' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Equality begins with the right to know who you are

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Equality begins with the right to know who you are

Soon the Washington legislature will vote on whether give individuals adopted in the state the right to their own unamended birth certificates, the one with the true information of their birth--unless one of the parents named on the original birth certificate objects. 

How such a cockamamie veto power came to be tacked onto this legislation--with the assistance of a first mother! and an adoptee--is a story that Jane has told in previous blogs. In the past, we did say that a bad bill--with a veto--is better than nothing at all for nearly all individuals who wish to obtain their original birth certificates (OBCs) will be able to do so. Only a very small minority of first parents will object and file a veto.

But now the thought of such bad legislation makes us angry to contemplate. We have heard from adoptees who have been denied; we have heard from those who
might be denied; we have heard their anguish and understand their right to be equal to the rest of us. The birth-parent veto denies them that equality.

Until all adopted individuals are given the right to own their own birth information, there is no equality for any adopted individual. If someone holds veto power over the release of birth data of any adoptee, all are relegated to an inferior class of people, inferior to the rest of us who have the clear and unrestricted right to our birth data. The right to know one's heritage should be a given, not something to be asked for as a favor. It should--in a free society, it must--belong to all individuals by the very act of being born.

For in allowing one class of people the right to ipso facto deny another class--the adopted--the full freedoms of equality to know themselves as they were born, for without that knowledge no individual is truly free. Instead of a veto--whether it be in effect for one day or one year or a lifetime--a contact-preference should suffice to give those biological parents the freedom to not be contacted by their children. This has worked well in other states, as it adequately protects the first parents who wish to remain hidden from their children.

Time may be running out in Washington state to prevent the birth-parent veto from becoming law, but the legislators need to hear from us, adoptee and first parents. Below is the letter I sent the other day to the Washington senator who is responsible for the birth-parent veto, possibly at the behest of another legislator. But the veto as a compromise vitiates the intent of the bill and relegates all adoptees to the status of chattel, owned and governed by the whims and preferences of others on this most singular matter.

Please make your voice heard, for every state that passes a bill with such a veto makes it easier for another state to do so. Because these reforms are happening at such a snail's pace, and because a single legislator can hold up legislation, in the end, I believe that the best solution to equality for adoptees is a court case. In the Seventies, ALMA and Florence Fisher brought a class action lawsuit in federal court in New York City, asking the court the declare sealed-records law unconstitutional. The court ruled against ALMA and its attorney, Cyril Means, and the ruling was upheld by the appeals court in 1979. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The court's ruling was based on the flawed idea that secrecy was neceessary to encourage adoption of abandoned and neglected children. But as we now know, opening records has no effect on adoption.

The New York court's decision is as bad as the 1857 Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court that held that African-Americans were not citizens, and thus could not sue in federal court. One day, sealed records will be relegated to the dustbin of history. Let us be part of the movement that makes that happen.--lorraine

To  "comment on this bill" use the following link: link http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5118&year=2013
This only takes a few moments. You do have to register, but it is simple. If your voice is not heard, whose will be? The video below talks about how the OBC access has worked in New Hampshire.

To hear Bastard Nation's representative talk about why the original-parent veto is a bad idea, click here. You'll love Lori Jeski explain why.

My letter to Sen. Ann Rivers, who is responsible for adding a permanent birth-parent veto to the bills giving adoptees the right to obtain their original birth certificate: 

TO:  Ann.Rivers@leg.wa.gov
Cc:  Tina.Orwall@leg.wa.gov

Dear Sen. 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  birth certificates for the birth-parent veto 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 flagrantly tramples the rights of others. The right to know who one is, who one was at birth, surely is an inviolate right that all individuals are given simply be being born, and the state must not be party to infringing on that right.

Yes, some women--a very small number--will be freaked out by fear; some men will not want their paternity revealed; but the few must not hold in their hands the reins of freedom and equal rights for all.

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 of Texas, vigorously fought against this provision and it was deleted from the final bill that passed. Yet adoptive parents elsewhere have fought just as 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 though in 2004 with a contact-preference but without veto power. Today he talks about the fact that there have been no problems since passage. He did because it was the right thing to do. Surveys of adoptive parents show that today they are overwhelmingly in favor or the children they adopted to have the right to know their original and true heritage, including the names of their parents.

Please reconsider your stand on this measure and do not let this bill pass with the toxic veto attached. That is like passing a bill against slavery, but adding a proviso letting the slave holders decide if they are willing to let their slaves go. You are so close to Oregon, and they have had no trouble--after 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. Remove this veto from the bill because it is the right thing to do. Do not be party to legislation that continues to enslave a small portion of adopted individuals. Come down on the right side of history. If this passes, it will be extremely difficult to revisit this issue and remove the veto. The harm done will be permanent.

I am the author of the first memoir from a woman who relinquished a child, Birthmark, published in 1979. My daughter was born in 1966; in 1981 we reunited, and had a relationship until her death in 2007. If I can be of further assistance to you, or Ms. Orwall, whom I cc'd, please do not hesitate to call on me. I will be happy to other legislators if asked. I am attaching a link to a video about the experience of unsealing the birth certificates in New Hampshire.

Lorraine Dusky


The individual against unsealing the records is the former paid head of the lobby organization, National Council for Adoption, which is supported by adoption agencies. The largest single block of membership agencies are those that are part of the Mormon church. They used to be listed at the NCFA website but a quick look at the website today found that they are no longer listed there, but instead may be found in the Annual Report, and does not show the percentage of agencies from LDS, but when they were listed one page, it was readily obvious that a very large component of agency membership is the LDS (Mormon) Family Services. LDS adamantly opposes opening records for religious reasons.

From FMF
OBC-access bill with 'birth mother' veto may become law
Adoptee legislator supports birth-parent veto in Washington


  1. These birthmother vetoes that extend into the future are totally unacceptable, as they bestow upon original parents a legal right that they have never had. I was able to hold my nose and support the NJ legislation that gave original mothers a one-year period to white-out their names, not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because I thought the legislation would finally, after 30 years, get us to where we need to be. Now I'm not sure I can even support that concession, as I agree with you that every human being has the right to know his or her own story and possess his or her own documents. Why is it so difficult for people to understand that as an adult adoptee, I own myself. My original family doesn't own me, nor does my adoptive family. If my original birth certificate doesn't belong to me, who does it belong to? Perhaps we will have to wait until the time is right, or for another court case, to receive fair and just adoptee rights legislation.

  2. Susan,

    Jane and I supported the measure in NJ for the same reason as you--it seemed that after 30 years it might happen and the birth-parent window to file a veto ended after a year. But after Christy refused to sign the bill and sent out a lengthy press release supporting a even more stringent law, we came to the same conclusion as you. The permanent veto totally stinks. I know the legislators will say, we had to compromise, but this is an unacceptable compromise: the veto makes it not a "right" to have one's one birth certificate, but something granted by permission of another person, the first parent. It's like the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing only those slaves who were in the state the North was at war with. The sad thing is, if this passes, we do not have a Lincoln to come along and push through the 13 Amendment. I fear the veto will stay forever.

  3. Is there any case law on suing for a BC, especially in cases where the practice interferes with citizen rights of adoptees? I would guess that citizenship rights and civil rights trump a fictitious right of biological parents.

    It seems to me that this is the only way forward. There doesn't appear to be much "kindness of strangers" when the issue is managed by unaffected people, particularly people in the business of making money from ownership of individuals.

  4. Thank you both for your insightful comments. I do not understand how legislators just can't see the unfairness of it all. I love my firstmom dearly- but she did sign away parental rights. Why should she now have the right to block my original birth certificate? (she would never-but I am one of the lucky ones.) Every once in a while I again send away for my non-id or update the NYS registry. I found my mom in 1992- but my amom destroyed all my paperwork to my search. My records were one of hundreds that were burned in an Iron mountain fire in 1997 in NJ. I was adopted thru Catholic Home Bureau. I can't help but wonder if there is a way that we can use the fact that hundreds of records were destroyed to do a class action lawsuit or to help push thru a clean bill. My non-id from NYS registry came yesterday- just that my mom was 19 and american(USA is what it said for Nationality) and my father was 23 and Italy. THAT IS ALL. I would have been devestated had that been the only info i recieved. These gov'ts and agencies have too much power to play god over us all.

  5. Renee: I too have a hard time understanding how legislators do not see the total injustice and unfairness of sealed records. This idea of "protecting" first mothers is bunk. I think some of the male legislators are protecting themselves, or a family member who is in deep hiding, which is what I suspect about one of the staunchest enemies of open records we have in New York, Helene Weinstein. She is an influential legislator and has blocked us at every turn. It is obviously personal with her.

    I read in today's Times a quote that sticks in my craw: ...Justice Ginsburg quoted the legendary Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo: “Justice is not to be taken by storm. She is to be wooed by slow advances.”

    That didn't work with slavery did it? And does it work with people wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit, because of prejudice? "Slow advances" should not be how these bad laws in state after state are repealed. It should happen in one fell swoop because they were wrong when they were became law.

  6. If you are taking the time to read the comments, please take the time to comment at the WA legislative site. Link in blog post.

    If you don't do it, who do you think is?

  7. They Do see the unfairness and injustice of it all. That isn't the real problem. The real problem is that they don't fucking care.

  8. My name is Maureen Jo Pelletier-Begley
    Mother's name on O.B.C.
    Shelia Dickson Davis ( Dickson maiden name I think )
    Father's name
    James Tyler
    Mom was born in Texas
    Dad was born in North Dakota
    My Dad worked for the phone company and was 31 to Mom's 23.
    Any thoughts Susan?
    Anything would be greatly appreciated.
    God Bless You,

  9. "I read in today's Times a quote that sticks in my craw: ...Justice Ginsburg quoted the legendary Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo: 'Justice is not to be taken by storm. She is to be wooed by slow advances.'"

    I totally agree, Lorraine. Reminds me of the BS of Plessy v Ferguson and the 60 years of "separate but equal" that wasn't. Embarrassing.

    I was talking with my adad about the Washington bill and the Missouri nightmare and he said, "Most states still want to treat adoptees as personal property." Sad, but true.

  10. Whew... I finally tried to pull my thoughts together and sent an email.


    Dear Ms. Rivers,

    I was disappointed to view your testimony this year 'in support' of SB 5118. Whereas you, as a leader of this state, could have spoken to equal treatment for all citizens, you chose to promote your own special interest over common sense.

    This bill does not balance the rights of adoptees and birth parents. As I understand it, any birth parent born in this state who is not an adoptee is able to secure her/his own birth certificate without obstruction. Instead, the amendment to the bill allows birth parents to obstruct an adoptee's access to their own truthful birth certificate and perpetuates society's belief that adoptees who seek out their identity are ungrateful, disruptive and villains of some mythical crime that they did not commit.

    I am a human being. I am not a secret. Although, as a feminist, I do have compassion for women who are treated poorly due to unexpected pregnancies, I do not take responsibility for how these same women choose to build the foundation of past or current relationships. As in any relationship, an individual takes risks by keeping secrets and/or omitting the truth. As an adoptee, I bear no responsibility for my birth mother/father's choices.

    This bill should be about equal rights. Period. As a tax-paying citizen of this state, I should be treated the same as any other citizen when I interact with government employees. I should not be treated like a second-class citizen by government employees whose attitudes and actions reflect discriminatory law. If SB 5118 passes with the non-disclosure amendment, the state of Washington will continue to discriminate against a class of people who did not choose to join the group to which they belong.

    Adoptees will continue to fight discrimination in Washington as well as other states in this union. We will continue to do work to promote identity discovery and development using traditional search methods, technology and emerging science (DNA doesn't lie). We will continue to tell the adoptee story and not allow those with special interests (harboring shame, promoting secrecy) to skew reality. Your attempts to put adoptees in their 'rightful place' fuel the movement. Even if one of these discriminatory bill passes, you can be sure that you have not heard the last of us.

    Best regards,

    resident, taxpayer and citizen of 36th legislative district


    Lorraine and Jane, thank you for your investment in time, money and emotion in regards to creating change in Washington.


  11. Ms. Wandergirl,

    What a fabulous letter! May I use it in a future blog post expressing my disgust with these birth-parent vetoes?

  12. I am an adoptee born in Ill. I was absolutely extatic to recently discover they have passed legislation in the past 2 years giving me the long awaited for my right to know my beginnings through the OBC. I sent in my $15.00 and certified my letter to the Dept. of Vital Statistics. I received a very rapid response requesting me to fill in an overlooked line of information. I certified that copy and awaited until this past
    Friday only to be completely deflated by their response. I was told that in 1967 over 300 OBC's had been destroyed while converting them to microfilm. I am still stunned! What recourse do I have now? Thanks, Diane

  13. Hi Susan. Yes, you can use my letter.

    Diane, that is devastating news. Did you ever request your non-identifying information from the agency that managed your adoption? There still may be some files out there to work with.


  14. Oh, Diane, that's awful that Illinois destroyed your OBC.

    It's possible that the person who gave you the information didn't look hard enough. You could call the department and ask a supervisor if there was any way to get your OBC or reconstruct it. Perhaps the county in which you were born has a copy.

    You could contact Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the sponsor of the Illinois bill, and ask if her staff could double-check to be sure what the state told you was accurate.

  15. Diane, One last suggestion--do you have any idea where you were adopted from? If it was an agency, you may have more to go on. Or there may be somebody in your family--if your adoptive parents are deceased--who knows something. A friend of my husband's did not start seriously looking until both parents had died, and when he asked his aunts, they knew exactly who his parents were. His father was married, had an affair with the maid. Sounds very Downton Abbey, but that's how it was.

  16. http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/events/view/fate-hope-and-charity/

    Mothers have been separated from babies they loved for a very long time. This is an exhibition of tokens left with foundlings in London in the 1700s, finally reconnected with the stories of the admission of the babies to the Foundling Hospital. It is very sad, a great number of them died in infancy, but also a touching tribute to mothers' hope for reunion, no matter how slim the chance. Giving them this dignity is right; how much better for our legislators to give it to living individuals today.

  17. Diane- I would contact the state back and ask to speak to a supervisor. While your actual physical certificate may have been destroyed- is your whole file gone? Why couldn't they create a new OBC or send identifying info via the documentation in your court file? Where you adopted in IL? Only good thing about this is that your firstmom wouldn't be able to ask for her name to be deleted because she would be told the same thing!



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