' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: ACLU Tramples Adoptee Rights & First Mother Protections

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.


  1. Wow, that's really disturbing. Serious blow, in my mind, to the ACLU's credibility. Thanks for raising awareness of this.

  2. Such a packed post but I'll confine myself...nothing quoshes an adoptee's interest in their biological families- they just needed to ask!
    Fear of adoption rates going done? In the normal world that's something to be celebrated.

  3. I think the opening paragraphs of Frederick Douglass's autobiography are appropriate:

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

    Chapter 1

    I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.

    By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest- time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.

    A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood.

    The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit.

    The nearest estimate I can give makes me now between twenty-seven and twenty- eight years of age. I come to this, from hearing my master say, some time during 1835, I was about seventeen years old.

    My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather.

    My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me.

    My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant--before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor.

    For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

  4. Part II from the Narrative of the lif of Frederick Douglass:

    I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night.

    She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary--a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master.

    I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us.

    Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master's farms, near Lee's Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it.

    Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

    Called thus suddenly away, she left me without the slightest intimation of who my father was.

    The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.

  5. I'm surprised that others seem surprised that the ACLU opposes unrestricted obc access. This isn't new news They've always opposed it. As a bourgeois liberal organization that's what it does.

  6. I don't understand why the ACLU is considered a human rights organization. And I am sure I will get bonked on the head for this, but more often than not, they present themselves as an evil left wing Orwellian organization. In the case of Adoptee's and Natural Mothers Civil rights, I think this description applies. Since I am neither a leftist or a rightwinger, and I am a victim of abuse from both sides, I stand steadfast in the middle, seeing the errors of both sides. Until 2008 Nadine Strossen was the director of the ACLU AND a member of the National Youth Rights Association (for all youth but Adopted youths it seems) which helped a child get emancipated (which is wrongly illegal for Adopted children) AND I quote from their website "and easier process of adoption to other families". I agree with Lorraine and Jane that many members of the ACLU are Adoptive Parents but I also think that many have money invested in Adoption Agencies that vie for Closed Records. After all we all know that Adoption IS a billion dollar buisness... I shuttered when I went into The Right To Life's website, as on their sidebar they have listed a Freedom Of Speech link, and while I agree with their views on abortion, I wince at the dark irony of how they oppress OUR Freedom Of Speech which is silenced by The Birth Mother Privacy LIE....
    no_slappz, your comment is incredible-ty so much for that heartbrreaking account of the injustices Fredrick Douglass went through. African Anerican slaves were not allowed to learn how to read either, and the flip side of that abusive coin is Adoptees not being able to read personal information ABOUT OURSELVES....
    Lorraine-all I wrote to you in my Email still stands, but I wanted to finishing redoing my blog's new layout, which I have done, and I couldn't ignore the title of this post and I just had to comment, LoL...it is hard to be used by an industry one's whole life like we have been used by The Adoption Industry without staying quiet about it for too long...

  7. After years of research and thought, NJCARE began again to examine the primary documents: the bill statement that explained the reasons for sealing the records (1940), the surrender document (the only "contract" with relinquishing mothers that we are aware of), and copies of adoption decrees, given to parents (and often passed on to the adoptee) after finalization in court, which contain the names of child and original mother.

    In signing the relinquishment, the mother not only gives up all rights and responsibilities toward her child, but gives up (twice, in fact) the "right to be noticed" when the child is adopted.

    Not every relinquished child was adopted, although that would have been the birth parent's expectation. Some kids went into permanent foster care, some were institutionalized, and some died. Regardless of what happened to the child, the original mother would never have been made aware of it. No records were sealed until the adoption was finalized in court, an event that could only take place after the child had been in home of prospective adopters for at least six months.

    Whether or not agency workers or attorneys promised original mothers "confidentiality" from their own children, the fact is that because of the chain of events mentioned above -- birth, relinquishment of rights, responsibilities, and notice; a 6-month wait for a court date if the prospective family was approved; and (again) no notice to the original mother, it was physically and legally impossible for a parent to anticipate "privacy" from her own child because there would be no privacy at all unless the original birth certificate was sealed.

    For the son or daughter to be punished with lifelong genetic anonymity because a professional didn't explain the fine print to the relinquishing mother is unnecessarily disrespectful of the primary client in adoption -- the child. The NJ public and some members of the legislature are being saturated with misinformation by opponents of the access bill, none of whom seems to understand the history and facts surrounding the issue.

    Check www.nj-care.org for more facts.

  8. @no slappz..

    Thank you so very much for what you have shared here...with all of us. This narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass...moved me in a profound way. The most troubling similarities of slavery, the separation of mother and infant child, and adoption..disturbed me greatly and caused a pain in my heart and soul. What kind of country do we live in...even after slavery has supposedly been abolished? It wasn't...it metamorphosed into present day adoption.
    Thank you again.

  9. As adoptees and mothers of relinquished children, it seems to me we share some common ground with those who were once slaves.

    Frederick Douglass pretty well nailed it.

    It seems to me the same thinking and compassion that has surfaced in the aftermath of slavery is what we in the adoption world should also feel.

    A similar feeling is also found among family members who were separated from one another by war. The International Red Cross has helped reunite many people, often siblings.

    Where's our share of that compassion and good will? Was there any legislation enacted to maintain the privacy of a female slave whose child might come looking for her? No.

    Did anyone suggest legislation to protect the identity of the father who may have been the white slave owner? No.

    In fact, things have gone the other way. Every effort has been made to reconnect American blacks with their families and their histories. The country reveled in the book and movie "Roots."

    We are the only group of people for whom the law declares our histories should remain a blank slate. Disgraceful.



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