The testimony ran on for hours, and the hearing lasted from just after 2 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. What I heard (had to leave at 6:30) was incredibly powerful, at least from our side of the fence. Longtime reform activist Pam Hasegawa pointed out--by quoting the actual law--that the legislation from the Forties does not indicate anywhere that it was meant to guarantee secrecy and anonymity from one's own child; an African American woman spoke powerfully about her need to know, despite that she found her first mother but has respected the woman's desire for no contact; another spoke of not being able to get a passport because amended birth certificates stamped more than a year after their birth prevent you from doing so since 9/11; others talked about the serious health risks of not knowing your actual, FIRST FAMILY medical history--your real medical history, that is, as your adoptive family's medical history has nothing to do with you and is meaningless to a doctor; another spoke of treatment options for herself and her children that are frequently determined by what runs in the family. Your biological family. One woman who did not learn she was adopted at 41 said that she realized she had been giving doctors false information all her life. I thought: and her "loving" but not real mother, her adoptive mother, let her do so. What is "loving" and "caring" about that? That woman put "her" daughter's life in danger for 41 years.
Even I can forget how tragic and stupid and deeply emotional it is sometimes to not have your birth certificate, the information about your biological, birth, original, natural, real first family. But it was all there yesterday in strong, irrefutable language. As I listened on the computer, I both cheered and got glassy-eyed. Our heroine, adoptee activist Elaine Penn, did speak, in clear, forceful language even though her first mother is someone...who's somewhat deranged. First-mother activist Judy Foster was great too, her voice breaking when she got caught up by the emotions of the moment. One adoptive mother, also a NJ legislator, spoke in favor of the bill. Hooray for her!
I had to leave when another adoptive mother was speaking against the bill in a cheerful, chirpy voice. Damn her, I thought, she's never been without her birth certificate, she's never wondered whom she is, who she was when she was born, whom her real parents are.
I also heard an adoptee testify against the bill; I can not for the life of me understand why the woman just can't let it be. If she doesn't want her non-fake birth records, fine. But why deny the thousands who do? What is so fearful to her that she has to actively work to punish others who want to know the truth of their identities? She's like a house slave speaking out against the end of slavery because she might lose her home if all slaves are emancipated, and the Masta can't provide any longer.
Some of the antis were clearly rattled by the emotional, powerful testimony, but still they droned on, talking about how changing the law will increase abortions, while we have the statistics to prove them wrong. Here's the summary from American Adoption Congress:
"The data reveals that if access has had any effect on adoptions and abortions, it has been to increase adoptions and decrease abortions."(For a state by state breakdown see here: Abortion and Adoption Data from States Who Have Enacted Access)But still the anti-choice crowd (I hate Right to Life as their appellation, I'm right to life too, I'm against the death penalty) lie and repeat this falsehood as if it were written in the Bible. It must be because they have imprinted in their minds the defeated and weary women at the point they surrender their children, days or weeks after giving birth. Hell, I was obsessed that the birth of my daughter not be posted in The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle where I had been a reporter back in 1966; but I never wanted her not to know who I was. I always hoped for and planned for a reunion, no matter how. That was the saddest truth of relinquishment: that the damn surrender papers stipulated that I never be informed, no matter what happened to her, whether she was in need or not. And she was in need, desperate need, as regular readers know. Now tell me, dear legislators opposed to this bill, how in the hell this makes the old legislation in the "best interest of the child? It does not.
Archaic adoption laws such as those in New Jersey and Michigan and New York and 38 other states are in the supposed best interests of the affluent people who are the adopters, plain and simple. They were written by the adopting class, they were for the adopting class, and today they serve only those of the adopting class who are against open records for their children, no matter their age. As for the few women who hide from their children? The state has no such vested interest in protecting them; if that were the case, they would also "protect" putative fathers who do not want to be named. You have a baby; you owe that individual the right to know his or her identity, plain and simple. Your anonymity tramples the right of others. Your anonymity takes away that person's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We need another court case to make its way to the Supremes; maybe the conservatives and libertarians on the current Supreme Court will see through the fallacy of sealed birth records, and how it applies law unequally to a whole class of people.
Back to New Jersey: The NJ Senate has passed the bill four times since 2004, the last in March. Yesterday was its first hearing in the Assembly. (Change of leadership, change of legislation.) Now the bill can at last move forward to the general Assembly for a vote.
I know this bill and all such bills that contain any restrictions--or give that handful of birth-comes-first mothers who are afraid of their children, afraid of contact, afraid of facing reality the opportunity to file a veto riles those who oppose any legislation that does not provide unfettered access to original birth certificates to all adopted people.
People, get real. This bill and the others like it pave the way for a shift in attitude in the mind of the adopters, the numskulls who apparently run the NJ ACLU, the legislators who will vote on these bills, the Catholic Church who typically oppose giving adoptees their original, unamended birth records. But once it becomes clear that no great harm occurs in the land, this cruel and unusual legislation will topple. Consider the Emancipation Proclamation. From Wikipedia:
"The Emancipation Proclamation was criticized at the time for freeing only the slaves over which the Union had no power. Although most slaves were not freed immediately, the Proclamation did free thousands of slaves the day it went into effect in parts of nine of the ten states to which it applied (Texas being the exception). In every Confederate state (except Tennessee and Texas), the Proclamation went into immediate effect in Union-occupied areas and at least 20,000 slaves were freed at once on January 1, 1863.
"Additionally, the Proclamation provided the legal framework for the emancipation of nearly all four million slaves as the Union armies advanced, and committed the Union to ending slavery, which was a controversial decision even in the North. Hearing of the Proclamation, more slaves quickly escaped to Union lines as the Army units moved South. As the Union armies advanced through the Confederacy, thousands of slaves were freed each day until nearly all (approximately 4 million, according to the 1860 census) were freed by July 1865.
Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that while the Proclamation had freed most slaves as a war measure, it had not made slavery illegal. Several former slave states had already passed legislation prohibiting slavery; however, in a few states, slavery continued to be legal, and to exist, until December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was enacted."Sometimes good work that upends old wrong ways takes time and happens in steps. --lorraine
PS: To listen to the testimony, go to: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/
PPS: I've posted one anonymous comment from those opposed; that's it. If the antis want to post here, they need to leave their real name and their url or email address. Then we will consider it.
PPPS: Both books above highly recommended: one is by photographer Jill Krementz How It Feels to Be Adopted and tells first-person stories of adolescent and teenage adoptees with pictures, great for young adoptees dealing with the issue; the second is a wonderful memoir of a birth/first mother, Margaret Moorman, Waiting to Forget: A Motherhood Lost and Found