that have much more enlightened access laws than Canada. For instance, adoptees in the UK have had unconditional access since 1975.
    Even so, it's only been from 30 December 2005 that birth relatives in the UK have been able to apply for access to an adopted person’s adoption registration - and then only through intermediary agencies.

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  5. I fully support first mothers' right to a certified copy of their lost adult/child's birth certificate.

    In Canada, does this include fathers?

    I know this could be a thorny subject, but one of equal rights, too. My father is now in his mid-80s, and he did not think about it in the same way I did, but when I explained that currently in NYS, he does not have the right to my birth certificate, yet, he was the one who relinquished me shortly after his wife's death (my mother). He would like to be officially recognized as my father - a right he lost when my birth record was sealed.

    Sealed records should be abolished. That idea belongs in the past.

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  6. It would be interesting to know more about why the 1,100 opted for the contact veto. My guess is that most of these people opted out because of the secrecy that has existed, the fear of the unknown and possibly feelings of obligation to a-parents. In ways it is surprising that the number is this low.

    The fear of the unkown is a very strong emotion. Many people will go to extremes to not face their fears even though they may need to face them to move forward in life.

    We basically had a joint search for my son, through a confidential intermediary. The search started rather suddenly and I will admit at times, during the 4 months of the search I was very scared, scared of what I might find, scared that I might be rejected, scared that I might be getting involved in something that might hurt my son, his mom, myself or others.

    After I met my son the first time in person, he told me his worst fear was that his birth parents were druggies/alcoholics living in the gutter. In reality we are just to average people, living very average lives.

    With all the secrecy surrounding adoption it is understandable that one would have fears about searching/being found. All the more reason to open the system and dispel some of the myths. There are some cases were the fear is real, but most of the time the fear just holds us back from what we may need to do and limit or handicap our lives.

    It took me 32 years to finally ask out loud, where is our son, how is he doing, how has his life been, to say we care about you and always have, everyday of your life. To find him and find out that he wanted us to come find him. There does need to be options for birth parents (including dads). I don't know all the answers but I do know how the system can damage peoples lives while trying to protect a very imperfect system.

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  7. (1) I don't think that 1/2 of 1% is low at all. It's extremely high. It came about due to a huge advertising campaign to warn adoptees and moms about the "danger" of the law.

    *2) I believe that all government held records should be open to everybody--the general public at large, not just those involved in the specific adoption.ANybody should be allowed to read anything they want.

    *3) birth certificates should be abolished. Their only purpose is state control.

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  8. Joan Wheeler brings up an interesting point about fathers in Ontario.

    In theory, they are allowed to apply for identifying information.

    However...

    Before 1980, it was practise in Ontario for fathers to be denied the right to sign the original birth registration form if they were not married to the mother. To further enforce this, older Ontario birth registrations don't say "Father" - they say "Husband". If the father was not married to the mother, he would be breaking the law by making an untrue declaration on an official document.

    This was a coercion technique - mothers were told that their children would suffer a terrible childhood by having "no father" as everyone would know he was not on the birth certificate (funny about them not being worried about our privacy in that regard) and that the child would be spared "abuse" if the mother surrendered the child to a *married* couple (implying that we would be abusing our children with a lack of a marriage certificate - absurd to hear now but back then, it helped the social workers lay on the guilt trip).

    Anyway, back to fathers.

    The point is that on the form to request identifying information, it asks if you are the father *named* on the original birth registration.

    Chances are very high that many fathers are not and therefore it is a possibility that they could be denied identifying information because they were denied the right decades ago to put their name on the obc.

    Fortunately in my case, my son and his father are reunited. My son's father will sign my sons's obc if his name has been omitted (I have been told by a social worker that it was often whited out by them).

    Sad that the Registrar General will not allow forced omissions to be rectified, so my sons's father is doing the next best thing.

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  9. BD said (1) ". . . It came about due to a huge advertising campaign to warn adoptees and moms about the "danger" of the law."
    I'm well aware of that. When I said "relatively low", I believe when that is taken into consideration, it is. Frankly I'm surprised given the ferocity of the Cavoukian campaign, the percentage wasn't higher.

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  10. What I find interesting is that a child who ages out of foster care has access to the records and the OBC, can reunite with the parents, no matter how bad the situation may have been before removal from the home. Why is the state only interested in controlling/mediating adoption-related situations?

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  11. Quickly adding - I do agree with BD's point #2.
    Birth records ought to be open to the general public.

    But because they're not, I think the person to whom the BC was issued has the primary right.
    The birth certificate was, after all, issued in *their* name, as registration of *their* birth.
    So it's *their* property, and when it is denied it is they who suffer from the lack of information a BC represents.

    Biological mothers *have* the information about the birth - because they've lived it.
    But if they need to have that experience confirmed by getting a copy of the birth certificate, I think they should be able to do so.

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  12. To answer Maybe:

    Because the state is largely interested in "protecting" the sanctity of the adoptive family...you better believe it.

    lorraine

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  13. I wrote a post about the issue of the veto in Ontario (and by default, other places as well). Vetoes are unnecessary and the reasons that people file vetoes don't wash. Mostly, they are based on unfounded fears.

    Ontario is also going to end up with the same problems that B.C. has: adoptive parents forging their adopted adult child's signatures on the veto forms and sending them in on the child's behalf without the child's knowledge. I personally know 3 adoptees who had this happen to them. They had this problem in Queensland as well, and it came to light in a newsletter by an adoptive parent organization that was telling their members how to do it. The ladies in Origins Australia can tell you all about it.

    Cedar

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  14. Most of us thought adoptive parents would be better parents than us at the time of surrender. Sometimes they were, sometimes they were not. We were under the delusion of a general myth about adoptive parents being superior as a group that did not really apply in individual cases.

    It would have been honest and helpful to have been told that adoptive parents are generally no better and no worse than natural parents, and that times and circumstances change. Adoption gives the adoptee a different life, but nobody, natural parent or adoptive parent, can guarantee a child a perfect life that will not be touched by divorce, alcoholism, abuse, poverty, mental illness or tragedy.

    None of us have a crystal ball to see the future, and it has become clear that the methods for selecting adoptive parents work no better than random placement. Mothers considering surrender should be clear about this, so they are better able to access realistically what will be better for themselves and their child in the long run.

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  15. I disagree with the author of this article that he doesn't have the right to speak to or meet his birth parents, but otherwise I think this an excellent critique of Ontario's new Adoption Information Disclosure Act

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/
    opinions/adult-adoptees-have-a-right-to-know-more/article1171023/

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  16. Responding to an old post by Joan Wheeler:

    The new Ontario law does include fathers if and only if the father's name appeared on the original birth certificate.

    I have been told that this was rarely done, and in some cases if a father did put his name down the information was expunged prior to its being filed.

    I don't know how often this was the case, but the understanding I have from the Ontario Coalition for Open Adoption Records is that most original birth certificates will *not* contain the name of the father.

    On the other hand, this also means these men are not permitted to file disclosure or contact vetos, since they have no proof of paternity. So in such a case if an adoptee does find the father's name by other means, e.g. from the mother, at least there will be no terrifyingly large fine threatening the adoptee from on high!

    The latest numbers I have seen for disclosure/contact veto stats from Ontario, which run up until the end of April, had approximately 60% of disclosure vetos from birth parents and 40% from adoptees.

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  17. It needs to be pointed out that the book Forbidden Family, written by Joan Wheeler, published by Trafford Publications has been pulled from their selling markets. The book is unavailable and no further copies of it in it’s present form will be printed. The book was pulled by the publisher after several months of investigating the documented proof sent to them by the birth family.
    The pulling of the book proves that what the birth sisters have been saying, that the book is full of lies and hate, is correct. For further details see: ruthsippelpace.wordpress.com/

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