' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Irrational fear drives adoption laws in Washington State

Monday, May 27, 2013

Irrational fear drives adoption laws in Washington State

Washington Adoptee Rights Advocates in Olympia
Laws allowing first mothers to prevent their son or daughter from obtaining his or her original birth certificate are wrong--as wrong as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) continuing to bar gay leaders is wrong. These provisions penalize a group because an individual member of that group may cause harm. Not only are these restrictions a fundamental violation of due process, they perpetuate the false suppositions--that gay troop leaders are likely to molest children, and that adoptees will track down their natural mothers to do them harm. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inselee signed HB 1525 bill into law last week allowing Washington-born adoptees access to their original birth certificates unless their first parents file an objection. Objections expire upon the death of first parents or when parents revise them to allow contact. Adoptees may check with the vital statistics office once a year (for a fee, of course) to find out if their objecting parent has died.

The law goes into effect June 30, 2014. Meanwhile first mother Senator Ann Rivers and adoptee Representative Tina Orwall, the deadly duo who concocted this discriminatory law plan to publicize it through the media and meetings around the state to let mothers who want to "maintain their privacy" know how to do file a veto. In other words, first mothers who want to prevent their children from learning their names can come to meetings (masks permitted?) to learn how to do it. Forget for a moment how illogical the idea of public meetings for birth-mothers in hiding, the law is inequitable prima facie as well as morally corrupt. In short, it stinks.

Penni Johnson and the the folks from the Washington Coalition for Adoptee Rights and Equality (WA-CARE) have vowed to return to the state capital, Olympia, and lobby for a bill removing the first-parent veto. They want a law like that of Oregon and other more enlightened states which allow first mothers to state a contact preference, but do not give them the power to prevent adoptees from obtaining their original birth certificates altogether. Most mothers who file a "contact preference," which allows for direct contact or through an intermediary, opt for contact, not against it.

PERPETUATES INEQUITABLE ANONYMITY Irrational fear is driving first-parent veto provision in the Washington law, as well as other laws and bills throughout the country. Legislators assume that adoptees will ignore contact preferences asking for no contact, and will use information from their original birth certificates to ominously "track down" their first mothers, exposing their mothers' deeply held secrets and harassing them. This has not happened in Oregon and other states which have passed bills which do not include a veto, or as they are known. "clean bills." Two Washington legislators running around the state publicizing the veto, however, will give the impression that indeed, mothers may have something to fear from their offspring.

Some of this attitude comes from the fact that a great many social workers and family members counseled young women who "got in trouble," that they had the option of never telling anyone and could make their lives after relinquishment one that did not hold this sordid "secret." Some of these women obviously followed that dictum, and here we are today. But a secret exposed and someone's embarrassment is no reason to deny anyone's identity. 

The Boy Scouts of America's unstated reason for banning gays as leaders is the fear that gay leaders may molest boys in their charge or that fearing molestation, parents will withdraw their sons from scouting. No question BSA should take measures to prevent abuse--which it has not done in the past resulting in multi-million judgments against it--but it needs to target wrong-doers, not ban all gays because some are child molesters. Further, by keeping the gay leader ban in place, BSA is reinforcing the notion that children have reason to fear gay leaders.

Likewise, mothers can obtain restraining orders and file criminal complaints against offspring, adopted or non-adopted, who harasses them. But it's wrong to allow first parents to bar adoptees from obtaining information because some might misuse it. First parent vetoes reinforce the notion that first parents have something to fear.

On a happier note, the Oregon legislature is expected to pass SB 623 which allows adoptees 18 and over to obtain their court files except for the home study. The bill also makes it easier for first parents to obtain court orders allowing them to access portions of the court file which include their child's adoptive name and the names of his or hers adoptive parents.  And that is nothing short of a miracle. For details on this bill see Opening court records to adoptees and first parents.--Jane ____________________________

Gov. Inslee signs bill giving adoptees more access to birth records
HB 1525

Opening birth records: States of fame (OR, OH) and shame (WA)
American Dilemma: What happened to one's right to know one's birth parents?
Adopted People Are Not Allowed Ancestry Because It Might Upset Somebody
How shame keeps birth mothers from embracing reunion 

Good Girls Don't "For anyone who wants to understand the societal pressures, secrecy and shame that surrounds young, unwed mothers in the 1950's (and for several decades beyond that) this book should help their understanding of these times. Even in today's more sexually liberal world, there are societal pressures to give up your baby for adoption 'for the good of everyone involved'".--From the CUB Communicator. Written by Goldie Hawn's sister.

Jessica Lost: A Story of Birth, Adoption & The Meaning of Motherhood
"A mother and her child, lost and then found again after four decades: this extraordinary story of love, loss, and reunion is told in alternating voices by the two women, each relating her own powerful experience. For the mother, it's the tale of an unhappy marriage followed by betrayal, a pregnancy of uncertain paternity, and the heartrending decision to give up her newborn. The daughter's search begins 40 years later, as she slowly, painstakingly, stitches together her story. These intertwined tales give us two unforgettable points of view of a remarkable journey-and of the multiple meanings of motherhood." Amazon


  1. The inclusion of the veto provision was about politics and was the compromise needed to to do two things, 1) get the legislation through the Senate, over the opposition of powerhouse Senator Hargrove and 2) prevent the Governor from vetoing the bill. A clean bill had a zero percent chance of passage in WA and what was passed was almost vetoed in its entirety by the Governor. There is no evidence that fear, irrational or not, had anything to do with the WA law.

    While the new law is flawed, I believe it is a step in the right direction. Judiciary staff research showed that only four women had used the veto provision for those adoptees from 1993 - present. Yes, ALL adoptees should have unrestricted access to their OBC but I do not believe that incremental steps to the perfect law is the wrong way to go if the option is to restrict all adoptees born prior to 1983 from accessing their OBC until a clean bill has the support for passage. I believe far more people would have died waiting for a clean bill to pass to access to their OBC than will be denied under the contact veto.

    Make no mistake, had the Democrats still been in control of the Senate no bill no matter how big of compromises were made would have even been given a hearing. Furthermore, without the compromises made in this bill, Governor Inslee would have vetoed the bill. A veto can take years to overcome.

    I agree that the idea of Rivers and Orwall going around the state holding meetings to publicize the veto is silly; I don't believe for a minute they will do it. There is no requirement under the bill for any group to publicize the option of a contact veto. While that was one of the reasons for a 2014 effective date, DSHS also asked for time to develop the forms required under the statute along with development of a medical history form.

    Yes Oregon is more progressive than Washington regarding this particular issue; but I have faith that the statute will be perfected during future sessions. Unless, of course, there is a change of control, then any attempt at reform will die in a Senate committee without the benefit of a hearing.

  2. Paige,
    I can understand why you and other advocates would feel this law is better than none. Nonetheless it is appalling that the only bill that could get through the Washington legislature has a birth mother veto.

    Those who insisted on the first mother veto must have assumed that first mothers had reasons to fear that their children would not honor a "do not contact" request and reason to fear contact. That's why the legislature and the governor insisted upon giving mothers the absolute right to prevent their children from obtaining their original birth certificate.

    The fear is irrational because there have been no problems in states like Oregon without a veto.

    According the news article I linked, to Sen. Rivers says she and Rep. Orwall will hold meetings around the state to let first mothers know how they can "remain anonymous." I took them at their word.

  3. My guess is though they may publish this to cover their own "issues" ( the legislators), they will not get much response, as I feel most birthmothers will struggle with making the effort to file the veto.

  4. I testified at two of the hearings and I know for a fact the restrictions in this bill and Senator Ann Rivers was and still is irrational.

    Rep Tina Orwall wanted desperately to get something passed and Senator Jeannie Darneille was just along for the ride.

    Governor Inslee is also irrational in his decision making process considering he wasn't too eager to sign-off on the bill the first time he scheduled the bill for signing. Then he comes back and signs it, knowing good and well that sealed birth records are a joke. For a solid 19 years in Washington State not one Affidavit of Non-Disclosure was filed with the state - not one.

    Washington State's elected so-called 'representatives of the people' are most definitely irrational.

  5. "In short, it stinks."
    That it does. Although most people who have no real understanding of adoption will think that this bill makes sense, that it is a fair compromise. Most people still do not get that the adoptee had no say. And as an adult it is no longer the first parents' decision as to who the adoptee can and cannot know. I fear that the Washington law is going to become the standard.

    "Objections expire upon the death of first parents..."
    I have a question. How will Washington state know when a first parent has died? Will they be accessing death records from all 50 states at all times? And what if a first parent dies while on business or vacation out of the country? Will Washington state be made aware of these deaths as well? I'm sure there are plenty of first mothers who delivered in Washington but who no longer reside there.

  6. Robin, The man on the street can understand that the adoptee had "no say," but since they aren't acting up more, people think it's only a few who had aparents they didn't get along with who care. Unfortunately that's how they get away with it, despite how adoptees don't want to hear that, as we saw a few posts ago.

    But that's the mindset of the legislators. As for Ann Rivers, she just doesn't get it, that protecting other birth mothers isn't right.

  7. Incidentally, what are we hearing from some legislators in Albany? That they only want to hear from people who lives in their district. Constituents. If some districts, we have no one lobbying. So it goes.

  8. As an adoptee, state Rep. Tina Orwall once hoped to win more disclosure. As one who gave up a child for adoption, Sen. Ann Rivers didn’t want to allow more. In the end, a compromise bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee this week strikes a middle ground both lawmakers are hailing as a step forward for those involved in adoptions.

    Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/politicsblog/2013/05/22/gov-inslee-signs-bill-giving-adoptees-more-access-to-birth-records/#.UZ5eqpoPO1A.facebook#storylink=cpy

  9. Lori, I watched your testimony. You did a great job mixing both passion and charm into your testimony. I'm wondering which legislators you met with out side of the hearing while you were on campus? Did you spend time with Senator Rivers? Senator River is easy to talk to. She listens. She is brutally honest. She will tell you directly why a piece of legislation won't make it through the process. I spend significant time with her and she is the least irrational legislator on the hill. Have you met with the Senator from Spokane, Senator Padden? Do you have insight on why he voted no? Senator Eide voted no and rumor has it she met with the Governor along with Senator Hargrove asking him to veto the entire bill, do you know why? I don't, but am dying to find out! Same with Senators Honeyford and Holmquist-Newbry....

    Victoria, I believe that's an accurate representation of where they were a year ago when both Orwall and Rivers served together on House Judiciary. Since then, both have become dedicated to passing meaningful legislation to allow the vast majority of adoptees in WA state to access their OBCs. I believe Rivers has softened her position regarding first parent vetoes since then. However as I've been stating on this forum for at least a year, a clean bill would not have made it through the Senate and if by some miracle it did Governor Inslee would have surely used the veto pen. It was the contact veto and the illusion of privacy it provides that kept Senator Hargrove from getting the 25 votes needed to defeat the bill.

    It's ridiculous and frustrating, but its not the end. I've told Penni from WA-CARE that I'm committed to work behind the scenes to help her get access to key policy makers throughout the interim. Work needs to be done at the Governors office. I'm going to drag as many Wa legislators as I can to the Adoptee Rights booth at NCSL this summer. I have a few ideas of which legislators might be good to develop as champions over the interim. I wonder if former WA Supreme Court Justice Faith Ireland would lend her support and clout to the cause...it's worth making the ask.

  10. Thanks to Jane Edwards, Delores Teller and others who took time to travel to Olympia to testify in support of a clean bill.

    Imo fear is used by those who make money from closed adoptions, including lobbyists, to keep clean bills from becoming law.

    So they portray birth mothers as victims. Example: Senator Rivers feels she needs to reach out to birth mothers about the bill as if birth mothers are a monolithic group and never grow up after 19 years.

    And adult adopted people who want to have equal rights are portrayed as perpetual and ungrateful children. Example: The first words out of Senator Pearson's mouth on the floor of the Senate in presenting the bill was that it was about "adopted children".

  11. I am firmly in favor of adoptees having full access to their OBC. Period.

    However, there are a few flaws in your analogy of why some First Mothers wish to remain anonymous.

    Most (of those I know and its a wide cross section but certainly not representative of the whole) of those FM seeking to remain anon. are not fearful of a child coming back to "harm them" but more of a desperate need to hide that shameful time in their lives (many were made to feel shamed!) and some MUST remain in the shadows as they have not told their spouses, parented children, extended family, etc. They fear being subjected to judgement, ridicule, of losing the stability they have worked hard to create/maintain. A few fear the reopening of emotional wounds they have fought to seal off and hide.

    This is NOT a justification for keeping AA's from their OBC, but it is a motivating factor for some.

    Just wanted to add an additional angle. I guess when I reread my own words, it is almost the same as your analogy. A type of "harm" by emotional or through the revealing of a long kept secret.

    I stand corrected.


  12. Anne, we totally agree about shame and the long held secret being the motivating factor:

    How shame keeps birth mothers from embracing reunion

    But as you say, they fear the return of their children, not physically but emotionally, especially if they have not told their husbands and other children. Jane and I both told our husbands, I did not have other children, but Jane had to face her other daughters and tell them. It is not an easy thing to do, we understand, but morally it is wrong because that secret deprives another of their true identity. Sealed records--even if only sealed for a few--are morally unjustifiable and patently inequitable.

    Now I hear that we are facing lobbying from surrogate judges in New York who want to "protect" first mothers. Again if anyone living in New York is reading this, please lobby your legislators, write to the Governor and Sheldon Silver.

  13. "On a happier note, the Oregon legislature is expected to pass SB 623 which allows adoptees 18 and over to obtain their court files except for the home study. The bill also makes it easier for first parents to obtain court orders allowing them to access portions of the court file which include their child's adoptive name and the names of his or hers adoptive parents. And that is nothing short of a miracle. For details on this bill see Opening court records to adoptees and first parents.--Jane"

    This makes no sense to me. So a first parent can veto, then can go legally obtain adoption records that contain her child's name and the names of the adoptive parents? But all an adoptee can hope for are papers that don't say anything at all with names of the people who created him.

  14. Daughter LB,
    It's WASHINGTON which just enacted a law allowing adoptees to access their original birth certificates subject to a first parent veto.

    It's OREGON which is likely to enact a law allowing adult adoptees access to their court file without a court order and first parents access to portions of the court file with a court order.

    Oregon has allowed adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates since 2000. Oregon does not have a first parent veto.



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