' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: UNJUST Sealed Birth Certificate Laws

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UNJUST Sealed Birth Certificate Laws

My original birth certificate--everyone should have the same
As the legislative session wound down in New York, the Assembly passed a bill that allows natural birth parents not only a veto, but put in place a confidential intermediary system, those assuring that many more birth mothers will deny their children knowledge of their original identity. The bill (S5964) was referred to the Senate Rules committee but in the flurry of activity that engulfs the legislative chambers in the last hours of every session, it stayed in committee as the session ended.

After years of work on giving adoptees the right to know who they are--without any restriction, without a natural parent veto--this legislation was disappointing. Assemblyman David Weprin who has been the main sponsor and spark plug for this bill obviously felt that he could not get a clean bill--no restrictions, no confidential intermediaries--despite strong lobbying at the end to kill the bill. It passed 125-19. My own assemblyman Fred Thiele, who has been a staunch supporter of the original bill that had no restrictions, in the end joined those who voted for this bill.

It's the same kind of half-assed bill that has become law in several others states. While extremely few
women file actual vetoes, we do know many more reject releasing the information when contacted by a confidential intermediary.

Lorraine testifying in 2014 against this kind of law
In New York we have powerful legislators, such as Helene Weinstein and Danny O'Donnell as well as others, who use privacy and confidentiality of natural mothers as the excuse they cannot give adopted people the free and clear right to their identities in as far as they are contained on an original birth certificate.

Back in the Seventies, Florence Fisher as the head of ALMA, was offered a bill that would have given all adoptees born after the bill became law the right to have their original birth certificates once they became 18. If she had agreed, it is possible, perhaps even likely that all those adoptees born after 1976 would be allowed to have their OBCs. The thought haunts her today.
Below is a Facts & Commentary section from my new memoir, Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption

Imagine that you are at a family grave site. A grandmother is being laid to rest alongside her husband, perhaps a sibling or two, and other relatives connected by birth. You are standing there, head bowed, but you can’t squelch the awareness that when you die you do not really belong in this family plot. You should be elsewhere. You have a whole other passel of relatives, but you don’t know who they are, or where they are. You are adopted.

You have no knowledge of who you really are, where you came from and how you got here, you have no family medical history. You don’t look like anyone in this family, and you wonder where you got your flat feet or why your second toe is longer than your big toe, when nobody else in the family has feet like yours. 

You are an orphan in the world.

You’ve known since you were five or six that you came from another life, but you understand that you are not supposed to question, or wonder what that life would be like, or even who those people are who gave you life. You have a birth certificate, but the information on it doesn’t tell you who gave birth to you, only who adopted you. The state took away your right to know who you are when your parents adopted you, and sealed your original paperwork forever.

For the vast majority of adopted people in America, this is the way the world works.

What sealed records do to adopted people is no less than a kind of identity theft, a state-sanctioned robbery. Only a handful of states—and none of the most populous—give an adopted individual the free and clear right to that basic piece of paper. Call them free states. There are seven.[1]

Elsewhere adoptees are subject to a crazy-quilt of laws with various caveats that still leave some unable to learn their true place in the world. Those states permit a mother to redact her name on the original birth certificate with a simple request to the state.[2]  Consequently the most critical birth data—whom one was born to—is eradicated. There is no appeal, no legal recourse.

Lawmakers in those states have insisted on such vetoes because they ostensibly smack of a certain fairness: adopted individuals may have their birth certificates as originally written—except if the mother objects.

There is nothing fair about these vetoes. They give the individual who wishes to remain anonymous the right to deprive another knowledge about one’s being that the rest of us enjoy without asking and have always taken for granted. For those of us who know who we are—who have known since the age of reason—the enormity of this blank wall in the mental makeup of another individual is impossible to fully grasp. You were raised Jewish but maybe you were supposed to be Episcopalian. You were raised in a hot-blooded Italian family but you’re cool and less excitable. You are something else. Your mother is a poet but all you care about is politics.

These vetoes are becoming the path states are mistakenly taking as they move to unseal birth records of the adopted. Reflecting the zeitgeist of an earlier era when an out-of-wedlock birth was the cause of great scandal, these half-way measures today are chauvinistic holdovers of that time. Legislators who enact them insist they are protecting these scandalous women from—whom? Their own children.

But the laws that sealed birth certificates were never designed to give mothers anonymity. The goal was quite the opposite: The laws were written to shield the adoptive family from the natural mother’s interference.[3] It was presumed that she would want to know what happened to her child, and adoptive parents did not want her intruding. Despite how desperate a woman may have been to keep her baby’s birth a secret at the time, today that assumption has been subverted to allow her to hide from that child, and thus prevent his ever knowing his real identity. In effect, the state has set up a system that allows this type of identity theft, issues him fake ID papers, and offers no recourse. These new laws are not fair and equitable. These laws make a mockery of justice for all.

Adopted individuals were never asked if stripping away their identities and histories was their choice, or in their best interests. These infants and children grow up into adults with all the rights and obligations of the rest of us, yet—due to a contract made by others—they are denied basic facts about themselves. Sealed birth records of any kind, with any restrictions that apply to the person whose record it is, codify the same kind of appalling thinking that allowed slavery to flourish in centuries past.

Other than slavery, there is no instance in which a contract made among adults over another individual binds him once he becomes an adult. It takes from him full autonomy as a free person; it makes him subject to the whims and preferences of another, and it does so indefinitely and for all time. Anything other than full autonomy—which surely includes the right to know who one was at birth—is wrong morally, wrong legally, wrong anyway it can be interpreted.

Courts in the past have held[4]—and unquestionably courts in the future will find—that the mother has no constitutional right to remain anonymous from her child, and thus the state has no obligation to keep her identity secret from her offspring.

While these veto-burdened laws perpetuate a great injustice, they do this in the name of the very few. In free states where adopted individuals may obtain their original, intact birth certificates, mothers not wishing to be contacted may file such a preference with the state, and this is passed on should their adult children request their original birth certificates.

Few women choose this option. According to statistics compiled by the American Adoption Congress, fewer than 600 women have requested no contact in the six states that have opened their records since 2000, out of nearly 800,000 sealed birth certificates there. That is .0007, or seven-one-hundredths of one percent. In essence, only 1 of out of every 1,429 mothers named on sealed birth certificates in those states have requested no contact. In those six states approximately 30,000 people to date have asked for their original birth certificates, and the number continues to grow. How many received a no-contact request is unknown.

Fathers are not normally named on such documents, for most states prohibited that if the mother was a single woman—unless he filed an affidavit attesting to paternity. “Unknown” on a birth certificate does not mean the mother did not know who he was; it only means that the state did not recognize anyone as the father.

When adopted individuals began contesting sealed records, states and organized groups, such as ALMA, set up mutual-consent registries to match adoptees and natural parents. They are a step in the right direction, but they are largely ineffectual and ignore the basic injustice of sealed records. Most people do not even know such registries exist; dead parents and dead adoptees can’t register; some people do not know where they were born; young mothers who were heavily sedated and living in secrecy may be uncertain of the correct date or specific location; both parties must file with the same registry; some registries have inane restrictions, to wit: New York and California originally required that the adoptive parents sign off on their adult child registering.

Some states allow confidential intermediaries to do a search for the missing parties in one’s life. Who may initiate a search varies from state to state, but typically the name of the person sought may not be revealed without her permission. While either side may refuse, it is only the adopted individual who is seeking his own identity; the mother knows hers.

Neither intermediaries nor registries are a solution to the central issue of the right of the adopted to be able to answer the question: Who am I? Lacking that, the adopted remain a subordinate class of people, denied what the rest of us take for granted. This is social engineering gone awry.

Some may see a mother’s right to anonymity as a twisted extension of her "right to choose." But surely that right ends with her, and does not extend to future generations. Only in a Kafkaesque hell would someone grant anyone the right to erase the past history of another and sentence him to a state of genetic ignorance. Yet that is precisely what sealed records, and those laws that allow a mother’s veto, do.

It is not a hidden mass of natural mothers demanding such a twisted interpretation of fairness when states attempt to correct the wrongs of the past. Instead it is legislators listening to the ghosts of the past. It is adoption agencies and their agents, adoption attorneys—even search companies—who perpetuate the image of the vulnerable, fearful woman at the time of her greatest anguish, and place her in the present now, needing protection from her own flesh and blood. But she is a straw woman created by an industry fearful of change and of being discovered to have been wrong all these years. 

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.--Copyright, 2015, Lorraine Dusky

[1] At this writing: Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island and allow adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates; Rhode Island adoptees must be 25. I call them free states.  

[2] At this writing: Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. New Jersey will join that list in 2017. The American Adoption Congress website lists the state laws and the access they grant. See: http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/state.php

[4] Samuels, “The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry into the History of Adult Adoptee Access toBirth Records,Rutgers Law Review, Winter 2001, Vol. 53:2, pp. 432-434.


In a few days I will post a section of what it was like to lobby Danny O'Donnell. 


  1. We hope to get the ball rolling again in Michigan before too long, after being manipulated into failure by Bethany (un)Christian Services last time around. One challenge I hope to utilize next time is this: How are Michigan adoptees and families of birth different from those of Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island that they need "protection" from one another? What negative results could be expected that haven't emerged in any of the "free" states? And why are the civil rights of those states' adoptees more legitimate than ours?

    1. I SO agree, Digger. How is it that some states treat adoptees and families of birth as full citizens, while others discriminate? It doesn't make sense.

      A right is a right is a right.

  2. This clear and eloquent case for adoptees' access to our accurate birth information needs to be shared widely in and BEYOND the adoption community. I urge all of you to a0 read it yourself and then b) post it on your personal as well as adoption-reform-related pages so Lorraine isn't just "preaching to the choir." We are inclined to think (at least I am) that everyone should understand "the right to know," but it's simply unrealistic to think that.

  3. Adoption Digger, excellent approach. It's exactly what the LGBTQ movement did regarding states and countries that had already legalized gay marriage. So sorry to see all the mucked up bills out there that people capitulate to just because "it's something." It may be something alright, but not something that actually respects rights.

  4. It has been said that, ''justice is blind''. Is that a case of, therein lies the problem? Perhaps it's time for justice to open her eyes and see the abuses and cruelty and suffering that this practice perpetuates **for generations**. The suffering of lack of connectivity, of feeling grounded, of feeling permanently '''''rejected''''', of belonging to the tribe, of a lack of medical information (how many would like to have their medical information kept in a, ''only a court order will allow you to receive.. if you're lucky.'' system, controlled by strangers?) The suffering of feeling like a piece of property owned and controlled by rules and laws made by others that say they have ''your best interest'' at heart when it is obvious they are not giving one thought to or about your individual wants and needs, or your mental and spiritual and physical or emotional welfare. How is keeping the truth from someone, **their** truth (not what other people --WANT-- them to hold, believe, speak,...be...as truth) in their 'best interest'? It is saying in effect, "Damn it You're going to be a liar for the REST of your life whether you LIKE IT or not. You WILL do WHAT we say and HOW we say it and LIKE IT..... and be forever grateful!!! You will BE who WE tell you to be. Now SHUT UP!"
    Does this sound sane?, normal?, KIND?, best interest of a FELLOW HUMAN BEING, or for those with such inclination, treating others how YOU want to be treated? Does this ''''sound like'''' oppressive abusive mental and emotional control... if not ''ownership'' of another human being? It does to me. I feel it.

  5. Reading this makes me happy I have an original copy of both my kids birth certificates and along with my ex's parents have created more or less a book with all the information my kids will ever need or want about their father and that side of their family. From my side they can simply ask for this information and they do, asking me about the pictures in my phone of their cousin, my nephew who they will hopefully meet this December. I hope this continues for their sakes and for mine. I don't want them to have to go searching for any of this information, I how that they can continue to just ask me.

  6. It is really too bad what has happened in NY state. Is there still hope the bad bill can be defeated in the Senate, even though it passed the assembly? You have done a good job of refuting the supposed confidentiality of birthmothers, the unfairness of contact vetoes and whiteouts, and the ineffectiveness of registries and compulsory intermediaries. The adoptee at adoptive grandma's grave scenario was a little melodramatic and presumptuous coming from a non-adoptee; it is the weakest piece of an otherwise excellent post. The facts speak for themselves without that embellishment.

    I agree with Adoption Digger that the best strategy going forward for other states is to stick with a clean bill, and keep pointing out that nothing disastrous has happened in the states where such bills have passed, or in Kansas where they records have always been open to adoptees. Like marriage equality, when the hysteria dies down, nothing changes for most people, there are no disasters, life goes on, and another group gets a simple right they should have had all along. Keep it simple, keep calm, and fight speculation with what has actually happened in the real world in open states....basically, nothing!

  7. I am deeply grateful to you for writing this. I shared at American Indian Adoptees blog. We must fix these laws, once and for all.

  8. Thank you, Lorraine. Beautifully said. Now if we could only get people to hear us ... and act.

  9. Watching the NYS Legislature deal with this bill was like watching a three-ring circus. Everyone had something to say yet no one knew what they were talking about. We had Helene Weinstein referring to adoptees as "unwanted children." We had our two main lobby groups working separately, accomplishing nothing. We had Danny O'Donnell and his personal agenda for never voting for this bill. The fact that our sponsor went along with the horrific amendments made me see that, in the end, he is just another politician. He is not an adoptee, this does not affect him, he wants to move on to other things.

    The fact that my obtaining my OBC remains to be decided by this room full of imbeciles has pushed me over the edge. You could talk common sense to these people for days on end, you will get nowhere. They have already decided that they are right and the adoptees are wrong.

    So, I guess they won. I am done with this. I have to be, so I can move on to other things. I am extremely depressed, and it is all I can do to try to function normally and get through each day.

    So, I will most likely never know the details of my birth. But then, I never did. If NY wants it this way, fine. They took all the fight out of me, and I do not intend to commit suicide over this. I am going to have to let it go.

  10. JE: All that you say is true, but we can't really be "done" with this, as I have heard many say. Being "done" means that there will not be a group of people willing to work for and push the agenda for adoptees. Take a rest, heal yourself, focus on something else but come back: WE CANNOT STOP UNTIL WE WIN.

    And we will, one day.

  11. Lorraine, part of the problem with ALMA and other sites is that it is not user friendly, it is expensive and frankly, they don't allow adoptees or mothers to search the information. I found my daughter after her posting had been on Adoption.com's registry for over a year..... by simply using state, sex and birthdate. I had been putting in all that I knew and getting no where - so I slimmed it and looked. It is still there to this day. The truth is that until people stop pretending that "privacy" is real (outside of what kind of sex you have) - then it won't matter how much you do, you can't find what no one will share.

  12. When change happens, it seems to happen quickly after a long and apparently intractable log jam.

    Look at the recent referendum in Ireland regarding gay marriage.
    As someone who grew up in an Irish community, and saw how the Catholic church influenced the minutae of people's lives and thoughts, seeing people vote against the views of the Catholic church on this subject was astounding. And thrilling. And unbelievable.

    Change does come.

  13. Great post Cindy Aulabaugh! (@ June 30@ 5:01pm)

    When I started searching in 2004, California had sealed records. I received my non-id info about my daughter, and low and behold there was a letter from the Amom in this file. She wrote it right before my daughter's first birthday! It was a really nice letter, but I'm wondering "why" (!!) the Children's services never forwarded it to me? As I had updated my info whenever I moved, and always asked if there was anything "new" in the file. That pizzed me off! I found a person on Adoption dot com who had access to birth records in California, and I just gave her my name and daughter's (at birth) and she had no problem finding her "real" name. It turns out the Register and Birth numbers are the same - so there are two birth certs under the same number. I am truly thankful to this lady!! I posted for awhile on Adoption and sent adoptees from Calif. to her, so they could find out "who" they were! Had to be at least 20 to 25!! Unfortunately, she doesn't do this anymore....
    And Lorraine said it the OP:
    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.

    That's one thing I am thankful for - the aparents DID tell my daughter her unique heritage! They went to the church and also listened to the music from my "little" country.

    Julia Emily - I have followed your story here, and I agree with what Lorraine said:
    Take a rest, heal yourself, focus on something else but come back Yes take time - you definitely deserve it! We'll waiting for you here! Well... at least I will be!! :)

  14. Honestly !!! Adoption pollution is layers thick around the world !!!! Ten Commandments ???? Does anyone remember that and our US Constituion that ten of the ten commandments ? One being Do not covet ones neighbor.Do not take (steal) anything that doesn't belong to you (especially A HUMAN BABY from its own mother as she grieves.Mothers do not ever forget.It is not a dept. store item,like in Russia where they take them back if they don't like them or because they can .-vs versaThey call mothers selfless and they are the ones who are selfish araptordaptors-aa dino meating eating of anothers young.If I at 65 -Adoptors !!!! I will see my son Daniel the 2n in paradise 9-25 73 all together and my 1st son older ,Michael 17----9--17-68 he would be 48 September



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