Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NJ Bill Voted out of committee to full Assembly. At bleeping last.

The adoption-reform bill in New Jersey was voted out of the Assembly Human Services committee last night: Six Democrats voted to send the bill to the entire Assembly; four Republicans abstained from casting a vote. (WTF is wrong with all of them? Or is it just a matter of, this is a Dem bill, we don't want to vote for it or any human rights that Dems support?) But I digress.

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.

Waiting to Forget: A Motherhood Lost and FoundBack 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[2] in parts of nine of the ten states to which it applied (Texas being the exception).[3] In every Confederate state (except Tennessee and Texas), the Proclamation went into immediate effect in Union-occupied areas and at least 20,000 slaves[2][3] 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[4]) 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/MEDIA/OLS_MEDIA_PLAYER.HTM?wma=!{A}http://rmserver.njleg.state.nj.us/internet/2010/AHU/0614-0200PM-M0-1.wma!

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

11 comments :

  1. "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..."
    So VERY true! I don't get it either... if they aren't Adoptees or Natural Mothers then why don't they just leave it up to the ones it actually concerns? And if they are Adoptees or Natural Mothers and they don't want information or contact then Fine! no one is going to force them to do anything. Like I wrote about - these people are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
    Cully

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  2. That puzzled me, too, Cully. Although I oppose the bill, her opposition didn't make any sense. She didn't seem to have a strong reason why they should remain sealed, and she's not forced to get an OBC. It's very difficult to get anyone to show up for a hearing, even those with strong thoughts about an issue. If she had no strong thoughts, then why bother. Why not let well enough alone. Something is missing. Do you have her name. She may have been recruited.

    Malrey

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  3. My letter to the Star Ledger
    eletters@starledger.com

    Here is the editorial I am responding to:
    http://tinyurl.com/24g3q9o

    To the Editor:

    I am a mother who gave up a child for adoption in NJ. I resent your speaking for me and others like me in your recent editorial. Adopted adults should be able to request their original birth certificate just as we non-adopted citizens can, with no need for permission from anyone, including the natural mother.

    Sadly the bill now under consideration does not do this, so in its present form I cannot support it, much as I would like to be able to. There should be NO NEED to ask permission of me for my son to request his own original birth certificate if he wants it. Rather than worrying about notifying birthmothers about this bill, which will cost 90 thousand dollars at a time our state is in fiscal crisis, the bill should be amended so that adopted adults pay a nominal fee to vital statistics to request an uncertified copy of their OBC and get it, no extra cost to the state, no intrusion into personal relationships that can be worked out in private.

    I was never promised confidentiality or anything else by the state when I surrendered my son. He is an adult in his 40s now and should not have to ask my permission for anything. Nor should any exchange of private medical information between us have to go through a third party, the state. As adults we can handle that quite well on our own.

    Adoptees deserve the human right of access to their original birth certificate with no conditions or permission.

    maryanne

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  4. Because this post is an amended version of the post earlier that day o the NJ adoption-reform bill, you can also read comments on same subject under the previous post.

    Sorry about this, but I felt I wanted to expand on this. I continue to believe this bill, with it's one-year information veto window, is the best that is going to pass and it's a hell of a lot better than nothing.

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  5. The adoptees who show up against this bill...they are like people who do not have motorcycles showing up to protest the motorcycle helmet law. WTF are they doing there? Why are they so fearful of letting other adopted people have their birth certificates?

    All I can think of is this is due to some demented reaction to being adopted and the need to externally express gratitude to one's adoptive parents. It's sick sick sick.

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  6. What is saddest about this bill is that it has made no impression on our regular opponents or most of the NJ Press that all the concessions of vetoes, white-outs, medical records, sealing Safe Haven records permanently were made. Read the editorials, and the many ignorant comments of the general public. It is discouraging.

    I believe that a clean bill could have gotten just as far, and do not think this one will get past our Republican conservative Catholic governor. He is in the Bishops' back pocket and will jump when they say so.

    I really hope that if this bill fails a clean one rises again. It has been shown that all the compromises have not satisfied our enemies at all, nor impressed the press who regularly oppose us here. What the compromises have done is split the adoption reform community, and if passed, given birth parents rights we never had before and mostly do not want to prevent adoptees from obtaining real rights.

    The whole thing is just sad, and did not have to do down this way.

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  7. Lorraine,

    I believe compromise is better than no compromise and no open records. Compromise is part of every aspect of life. It is what it is.

    Elaine was great and her testimony was excellent.

    I was also very pleased that the NJ Medical Associatin came out in favor of the bill with very strong language about adoptees not being able to access personalized medicine because of the closed records law. I would have been a perfect case study because my state is a closed records state as well and my medical care would have been as different as night and day if family medical history was available.

    61 adoptee whose records were opened AFTER my events...far to late.

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  8. I agree with you Lorraine, the adoptee who testified that she doesn't like facebook and that she was adopted by "beautiful" people struck me as just a confused person who was acting on an impulse she didn't even understand. I mean doesn't she start out by saying that she is having company at her house? Also, I think at one point she mused that it may not be a bad bill.

    I think she was feeling her identity is threatened by knowing the truth. As someone who has been in reunion for a long-ass time, she is right. Her sense of self will probably be at the least greatly altered by knowing the truth.

    I almost didn't survive it, so I can have some sympathy for her. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, identity is well the basis for everything else. I mean that was what was really for sale in adoption, my identity.

    I am still glad I know.

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  9. Lorraine,
    You are dead on. I sat in the committee room for the entire hearing, having been a subject in Jean Strauss' film "For the Life of Me".. That damn adoptee who had the audacity to speak out against the bill got my dander up too. After listening to her pine over how much she loved her adoptive parents and didn't want to hurt them by looking for her natural parents (I struggled with that years ago myself prior to having my own children), I finally asked her when she was done if she, in fact had children of her own to which she answered no and likely never will! No small wonder she opposes the bill and doesn't care about her own family medical history..If this legislation passes, I would suggest she could find her birth parents without even mentioning it to her adoptive parents..I did just that myself..I would also suggest that once the legislation passes, she will likely reconsider searching for her own birth parents (something I also did :).
    I have three children of my own and that is one of the primary reasons I searched for my own birth parents when the law passed in Massachusetts less than 3 years ago. Found my mother, four years too late, as she had already passed away at the age of 85, but was able to get her medical history, which is of great value to me and to my own children! Haven't found my birth father yet, but am getting close. Also found out that my birth mom who lived and died in Maine, had been searching for me (her only child)as well...surely would have enjoyed a wonderful reunion had our legislation passed four years earlier than it did..The folks from adoption agencies around the country had never had a legal or moral right to grant privacy or anonomity to birth parents giving up their children for adoption, nor should they be allowed to do so moving forward..part of the reason why Catholic Charities and similar groups are opposed to this bill, as the Catholic orphanages and adoption homes that I know of here in Massachusetts seemingly guaranteed privacy to birth parents over the past six or more decades. In addition, they also want the money to continue to flow into their coffers as a result of assisting adoptees with their searches. Also noticed from those who spoke at the hearings the following: For adoptees to reunite with their birth families, each group that opposed wanted to be part of the reunion (get this! when each spoke: Catholic Charities wanted a mediator in the room, the ACLU wanted a counselor in the room, while the State Bar Assoc. wanted a lawyer in the room!!!.)...sound familiar? likely because they all seem to want to keep their hand in the till (or in the adoptees pocket!) It's an outrage..This bill needs to be signed into legislation in New Jersey, just as it has been into several other states over the past decade. I have already written my letter to New Jersey's governor imploring him to sign this bill, once the full Assembly passes it, and put this long overdue legislation into place for New Jersey adoptees and birth families, and I suggest that anyone who reads this might consider doing the same..Thanks again for Lorraine...well done
    DK

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  10. Marley,
    I do believe that the Face Book lady can be found at
    http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/06/nj_assembly_committee_approves_5/1607/comments-2.html#postComment
    she's posting as Nora's Tea Party.

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  11. Boy, Cully, this woman is a whackjob. Could she be Elaine's birthsource? But I do see she posts on other topics.

    ReplyDelete

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