Tuesday's hearing was on a bill (SB 5118) that would allow Washington-born adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates as long as their birth mother does not file a veto (variously called an affidavit of non-disclosure or contact preference which would be binding). Such a veto would expire only upon the death of the mother.
It's a companion bill to a bill in the House (HB 1525) which was heard last Thursday, and which I wrote about on on Tuesday. In both hearings, over 30 supporters of unrestricted access to original birth certificates left their jobs and families to come to Olympia from all over the state to be confronted by the political realities that no matter how truthful, or powerful, their testimony, they were unlikely to see a bill without an absolute passed in Washington. The legislator who should be their ally, adoptee Tina Orwall, turned against them, surprising everyone by testifying in support of birth-mother vetoes. One of our readers, Priscilla Sharp, emailed Rep. Orwall asking why she had a change of heart. She responded:
"I will support a bill which opens up 100% or 99.5% access to birth certificates. If we do not pass a bill this year, it may be years before this type of bill is considered again. I do not recall hearing testimony from adoptees who have not found any information on their birth parents who would be greatly helped by this bill. How sad it would be for some adoptees to not obtain this information while a birth parent may still be alive.
"Oregon's law did not pass in the legislature. It passed by initiative . Please know that sometimes it only takes one legislator to kill a bill." (Emphasis added.)
|Both Lorraine and Jane signed this advertisement.|
Rep. Orwall misses the point. While valuable for searching, other methods--Facebook, mutual consent registries, genealogical tables, DNA matches, and confidential intermediaries--allow mothers and children to be reunited.
The original birth certificate, however, is unique as it is the tangible evidence of an adoptee's origins. It affirms her life before her adoption, however short that time was, and that she did not miraculously appear in an adoption agency's showroom. The document belongs to her and her alone, whether she intends to use it for search, cherish it, or throw darts at it.
As Rep. Orwall notes, only a very small percentage of mothers are likely to file vetoes, yet her bill gives one hundred percent of mothers the power to do so, perpetuating the infantilizing of adoptees. "No one person has the right to make that decision for us," Retynski added. "My biological mother made that decision. She signed a piece of paper. I was relinquished. No birth mother has the right to make another decision for us. They already made one."
The Washington bills allow adoptees to be treated differently depending on the whim of their birth mothers. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, unfairness to some adoptees is unfairness to all adoptees.*
The power to veto OBC access demeans birth mothers by affirming that they do have something to hide, that they did a shameful thing in conceiving a child and giving her up for adoption. Veto power also demeans adoptees by assuming that they may contact their birth mothers even if their birth mother inserts a statement into the file expressively stating they want no contact.
In pointing out that Oregon law came via a ballot initiative, Rep. Orwall appears to be saying that the majority of Oregon voters are wiser than the Washington Legislature, a powerful argument for direct democracy to be sure, but a shameful comment on the operation of the state's governing body. Delores Teller of Portland, a therapist at Oregon Health Sciences University speaking on behalf of herself, who worked tirelessly for passage of Measure 58, testified how her patients have been impacted by the secrecy demanded by Washington's laws. In my testimony, I pointed out that the law sealing records was originally written under the belief that it was necessary to preserve the integrity of the adoptive family, but today the majority of adoptive parents support their children when they wish to search.
|Washington Sen. Ann Rivers|
WA-CARE is in a difficult position. Should its leadership acquiesce to this injustice, thereby allowing the great majority of adoptees to access their OBCs? Or should they hold firm and continue to oppose these bills, hoping for passage of a just bill in the future? Regardless of what they do, a bill may pass anyway. This happened in Illinois when legislator adoptee Sara Feigenholtz pushed through a convoluted limited-access bill over the objections of Illinois Open and Bastard Nation. Although messy and unfair, the Illinois law has allowed some Illinois-born adoptees to find their families.
One bright spot is that Sen. Rivers is also sponsoring legislation to make it easier to put initiatives on the ballot, something that WA-CARE may pursue in the future.--jane
*"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963.
House Judiciary Committee Hearing, 3/26/13 at 1:32.
The Daily Bastardette 3/26/10
Adoptee legislator supports birth-parent veto in Washington
Oregon man finds first family thanks to new Illinois law