Monday, February 13, 2012

Washington representatives sell adoptees and birth mothers short


Birth Mother sell-out WA State Rep. Ann Rivers
Are Washington birth mothers in need of more protection from their lost children and the prying eyes of neighbors than Oregon mothers? Washington lawmakers seem to think so.

Since 2000, adult adoptees in Oregon have had unrestricted access to their original birth certificates (OBC) thanks to a ballot measure spearheaded by adoptee Helen Hill and passed by Oregon voters.* 

Cross the Columbia River into Washington, it’s a different story. Original birth certificates are locked up tighter than a miser's purse.

 An adoptee, Democrat Rep. Tina Orwall, introduced HB 2211 which would allow adoptees born in the Evergreen State to have their OBCs provided their birth mothers did not file a veto, which would need to be renewed every two years.

At a committee hearing on the bill, first term legislator Republican Rep. Ann Rivers, jumped out of the closet, announced she was a birth mother, and opposed the bill. Rivers explained “she couldn’t imagine ripping the wound open every two years."  

Rep. Orwall and Rep. Rivers agreed to work together to strike a balance between “preserving birth parents privacy and allowing adoptees to obtain important documents and medical information.” The bill which passed the Washington House Friday and heads for the Senate would allow birth mothers to file disclosure vetoes lasting for ten years for adoptees born before 1993, and five years for those born in 1993 or after. Birth mothers who file vetoes would have to submit a medical history form which will be made available to the adoptee upon request.

Laws providing for birth mother vetoes demean adoptees, treating them as, well, bastard children not good enough to know who their own mother is. These laws also demean birth mothers by affirming that they do have something to hide.

Jane
Rep. Rivers need only to cross the river to learn how idiotic her position is. As of February 10, 2012, 10,644 Oregon-born adoptees have received their original birth certificates. The Oregon law allows birth parents to file contact preference forms indicating whether they would like contact. Only a handful- fewer than one percent of those eligible--have said they did not want contact. Nearly all of the 85 individuals filed their no-contact form in the first year, when the measure received a great deal of publicity. Another 572 have filed preference forms inviting contact. The Portland Oregonian--which opposed Ballot Measure 58--has continued to follow the aftermath of the unsealed birth records. Neither the Oregonian nor any other media has reported a single case of a birth mother becoming unhinged after being contacted by her child.  

Lack of access to birth certificates is not the only area where Washington adoption law stinks. Washington allows mothers to surrender their unborn children for adoption, and gives mothers only 48 hours after birth to inform the adoption agency if they change their minds. Once they so inform the agency, they have only 48 hours to mail a letter the agency revoking their consent. There’s no exceptions for mothers who have Cesarean sections, postpartum depression, or other disabilities. This is likely the worst surrender law in the country.

Rep. Rivers, if you’re really want to protect Washington mothers, introduce a bill to get rid of the god-awful surrender law. As you must know, having a law to protect you from your misbegotten kid does nothing to stop the pain of loss once he leaves your arms.
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*I was photographed along with four other women in a full page ad in the Portland Oregonian supporting Ballot Measure 58.  It was a big step in my coming out as a first mother. For that story: To Tell the Truth or Not, Continued: Secret and Lies
 Lorraine's name was included with the more than 500 other birth mothers who signed their name to the ad.
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22 comments :

  1. Thanks so much, for writing this, Jane. I'm working on re-writing Bastard Nation's testimony to suit the new even worse sub bill and a commentary as well. I'm sending this around, too.

    The bill is currently in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee and I have a call in to see how testimony can be submitted.

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  2. " Rivers explained “she couldn’t imagine ripping the wound open every two years."

    Gee, selfish much? What about what the child wants or NEEDS? What about the child having to live his whole life with no knowledge of who his parents are. Why should any child be subjected to that just because s/he had the bad luck to be given up for adoption? Isn't being given up enough?

    Knowing one's roots and heritage is a vital and fundamental part of human existence. Why should anyone be denied that just because s/he was born under less than ideal circumstances?

    Representative Rivers got to choose to have sex, got to choose adoption but wants her poor kid to have no choices at all. It's like being put in a prison without committing a crime and with no possiblity of parole.

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  3. I hope this isn't a double post...

    Vilifying Representative Rivers is unfair.  She could have kept the bill from passage without revealing herself to the public; instead she explained why she was asking for a no vote.  After that she worked with the bill sponsor on a compromise and the bill passed the House 95-0.  Which is the most success legislation like it has had in WA.

    By the way, Bastard Nation had already filed testimony opposing the original bill, apparently taking the stance that the status quo of closed records for all is better than a first step compromise.  Passing perfect legislation is nearly impossible on a first go.   

    But not to worry,  Senator Hargrove to date has been unwilling to hold a hearing on any bill regarding access to OBCs.  He hasn't been willing to even allow a discussion about the subject in his committee and he refuses to let a committee chair from another standing committee take the bill.  He hasn't revealed his reasons.  Reps Orwell and Rivers are working together to find a way to leverage the Senator for a hearing; without one the bill is dead.

    Representative Rivers has taken and continues to take a lot of heat from all sides for outing herself as a first mother.  No one here knows her story.  Jane, why don't you make the 90 minute drive up to Olympia to meet with her?  Perhaps an offer of friendship and giving her the facts as you know them will help her to champion a bill without restrictions next year.  And make no mistake, this bill is unlikely to make it further this year.  You're looking at the wrong villain.

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  4. Paige; Can you name any state where what you call "first step compromise" legislation was EVER corrected or improved by a second step? Think really hard, because there are not any.

    What passes this year will be adoption law in place for decades, not a first step but a final step for those adoptees shut out by vetoes and black holes. At least be honest about this.

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  5. Paige,
    Thanks for writing. I'll be happy to come to Olympia and talk to Rep. Rivers or any other member of the WA legislature. I can bring other birth mothers as well.

    I admire Rep. Rivers for coming out but disappointed that she believes she needs to protect other mothers. As we've seen with the success of the gay marriage bill in Washington, it's only by coming out that we can make changes.

    I'm surprised Rep. Rivers has taken heat for outing herself as a first mother. Many prominent women have come out in the past couple of decades including retired Washington Supreme Court Justice Faith Ireland who said she received only positive feedback.

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  6. Maryanne, I'm not sure why you feel the need to call my honesty into question.  

    I can name hundreds of pieces of legislation that have been amended and improved session to session.  One example is the marriage equality bill signed into law by Governor Gregoire on Monday.  There have been several changes throughout the years to get from the "Defense of Marriage" act passed in 1998 to the current law which gives all citizens the right to marry.

    The fact is that unrestricted access to OBCs will be impossible to pass this year in WA.  At least this bill will give the vast majority of adoptees the right to their OBC.  I don't agree with the veto provision, but would rather see something passed for adoptees in my state than to keep the status quo.  

    I suppose that groups could gather enough signatures to get a measure on November's ballot, but make no mistake, ballot initiatives are expensive.  This fall's presidential election, paired with an open Governor's race and control of both bodies of the legislature awaiting the election outcomes, filing one would be extremely risky.  It is likely to be a very crowded election, with referendums addressing overturning gay marriage, legalization of marijuana and whatever paper King Eyman pulls out of his hip pocket.  In short, we'll see a lot of conservatives coming to the polls.

    If a ballot measure fails, kiss reforms goodbye for at least a decade.   Given the fact that we are likely to see change of control in both the Governor's office and one body of the legislature, I question whether passing a clean bill will get easier next biennium.  Again, I would rather see a clean bill, but in my experience it is extremely rare and nearly impossible to pass a piece of legislation that remains unchanged in the process.  Getting a new law on the books and amending it later is the easier path to unrestricted access in my opinion and experience.  but you don't have to take my word for it, come to Olympia and work your magic....perhaps you have the relationships, credibility and know how to do better.  I'll help any way I can.

    Jane, thanks for the answer.  If Senator Hargrove continues his refusal to hear this bill, it is dead for the year.  If that's the case, I'd like to set up a meeting between you and Ann when session adjourns for the year.  We can come to you.  The added benefit for me is that I would get to meet you, too. I've been a great admirer of yours for a long time.

    I also agree the relinquishment timeframes in my state are shameful.  I plan to work on drafting legislation addressing it and shopping for a sponsor during the interim.  Jane, I'd like to pick your brain about it after adjournment if you'd be willing to assist.

    Thanks for all of your efforts here.  Reading your posts have been very educational to me.

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  7. Thanks, Paige,

    I've been working with folks to change the Oregon consent law which allows mothers to sign irrevocable consents on the delivery table. I'd be happy to work with you on reforming the Washington consent law as well as on adoptee access.

    Email me through my Face Book page or at forumfirstmother@gmail.com and I'll give you my contact information.

    I see Sen Hargrove is up for re-election. I hope someone takes him on.

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  8. Yes, many kinds of legislation have been improved in increments, but this has not been true of adoption reform legislation, which is all I was speaking about. Look at the states that have passed various compromised access to OBC laws...MA comes to mind as one, and Ohio, among others. None of these have been revisited and changed to pure access to records laws like those passed in NH, Maine, and other states. The good intentions of those who were going to come back "next year" and beyond to get clean legislation have just never come to fruition.

    Although it is a big issue to us, to legislators adoption reform is a small, special interest area, and by passing any law at all, no matter how flawed, they feel they have already dealt with that issue and see no reason to revisit it.

    I am sure you know a great deal more than I about legislation in general and legislation in WA state, but I would just urge you to look at what has happened in other states that passed clean bills, as well as those who passed compromised bills. In adoption law, whatever is written into law is what the people in that state have to live with for a long time. It is not really comparable to gay rights or marijuana legalization or other things you have cited.

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  9. One more point unique to adoption reform legislation; passing a compromised bill makes it harder, not easier, to get a clean bill passed later. It is better to leave things as they are and keep going back with a clean bill until it passes, as it has in some states, than to hope to pass something/anything this year with the hope of amending it next time. It has not worked that way in any state that has passed various sorts of compromised bills.

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  10. Maryanne,

    I guess you and I have completely different lobbying experiences.  I make my living working the hill and have for almost two decades.  I certainly don't know everything about lobbying or always have the best or perfect approach to working an issue, but in my experience the incremental evolution of a piece of legislation is how 99% of law is developed.  It doesn't matter if it's biodiesel, tax credits for manufacturing, charter schools or adoption reform; perfection is the enemy of good.

    I don't know nor can I assume what has happened to stall reform in the states you mention but i've seen the "all or nothing" approach be the death of a lot of great attempts to change public policy throughout my years working in politics.  

    But opponents of compromising on this issue appear to be winning because odds  are that Senator Hargrove will not capitulate to the pressure advocates are putting on him to hear the bill.  So congratulations, it's likely that records will remain closed to the vast majority of adult adoptees in WA.

    Unless there is a change of control in the Senate,  Senator Hargrove will likely remain the unintended champion of the "my way or the highway" out-of-state opponents.  I wonder if it would help if I pointed that out to him? 
     
    I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on the best and most effective way to facilitate change.  Frankly I hope I'm proven wrong and you get perfectly clean legislation in every state considering unrestricted access to OBCs.  

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  11. I think we all know that one of the main things we're fighting with these attempted changes in legislation is the myth of 'isn't adoption wonderful' along with the long held beliefs and stereotypes of who birth mothers are and why they REALLY gave their babies up for adoption.

    Even though we might hate the 10 yr veto she suggested, can we at least cut her some slack and maybe send her some respect for having the courage to out herself in such a public way? Because each time a strong, successful birth mom comes out, it helps to dispel the myth of who birth moms REALLY are, which absolutely will help our fight in the long run.

    So for that Ann Rivers - THANK YOU!

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  12. Sorry to disagree, but a famous and successful birthmother coming out and saying that birthmothers need protection from their children is not helping the cause of adoptee rights. What it does is put a name and face on the poor closet mothers who supposedly need protection.

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  13. Joe Mama wrote: "Because each time a strong, successful birth mom comes out, it helps to dispel the myth of who birth moms REALLY are, which absolutely will help our fight in the long run."

    I don't agree with this. What matters is what the birthmother says. Maybe her outing herself will help somewhat with eliminating the "crackwhore birthmother" stereotype but in my experience people don't think of first mothers that way. They just believe that first mothers are girls and women who were too young when they got pregnant and were not ready to parent.

    As I wrote in a previous comment, I think that Representative Rivers is being very self-centered and is once again cementing the idea that adoption is all about the natural parents and never about the adoptee.

    Btw, I'm also having trouble with the word verification to post a comment.

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  14. I'm having the same trouble at other blogs but what I hve noticed it that if I simply hit "publish" rather than "preview" it is working okay, and I'm not getting "rejected" for typing the wrong letters.

    Is anybody having trouble at other blogs?

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  15. Joe Mama wrote: "Because each time a strong, successful birth mom comes out, it helps to dispel the myth of who birth moms REALLY are, which absolutely will help our fight in the long run."

    Actually, I think Representative Rivers' story could be used to hurt our cause and further the pro-adoption/anti-adoptee rights agenda. Since she so "selflessly" gave up her child to the proverbial better life, look what she has been able to accomplish. The pro-adoptionists would say she might not have been able to make it so far in politics if she had been raising a baby at young age.

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  16. Robin said...

    " Rivers explained “she couldn’t imagine ripping the wound open every two years."
    It would be ripping the wound open... especially if the birth mother did give her child up for a better life than what she could provide. Representative Rivers was brave to do what she did. She handed her baby over to a family that could not have a child in hopes of giving that child a better life and more than what she could offer. Bravo Ann!

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  17. Rep Rivers' statement that having to file every two years would be "ripping the wound open" makes no sense. Does Rep. Rivers truly believe that mothers are able to forget losing their child until re-file time shows up on their calendar?

    "Oh it's February 18. I must send that form to those nasty people in Olympia so I can keep the little bastard (whom I lovingly gave up for a better life) from contacting me."

    If she truly cares about her child (gave him up for a better life), she would be willing to let him find her to meet his need to know his origins.

    If she gave him up so SHE could have a better life and didn't want anything to do with him ever, filing a paper every two years could not open a wound because apparently the wound never existed.

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  18. Suzanne,

    By your reasoning, it would be permissible--even good--for people better off than the wretched birth mothers to swoop into any poor area/country and just grab poor babies when their parents weren't looking, as the new and "better" parents could give them a "better life."

    What they deprive these children of is the ability to grow up with people who share their abilities, tastes, habits and proclivities. You don't think that's much?

    You haven't listened to adoptees talk about what has been lost when they were handed over for "a better life." Check out the adoptee blogs in the scroll on the left side of the home page of FirstMotherForum.

    You speak with the clouded ideology that has permeated the adoptionmania seizing this country as men delayed marriage and women put off having babies until, gee, it's too late. You speak from ignorance.

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  19. @Suzanne,
    No one can say that Representave Rivers' child would get a better life. The "bright future" is one of the endless myths that the adoption industry promotes. Adoptive parents get divorced, have problems with drugs and alcohol, die, lose their jobs, etc. just like bio-families. And when PAPs want a child they put their best foot forward and present an image that may or may not be what their family life is really like.

    I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that the child will suffer a lot of pain from having been given up by his/her own mother and raised by strangers. Please read "Giving up your baby?"...see the link at the top of this blog.

    Bravo Jane for your comment of 11:35pm. Spot on!

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  20. Lorraine wrote:"What they deprive these children of is the ability to grow up with people who share their abilities, tastes, habits and proclivities. "

    This is not always the case in biological families. I think this aspect gets too much emphasis in adoption reform, and leads to disappointment for those who are not a lot like their biological relatives. Some are, some are not.

    Children are not clones, and can be very different from their biological relatives. More to the point is that closed adoption deprives adoptee of the opportunity to know their heritage, history, and biological relatives, whether they are similar or not, and that all adoption , even open adoption, leaves the adoptee to deal with the sad fact of being abandoned and not raised by the biological family, for whatever reason.

    Yes, I know, that was not the intent of most surrendering mothers, but it is often the way that adoptees perceive their situation.

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  21. Maryanne:
    we are going to have to totally disagree on this: there is increasing evidence that many traits are inherited, and even if a child seems not be be like others in the family, they can find someone who is. I've written about this before with the psychological research references but I am not willing to track them down today. My ability to be at the computer is being restricted due to my shoulder.

    On a personal level, in many many ways I was like my Aunt Jean, and this was most evident when I was very young, not only to me, my father, his relatives, but also to my own mother, even though I only saw Jean every other year for two weeks at a time when I was growing up. To my mother's family, I was a bit of an outsider as a child because I was so different. Jean lived in New York, and when I moved here, I saw more of her. We remained close all of her life.

    So though you could say I was not like my mother, I recognized and appreciated the similarities I saw within the family, my family.

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  22. Lorraine, hope your shoulder is better soon after your surgery.

    Of course many people do find a family member similar to themselves, but not every searching adoptee will find that. They should still search of course, and have the right to their records, but just be aware that not everyone finds people "just like me" so as not to have unrealistic expectations. For some people, spouses or close friends become their soul mates in having very similar tastes and interests rather than family members.

    If my son the computer whiz had been looking for a mom with math and computer skills who was a big sci fi fan, he would have been sorely disappointed. Yes, we share other interests and traits, but in some ways we are very different, as are my other kids.

    My brother and his ex-wife, who barely made it through general math like me, have a son who is a Ph.D. in physics. Nobody in the family ever even took physics. My brother says he is a mutant:-) Finding similarities in family members is great, but we need also to celebrate and allow for differences.

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