Wednesday, September 1, 2010
ACLU Tramples Adoptee Rights & First Mother Protections
By Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards
Politics definitely makes strange bed fellows. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has lined up with Right to Life and the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) to oppose a bill which would allow most of the adoptees in that state to have a copy of their original birth certificates. The ACLU and its unusual fellow travelers claim opening records would a) invade birth mothers’ privacy and b) cause adoptions to go down, presumably because women would choose abortion rather than adoption.
That’s right – the ACLU, progenitor of Roe v. Wade enshrining a woman’s right to choose abortion, doesn’t want her choice influenced by the possibility that her misbegotten offspring might, just might, come a-looking 18 or 21 years down the road.
Quite frankly, we do not understand how the ACLU, usually a bastion of individual rights, does not see that stealing an individual's identity at birth usurps that person's right to "own" their original, true identity, the one that celebrities make much over on shows such as the recent Who Do You Think You Are? Can’t the sharp legal minds who supposedly run things at the ACLU track back to the origins of the "contract" that strips an individual of his or her identity upon adoption? How are they not comprehending that the contract is solely the construct of the state while it most directly impacts an individual who, under most current state laws, never has a say about that contract and its lifelong implications?
We get bonked on the head when we say this, but we are going to say it here: Other than slavery, what other contract or law so affects an individual all of his life, what other contract is there in which the individual most directly impacted has absolutely no say?
We go back to these words, and ask the ACLU to consider them: “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.” That was written into the proposed Model Adoption Act of 1980 by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) in an effort to streamline conflicting state laws about adoption, and--much to the surprise of those of us involved then—to open the records not only to the adopted person but also the mothers.
First mother Lorraine and adoptee Florence Fisher testified in Washington at a Senate subcommittee hearing on this, but to no avail. This section was deleted before passage. It frightened too many adoptive parents, who wrote the bulk of the letters opposing passage.
We ask, what doesn't the ACLU get? What does it think adopted people are? Chopped liver? as someone's grandmother used to say. That's problem A with the ACLU's wrong-headed stance on adoptee rights.
Now for Problem B: That adoptions will go down. Huh? That is within the purview and goal of the ACLU? News to us. But in July they signed a letter, along with the New Jersey Catholic Conference; the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry; the National Council for Adoption; the New Jersey State Bar Association, and New Jersey Right to Life opposing the bill that would give the vast majority of those people adopted in New Jersey the right to learn their real identities on the grounds that adoptions go down in those states where open records bills were passed, contrary to the findings of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.
Adoption statistics are tricky. According to the Child Information Gateway of the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS): “There is no single source for the total number of children adopted in the United States, and there is currently no straightforward way of determining the total number of adoptions, even when multiple sources of data are used. …. "
One of the difficulties is that there is no one agency charged with compiling information on all adoptions in the United States. Agencies that do have access to some types of adoption information have no mandate or other incentives to compile that information so that it can be integrated with information from other sources.” At any rate, it would seem doubtful that there would be that any correlation between open records and the number of adoptions. Furthermore, we have read that adoptions are down everywhere, and that is thought to be due to the poor economic climate of the last few years. The statistics cited in the letter to a New Jersey newspaper citing the decline in adoption rate in Oregon and New Hampshire are from 2007, when the recession was already underway, and do not include any comparative figures from other states.
But it's not just the New Jersey ACLU (each state acts somewhat independently of each other) that is wrong about this issue. Recently, 15-year-old mother, Ashley M. sought help from the ACLU of Oregon to get her daughter back, a case we discussed in detail at Justice for birthmothers is an oxymoron. Under pressure from family members, adoption agency employees, and prospective adoptive parents, Ashley signed an irrevocable consent to adoption five days after giving birth via caesarean section and while taking a powerful painkiller. The ACLU declined to help. Its spokesperson told first mother Jane that the ACLU was concerned that representing Ashley might require an ACLU attorney to take a position which would be contrary to the ACLU’s positions on reproductive rights.
Reproductive rights??? What on earth does adoption have to do with reproduction? If you’re considering adoption, you’ve already reproduced, or are about to. The ACLU’s concern, as far as it can be understood, comes from the idea that just as a young woman should not have to listen to someone talk about the stage and condition of her fetus before having an abortion, or submit to a waiting period after seeking a doctor, a young woman should not have restrictions placed upon her if she wants to surrender her rights to her child. This they see as protecting a "reproductive right."
More specifically, the ACLU opposes “forced speech” when it comes to begetting or not begetting. (The ACLU has no problem with laws governing commercial speech – say requiring realtors to inform prospective home buyers about leaky roofs). And we’re sure the ACLU would insist that before a criminal defendant may plead guilty, he be informed about the evidence against him. In short, a criminal may not give up his constitutional right to trial by jury without full disclosure, but a new mother can sign away her constitutional right to nurture her infant without a clue of what it will be like, a year, five, ten, fifteen years later.
Putting it another way, the ACLU (at least the NJ ACLU, other branches may have more sense and more compassion) opposes giving adopted persons the same right that the non-adopted have – the right to know who gave birth to them -- because a woman somewhere, sometime might have an abortion rather than risk having her child showing up at her door some day. On the other hand, that same woman has no right to be informed about the consequences of adoption on herself and her child, or of resources that would allow her to keep her child. That would be impinging her "reproductive rights."
Why this tilt towards adoption? We believe it has a great deal to do with the fact that ACLU members and staff are part of what we call the adopting class, women who delayed having babies until they have passed their reproductive years, men who delayed marriage and children because they could, and then married late and, in some cases, older women past their reproductive prime. The only adoption-related litigation the ACLU has undertaken has been in support of the right of gays to adopt.
We urge the numerous state ACLU chapters, specifically here in New Jersey and Oregon, to take a hard look at how the position they assume--and have taken in many adoption-reform battleground states--as it blatantly usurps the right of an entire class of people: the adopted. Furthermore, their insistence that first/birth mothers were promised anonymity from their children ignores the fact that the mothers had no choice when they relinquished their children, if they were to go through state-approved adoption channels. Mothers were not so much promised anonymity as it was forced upon them. Additionally, such secrecy is not part of the surrender process; anonymity and adoptee identity-theft occurs upon adoption. In the past, both of us have respected the ACLU’s work over the years (we were both card-carrying members at one time) but in the adoption arena the ACLU is just plain wrong.