Response to New Jersey Catholic Conference Statement Re Senate Bill 611
I write as a New Jersey resident and as a mother who lost her child to adoption in 1968 and has spent the past 40 years working with that population, as well as researching, writing and speaking about adoption issues. I am author of two books and innumerable articles on adoption. I am former Director-at-Large of The American Adoption Congress and currently sit on the board of directors of Origins-USA, a national nonprofit which represents the rights of mothers and advocates to keep natural families together and help those separated by adoption. As such, I speak with authority by and for the rights of mothers.
The NJ Catholic Conference statement contains many errors contradictions regarding the rights of adoptees and their families of origin:
The third paragraph refers to the Mills decision and states very clearly that: “The assurance of secrecy regarding the identity of the natural parents enables them to place the child for adoption with a reputable agency, with the knowledge that their actions and motivations will not become public knowledge (emphasis mine)". It is very reasonable to expect a legal proceeding and other relevant records to be confidential from the public. This, however, is quite different from an expectation of anonymity from one’s own flesh and blood and a denial of rights to a child who is given for adoption for the purpose of having a better life, not to be discriminated against and denied the same rights as non-adopted citizens. Many mothers would never surrender if informed that their child would be denied such rights.
In truth, many who adopt are given full access to those records, which contain identifying information of the parents of origin, as well as medical and social histories and confidential notes and judgments made by social workers, clergy and others.
Paragraphs four and five get to the root of the issue by making claim of an alleged “right” of adopters to “raise this child without fear of interference from the natural parents” and a desire for laws to “insure that the relationship with his or her new parents can develop into a loving and cohesive family unit un-invaded by a natural parent who later wishes to intrude into the relationship.”
As illustrated in Growing in the Dark by Baer, a compressive history of sealed records particularly in California, it is the alleged “rights” of adopters that has been and continues to be a primary concern of states in sealing adoption records and keeping them sealed. Why do those adopting need, deserve or obtain special protection of their “fears” any more than any other parent or citizen? This clearly implies that mothers who make a loving sacrifice to surrender a child – as they are often compelled and encouraged to do by Catholic Charities and other “reputable” adoption agencies – are to be feared. This is discrimination in its worst and most repugnant form.
The contradiction is blatantly obvious. On the one hand there is fear of a mother wanting to make contact with her child, while at the same time “assuming” mothers require protection from invasive intrusion in their lives from their own children.
Further contradiction exists nullifying the NJCC arguments. Paragraph six speaks of “reliance on that assurance of privacy” which, has already been shown to be privacy from public scrutiny. The Conference admits that no agreement exists specifically making any such promise but want it to be believed that young women in the throes of a traumatic time in their life and with no legal counsel representing them would be knowledgeable of a court decision, which provides: “statutory assurance that his or her identity as the child's parent will be shielded from public disclosure."
It is utterly preposterous for anyone to expect that young women would know this, believe it applies to their children never knowing them, and yet NOT be aware as adults of their right to request no contact!
Registries have proven to be a failure in every state that has tried them. They are costly and cumbersome and create more of an impasse and hindrance to reunion than help. They are not widely known enough especially in our mobile society. It is in direct contradiction of the concern of The Conference that: “Such presumption simply ignores a number of reasons - including their out-of-state location or their simple unawareness of the legislation - that might underlie the birth parent's failure to register.” If a mother fails to register simply because she is unaware that she can or needs to, the adopted adult is then unfairly denied access to his/her father, siblings or other members of his original family.
What the NJCC is suggesting here is simply an additional source of income for its agencies, footed by those whose lives have already suffered from loss, separation, lies and secrecy. They reference concerns raised in 1928 in order to make a decision that is appropriate in 2008. Legislation that treats mothers who surrender as suspect and cause for fear does NOT “protect” them…its stigmatizes and legitimizes them as shameful, potentially dangerous, harlots instead of loving concerned mothers which is the real fear.
Finally, while The Conference purports to be “protecting” the rights of mothers, they advocate violating her rights under HIPAA law to the protection of her medical records by stating at the start: “The New Jersey Catholic Conference does not oppose adoptees having full access to their birth parents' medical histories.”
Those who are adopted – and their families – deserve the same, equal access to all records as non-adopted citizens: no more and no less. This means, quite simply, that all parties to a document – such as a certificate of live birth – should have access to that document that pertains to them. Medical records, as per HIPAA, are governed by the rights of each individual to his own and no others. Medical associations concur that they way to obtain a family medical history is to ask your family. It also recognizes that while the history is very important, it is the right of anyone to refuse.
I support Origins-USA’s position on equal access to original birth records being made accessible to all the parties to whom the document pertains.