Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adoption 'rights' should not protect mothers May 20, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the latest, but far from the first or only man caught when his sexual dalliances became public fodder. Just ask John Edwards. No matter how powerful, such men are unable to protect their secrets and lies from being revealed.

But adoption does just that — erases a birth as if it didn’t happen by issuing a falsified so-called “amended” birth certificate indicating the adopted child was born to his adoptive parents and sealing the original and true birth certificate, not just from the public, but from the very people named on the record and to whom it should belong.

States (Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois and Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington) currently revisiting outdated laws that discriminate against those who were adopted by preventing them access to their own birth certificates are being bombarded with lies perpetrated by adoption industry lobbyists claiming mothers who relinquished their rights have some alleged “right” to protection from their lies and secrets.

Politicians, swayed by paid lobbyists, find costly and convoluted “compromises” such as state-appointed intermediaries to find each mother and ask her permission, or provisions for mothers to file a waiver or veto disallowing her child access to his birth certificate.

But equality cannot be compromised and when you sort through all the rhetoric there is no conflict of mothers’ rights as there is no right of privacy or any right to protect lies and secrets. Adoption secrets when revealed are generally far less harmful than we fear, as witnessed recently when Oprah Winfrey's long-lost sister found her.

On the one hand, you have people who were born in America and adopted as children who are denied the same right to their own birth certificate all other U.S. citizens take for granted. On the other hand, you have false allegations that mothers were promised that a child they had would be kept secret, a right no one has.

Alleging mothers who relinquished were promised or now need “protection” is no different from the arguments made to prevent women from voting. In neither case did the women want such protection, and it instead created a denial of sexual equality and civil rights. Men are sought after to own up to their paternity while women are to be “protected” not from public scrutiny — which might be expected — but from their own offspring.

How do I know? In the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, I left the abusive man I had eloped with when I was just 19 and had a child who was relinquished for adoption. In 1980 I co-founded a New Jersey-based national support group for mothers who lost children to adoption and in the ensuing years have counseled hundreds of mothers who were pressured by the mores of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I have read many of the relinquishments signed by such women, and none make any promise to “protect” their anonymity.

In fact, many of the papers state that the mothers are relinquishing their parental rights for the minority of their child’s life, leading mothers to believe that upon their child reaching adulthood they would be allowed to know of their well-being.

I also have researched the laws that sealed adoption records in most states in the 1940s. The reasons stated were to protect adoptees from the stigma of illegitimacy and to protect the adoptive parents/family from intrusion of the birth family. Not one word of any concern about protecting original mothers. Sealing of adoption records was encouraged by adoption practitioners who operate more easily under a cloak of secrecy, fearing the transparency might reveal some less than ethical adoption practices.

Will giving access to birth certificates cause discomfort for some who have relinquished? Possibly. But few laws please all the people all the time. Even “if” mothers assumed their relinquished child would never know their name — things change. Marriage vows are exchanged without expectations of divorce, and no homeowner ever expects to lose their home by eminent domain. And in Pennsylvania, mothers who relinquished expected to know their children and that their children would be able to find them, until the law was changed sealing birth certificates there in 1985.

And even without their original birth certificates, many adoptees find members of their first families. Anyone not wanting contact merely has to say “no” to a phone call or knock at the door. There are ample laws to protect anyone from unwanted contact such as harassment or stalking.

It’s high time we ended all laws that are sexist in nature and that use a guise of “protection” to deny equality and caught up with Alaska and Kansas, which never sealed adoption records and no harm ever came to anyone. Antiquated laws that sealed adoption records in the 1940s simply need to be repealed to create total equality for all adoption-separated people. A birth certificate is both a public and private record, and as such belongs to all named therein. It is s snapshot in time that cannot be eradicated or annulled as having not taken place.

Mirah Riben
The writer is author of “The Dark Side of Adoption” (1988) and “The Stork Market: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry” (2007).

UPDATE 5/24/11: This piece will be reprinted in the very pro-adoption publication, Adoption Today. the editor wrote to me:
"I just finished reading your Op/Ed Adoption 'rights' should not protect mothers and thought you made a compelling argument for repealing the antiquated laws that have sealed adoption records and denied equal rights for so many.
I would like to share your article with the readers of Adoption Today with a page 3 position usually reserved for my editorial. I am requesting your permission to reprint your article without edit in the June 2011 issue of AT.
The favor of your reply is requested at your earliest convenience."
Of course I granted permission! 

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