The original birth certificate has even greater significance for adopted persons. Like many adoptees, my surrendered daughter Megan sought her original birth certificate after our reunion. She wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune, supporting open records:
“Before I found my birth parents, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my birth certificate, trying to make sense of it, trying to find my birth parents names listed somewhere between the lines. The certificate contained other facts about my birth, yet it left off the most important fact. I could not make sense of it. I want my original birth certificate because I want the complete truth, in writing, of who I am. I will still use the amended one for legal purposes, but getting the original one would give me great satisfaction.”The National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and others opposing legislation allowing adoptees access to their OBCs understand the symbolic nature of the original birth certificate. (NCFA is an industry group whose members include LDS Family Services, Edna Gladney agencies, some Catholic Charities agencies, Bethany Christian Services, and others.) NCFA pronouncements about birthmother privacy, reductions in adoption, and increases in abortions obscure the real reason it opposes adoptee access. In actuality, the OBC has little to do with reunions. By the time an adoptee is old enough to obtain his OBC, his mother likely has married and changed her name; the address on the certificate may well be a shuttered maternity home, far from where his mother’s actual home was. With the internet, private investigators, and search groups, mothers and children have been reuniting since the 1980’s like nobody’s business (which it is). In fact, NCFA does not oppose mutually-agreed upon reunions or open adoptions.
The truth is that the NCFA fears the OBC itself. The OBC is irrefutable proof that the adoptive parents are not THE ONLY PARENTS and that by seeking his OBC, an adoptee knows it. Here’s what William Pierce, then NCFA President wrote in his 1999 affidavit urging the Oregon courts to overturn Ballot Measure 58, which allowed adult adoptees unrestricted access to their OBCs:
“One of the policy reasons for the decision to amend birth certificates and seal adoption records is to send a clear message to all concerned that the child now belongs in the adoptive family for all intents and purposes. All public records, therefore, link the adopted child with the adoptive family. Opening adoption records on demand or allowing access to original birth certificates creates the perception that the relationship between the biological family and the adopted person is still intact.”But all that we know about surrender and adoption informs us that the link is never really broken, no matter how the state tries to paper over that reality.
A recently released update of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s 2007 report on adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, For the Records II, sets forth how OBCs came to be sealed, countering the bogus claims for keeping them sealed and presenting well-researched and convincing arguments for unsealing them. The report recommends:
• Every state restore unrestricted access to original birth certificates for all adult adoptees, retroactively and prospectively.
• State laws that provide access to original birth certificates to a limited number of adult adoptees should be amended to enable them all to obtain these documents and thereby be treated equally.
• No agency, attorney, social worker or other adoption professional should promise birthparents that their identities will remain concealed from their children.
• A national adoption registry should be implemented to enable all adopted persons and their birthparents, no matter where they reside, to participate.
• Confidential intermediary services should be available throughout the states, even after original birth certificates access is restored.
We at FMF applaud the first three recommendations but disagree with the last two. A national adoption registry already exists, the non-profit International Soundex Reunion Registry.
As the report itself notes, CI’s are ineffective because they “are not well-publicized, dependent on the program’s resources, and make only one attempt at contact.” We would add that CI’s may actually obstruct reunions because they can frighten the other party, resulting in a “no contact” response. CI’s are also expensive, costing several hundred dollars to the adoptee. The report suggests public funding -- unlikely -- or making them available at a very reasonable cost -- also unlikely. The best way is for the adoptee to screw up his courage and make contact himself.
We at FMF are encouraged by the media attention that For the Record II has generated and by the Adoptee Rights Demonstration in Louisville, Kentucky this past Sunday. While progress is slow, states are beginning to crack open their records. The process is not pretty but ultimately, adoptee access may be the norm.
Meanwhile, technology is creating another group of people who are denied their right to know their genetic origins. The original and only birth certificate for children born via purchased eggs, artificial insemination, and surrogacy is in actuality a certificate of title, containing the names of the child’s legal parents rather than their real (biological, natural, whatever you want) parents. The truth about these children’s origins is locked in a fertility lab somewhere and prying it out may be more difficult than restoring adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates.