Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Big Lie: Birth Parent Confidentiality

photo credit:  deebright.com

Myth:  Birth Parents were (are) legally promised confidentiality.  A friend of mine who is on the board of the Adoptee Rights Coalition has collected many Birth Parent Surrenders (some from long ago and some more recent) and in none of them is there a "promise" of confidentiality (or anonymity) to the birth parent from her child.  There may be a clause that prevents the birth parent from contacting the adoptive family.  But the gist of the Birth Parent Surrender has legal terminology that is clear that the parent is no longer the parent under the eyes of the law.  Period.  No promises are made other than she no longer has any responsibility or rights for said child.   I have a copy of  the legal surrender that my daughter's birth parent signed. It only takes away rights and does not give her any form of anonymity, confidentiality (other than what is expected in attorney/client privilege) or promises of privacy.


Myth:  Birth parents will not relinquish their child for adoption if they believe they can later be found.

The reality is that very few birth parents do not want to know who their children are, where their children are, if they are safe, alive and if they were well cared for in the adoptive family.  There are some; however, and the law gives a minority of original mothers an opportunity in some states to submit a Contact Preference Form. (Note: The contact preference form is about reunion.  Birth certificate access is a civil rights issue.)

However,  if a birth parent does not want contact, then the laws that protect all of us from harassment and stalking also protect birth parents.  I have yet to hear of a case of stalking or harassment by an adoptee, but I suppose it could happen in rare cases.  The law allows the same remedies to birth parents as they do to Joe Schmoe down the street who has is dealing with an over-eager person trying to make unwanted contact.  Again, reunion is a whole different ball of wax than using the "confidentiality" argument as a way to keep adoptees from having a copy of their original birth certificates (discrimination).

Open adoption is not the same as open records.  There is a reason the majority of birth parents want an open adoption -- so they can see for themselves how their child is fairing.  The decades of closed adoption caused, many times, severe trauma to birth mothers without any knowledge or information about their child.  Children grew up without any (or much at all) knowledge of where they came from and sometimes were not even told they were adopted.  Adoption records can be opened by Court Order and no promises were made to birth mother that adoption records were sealed forever.  There was never an expectation under the law that adoption records were sealed for life.  Judges can open them any time and have done so. 


Unfortunately, the prevailing myth of the "hiding birth mother" is alive and well and a way to keep the status quo of discrimination of adoptees in the states still sealing original birth certificates from their rightful owners.


Original birth certificates for all (not just the non-adoptee majority)

Every single person born in the United States has an original birth certificate.  I have one too.  But the only way that original birth certificates are actually sealed (from the adoptee and others) is AFTER adoption finalization. This could be 6 months after birth or 6 years or never, depending on when or if an adoption takes place. Meaning, if a woman surrenders her child, that child MAY NOT be adopted.  That child could be raised in foster care.  That child could go under the Legal Custody of a relative.  That child could remain orphaned for life but be under guardianship.

In all of the preceding examples, except in adoption, the Original Birth Certificate REMAINS as it is and unsealed.  In adoption ONLY (including step-parent adoption), the original birth certificate is sealed and an AMENDED birth certificate is put it its place removing the birth mother's name and substituting the adoptive parent(s). name(s).  In the majority of states in the U.S. (not true in other countries), adoptees' birth certificates are then sealed away from them by the state.   In adoptee-speak, this is referred to as a legal myth

But wait! What about all those birth parents who signed away their rights but their child was not adopted?   The birth certificate is not sealed or amended.  What about their confidentiality/anonymity/privacy?  They have none because there never was any to begin with.

The original intent of the process of amending adoptees' birth certificates was to protect the child and family from the prying eyes of the public.  In other words, it was never to protect the birth parent. The current three-tiered law in Ohio, denying 1964-1996 adoptees their OBCs was drafted by an adoptive parent, who later regretted his own role in the current law.  This adoptive parent's daughter, Betsie Norris, is the force behind the current legislation to restore adoptees' rights to their OBCs. She has dedicated her career and life to undoing the law her father initiated which violated the rights of his own daughter and those of other adoptees in Ohio. (read about Betsie here).

 I have written previously about Ohio H.B. 61 and S.B. 23 (which is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Go here for an update) This is the first time in decades that the Ohio Catholic Conference and Ohio Right to Life has backed an adoptee rights bill in Ohio. In the past, they fought it due to myths outlined in a previous blog.  Finally, this time, there was enough testimony from experts, adoptees and birth parents to convince two of our greatest opponents that these myths have no basis in fact. 

We adoptees in Ohio are all holding our collective breaths waiting for this bill to become law so that the adopted people affected (adoptees born between 1964-1996), will finally have the same rights as the adoptees born in other years and the non-adopted. A day when they will finally be able to have a copy of what is rightfully theirs:  their original birth certificate.

This is not about reunion  Reunion has everything and nothing to do with original birth certificates.  Mention adoptee rights and there is always a response asking about reunion.  An original birth certificate may be the only piece of paper that an adoptee has ever held in his/her hand that lists her own birth name.  If that adoptee then chooses to use that piece of information to search and reunite, that is between the adoptee and the birth parent.  Adopted people and their mothers are adults and can decide if they want to meet or not.

But let's be clear:  original birth certificate access is NOT about reunion.  It is about equal rights for all.  Many adoptees have used other means to seek reunion, but still want their OBC.  Many adoptees do not want a reunion, but they still want their OBC.   Each adopted person has a right to their own birth record, their own name and their own genealogy and to use their Original Birth Certificate in any way they see fit.

 “A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event — the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth.”
 –6th Circuit Court, Doe v. Sundquist















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