' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: OBC-access bill with 'birth mother' veto may become law

Thursday, March 28, 2013

OBC-access bill with 'birth mother' veto may become law

"This is not my biological mother's piece of paper," adoptee Nancy Retynski told the Washington House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday holding up her original birth certificate. "This is not my adoptive mother's piece of paper. This is my birth certificate and I have every right to it." As she left the table, Retynski broke into tears and the audience of applauded. Committee members were visibly moved.

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 [58]. 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
Rep. Orwall's reasons for accepting a compromised bill are just excuses. The truth, as she acknowledges in her last sentence, is that "it only takes one legislator to kill a bill." The bill killer is Sen. Ann Rivers, a birth mother, who came to the hearing to tell the Committee that she and Rep. Orwall had reached an agreement on the bill. WA-CARE was assured initially by one of the sponsors of SB 5118 that he had the votes to pass a clean bill. Then Sen. Ann Rivers intervened, and the sponsor agreed to an amendment which included a non-expiring birth mother veto. I called Sen. Rivers' office and asked if she would give me the reason for insisting on a birth-mother veto. She declined to comment.

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.
Ann Rivers
The Daily Bastardette 3/26/10

Adoptee legislator supports birth-parent veto in Washington
Oregon man finds first family thanks to new Illinois law


  1. That Illinois bill only allows some adoptees access, and does so at the expense of other adoptees. This is why vetoes are so abhorrent and dangerous.

    As Lorraine and Jane know, I am one of those denied by Illinois' law. My first mother signed what was called a "preference" but in reality is a veto that permanently binds me from accessing my OBC. EVER.

    (There is some question as to whether first mothers who sign these vetoes are aware that they are in fact vetoes and not "preferences" - that it has major and binding implications upon the adoptee, and how lack of OBC access can mean problems with driver's licenses, passports, etc.)

    You quote Rep. Orwall: "How sad it would be for some adoptees to not obtain this information while a birth parent may still be alive."

    My question to Rep. Orwall is this: What about those adoptees left behind by veto legislation like Illinois' and Washington's? Why isn't it sad that we cannot obtain our information as well - and in fact are permanently barred from it?

    What makes some adoptees more deserving than others?

    The thing is, nobody is going back for the adoptees left behind by veto legislation. There's no sunset clause, no mechanism by which left-behind adoptees will later have their access addressed. Legislators in states that have passed this law consider adoptee access a done deal - hey, didn't we just pass a bill like that? I know because I have talked to Illinois legislators extensively and they could care less that the existing bill leaves people out. Adoptee access in this state is considered done, they don't want to deal with it anymore. Meaning those left behind are permanently screwed unless we can somehow, some way, manage to get them to change their minds. And we all know how hard it was to get them to do anything about adoptee access in the first place.

    Therefore, the ONLY equitable solution is to allow ALL adoptees the same equal access, a la Maine. Leave no one behind. So yes, WA-CARE should pull their bill. It's no less sad or unfair for denied adoptees to be left out than it is for those whose first families age and die while legislation is being considered. That whole line of reasoning really ticks me off - "but while we're waiting PEOPLE will DIE!" Yeah, and if the veto bill passes a different set of people will die while trying to get the legislation changed. Which group is more worthy? Which is more deserving? Who gets to make that decision (and who made that person God?)

    Clean legislation has been done in other states - it's difficult, and it's not fun pulling your own bill, but Maine should be damn proud and other states should follow that example. Pussy-footing around with "baby steps" and "let's help the 99%" only guarantees that whoever gets left out is left out for good.

    Because that 1%? Those are real people like me. We're not statistics. We exist. And you never know if you might end up denied yourself.

  2. As I posted on the Ohio article in response to a commenter who keeps insisting on the "information veto":
    There was, and can never be, no legal promise of anonymity ... period. If the agency or attorney promised you that, they were lying, just as they lied to us mothers who *wanted* to be known to our sons/daughters that they would be able to get their information when they turned 18 and look for us. Bottom line: The parent gave up all rights she or he may have had or authority over the "child" when the relinquishment was signed or the parental rights were severed, so to claim that he/she, 20, 30+ years later, then has supreme power and authority over the now adult's personal documentation and identity is ludicrous beyond belief. I honestly do not believe the information veto could withstand legal challenge. Courts in Oregon and Tennessee have already ruled that there is no basis to the anonymity claim. Here's what the Oregon State Court of Appeals decided in 1999, after a small group petitioned the courts to overturn the law that would grant adult adoptees equal access: The state may release original birth certificates to adoptees "without infringing on any fundamental right to privacy of the birthmother who does not desire contact with the child."

    Indeed, courts around the world (most recently, Germany and Canada) are beginning to understand the rights of all people to know their identity; they are now affirming the right of persons born from IVF to know the identity of their father, the sperm donor.

    Further, you also do not have the right to infringe on anyone's enjoyment of the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, specifically life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and another important one, the right to associate. You cannot control whom, when, how other adults associate and contact each other. What you do have is the right to personal privacy as enjoyed by every other citizen equally. Just like anyone else, you may shut the door, put down the phone, write back to the sender and say, "Please do not contact me." If that request is not honored, you have the further protection of the courts.

  3. Triona, I hope you write to Orwall directly. She needs to hear from you.

  4. To paraphrase what Representative Orwall's near namesake wrote, when it comes to open access for adoptees, Rep. Orwall seems willing to accept the unacceptable, that some adoptees are "more equal" than others.
    The discrimination is unjustifiable.

  5. The culture of the WA State Legislature is to tip-toe around issues in hopes of not having to stand up and risk offending a potential voter base. I watched the expressions, mannerisms and eye-contact between these legislative colleagues and a few do a fairly good job of acting like the give a rats. Several are blatantly obvious they don't care and wish we'd just go away. Both the Senate and House Committee's were filled with elected "officials" that were tired, busy texting, emailing and had to be poked in order to gain their attention. I learned quickly, if you ask them questions and be sure to address their name...they have to look up at you and try to answer. Keeps the clock ticking as well. ") Ha...Ha!

    They saunter in and out of their thrones, come and go as they please and have little regard for those giving testimony. They carry on conversations among themselves as citizens nervously share their most intimate personal matters seated beneath the ever dominate collection of part-time, seasonal elected state employees commonly referred to as "legislators" and "senators".

    What gripped me the most was listening to Senator Ann River's rehearsed praise for the House Committee and their staff. She wants the State Legislature to continue granting a privilege that only 4 people have ever requested in the past 20 yrs.

    Senator Ann Rivers lives on campus this time of year being a State Senator. She dines, attend happy hour and has 24 hour access to any legislator, staffer and/or lobbyist she wants...yet we are given 2..count em'...2 minutes of time to testify.

    They all did their best at pulling the wool over our eyes, but what they don't yet realize is that a mother and her bastard child can not longer be pigeon-holed.

    Lori Jeske, Bastard Nation

  6. "Such a veto would expire only upon the death of the mother."

    If the adoptee is unable to get her OBC and does not have her first mother's name, how will she be able to know if her first mother is deceased, and that she is now able to get a copy of her OBC? And how will she be able to get a copy of the death certificate to prove that the n-mother is deceased if the adoptee doesn't even have her n-mother's name?

    I agree with Triona that it is easy to say only around 1% of adoptees will be denied. Well, it doesn't matter is the percentage is 1 or 50 if you are the one being denied.

    I understand how many people think that these laws are 'fair' because they seemingly give rights and consideration to both parties. But what they forget is that the child NEVER HAD ANY SAY. This is not a level playing field. The adopted person never agreed to being given up for adoption and denied her own natural parents' names and OBC. Too many people still don't seem to get that.

  7. Love the comment about Orwall/Orwell. Incidentally, George was an adoptive father.

  8. Open OBCs could afford first parents more privacy. First of all, some adoptees, if they had the information, might not even be interested in search and reunion. And with identifying information, it would be easier to locate someone less obtrusively than by using social media which sends out one's private information all over the world.

  9. (Also Anon March 29, 10:37 AM)

    Jane mentioned that George Orwell was an adoptive father.

    He also coined the term "doublethink", which is
    "The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary." (Nineteen Eighty-four, Chapter 9)

    This is fascinating to me, because even though Orwell passionately believed in equal rights, he burned the names of his adopted son's first parents off the adoption papers.

    There is a lot of doublethink in adoption. It sounds as if Reps Orwall (adoptee) and Rivers (first mother) are heavily into it.

    Great comment, Triona. I hope you send it to Orwall. To local newspapers too.

  10. Have to wonder who is hiding in the trojan horse within the open records movement. Men and women who say they are against closed adoption, some who even have blogs and websites but who are backstabbing all of us silently. One thing I do not understand concerning this bill is how are birthmothers going to be contacted about it. Or are they? Do they receive a letter informing them about the veto, or does the vital stats office just sit there and wait for a letter from them? That of course would be dangerous because any adoptive parent or adoption agency could pretend they are her. No woman has a right to privacy from her own child and it makes me mad why isn't that ever recognized as child abuse it is.

  11. As an adoptee in reunion for 20yrs, I still want my OBC. My birthmom supports my reform movement activities wholeheartedly.

    My OBC is now all that is left of my adoption records. My adoption file was one of thousands that burned in a fire in an Iron Mountain facility in 1997 in NJ. I will fight for ALL adoptees to have the right to their OBC unconditionally. I can just imagine how those adoptees who followed me and requested non-id from the Diocese of NYC felt when they were told there was nothing left. No one should have that much power over another persons identity. Today we prosecute Identity thieves... we should prosecute the agencies who didn't take care to have back up files for those clients from the BSE.

    I do not understand how legislators cannot see how illogical it is that parents who signed away their legal rights to anything pertaining to their child, can now veto an ADULT's access to a legal document about said adult??? My mother had the right to say no to contact when I wrote her; she has the right to say she no longer wants a relationship- but she doesn't have the right to say I can't obtain my birth certificate. I can't say that she shouldn't be able to obtain it either. We're both adults and this is our personal record...Sealing it after adulthood serves no purpose.

  12. Renee wrote:
    My mother had the right to say no to contact when I wrote her; she has the right to say she no longer wants a relationship- but she doesn't have the right to say I can't obtain my birth certificate. I can't say that she shouldn't be able to obtain it either. We're both adults and this is our personal record...Sealing it after adulthood serves no purpose.
    Thanks, Renee, for adding that first mothers should be able to obtain a copy of their child's OBC. No relinquishment was done prior to delivery. I'm on that form, too.

  13. Does anybody have any statistics on how many adoptive parents actually search for the child they adopted parents?

    Is there any such stats on this?


  14. Yes, it is true, I tried to get a copy of my daughter's birth certificate but I was told there was nothing that existed with that name--my name, her name that was on the OBC. Like it is there, or is it not?

  15. Sent today:

    Dear Ms. Rivers:

    I am a first mother like you and I am horrified at the amendment that you are tacking onto the bill that would give adoptees the right to their original UNAMENDED birth certificates for it continues the yoke of bondage that the sealed records instituted. No matter how you slice it, this amendment gives all biological parents "privacy," if they so desire it, but in doing so tramples the rights of others. The right to know who one is, who one was at birth surely is an inviolate right that all men are given simply be being born, and the state must not be party to infringing on that right.

    Yes, some birth mothers--a very small number--will be freaked out by fear; but the few must not hold in their hands the reins of freedom for all, just as the people who oppose abortion do not have the right to oppose it for all.

    In considering this matter, consider the words of 1980 document that experts in the then U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare wrote after holding hearings of adoptees, natural mothers, social workers, and adoptive parents throughout the country. Their Model Adoption Act stated:
    “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.”

    The times were not right then to allow this to pass. An adoptive father in the Senate, John Tower, vigorously fought against this provision. Yet adoptive parents elsewhere have fought vigorously for the right of their children to know their true heritage, such as Sen. Lou D’Alassandro in New Hampshire who got a bill without a veto. Today he talks about the fact that there have been no problems since passage. He did not do it for the sake of the birth mothers; he did it because it was the right thing to do.

    Please reconsider your stand on this measure and do not let this bill pass with a veto attached. That is like passing a bill against slavery but letting the slave holders decide if they are willing to let their slaves go. You are coming down on the wrong side of history on this. Please reconsider your position on the birth-parent veto and remove it from the bill. You are so close to Oregon, and they have had no trouble--though some lengthy court battles brought by a small group of Mormons--since they have allowed the free and unfettered right of the adopted to posses their own birth certificates.
    Lorraine Dusky
    Sag Harbor, NY 11963

  16. As of 7-11, 1200 adoptees have sent their request to Olympia in WA State for their original birth certificate. In 1965, I thought I was the only unwed mother in WA State. Wow, somebodies made lots of money on the back of our unfortunate situation.



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