Some insightful and engaged readers of my last post have posed questions about why so many adoption records have been closed in the first place. When did it begin?
Actually, U.S. adoptions were open until second half of the nineteenth century, when in the 40s and 50s states started closing records. It’s said that birth mothers were promised confidentiality and anonymity, but as they come forward with their stories they say what they wanted was privacy from the public stigma of being a young unwed mother—not from their child. You talk to most birth mothers and they say they were promised no such thing but instead it was twisted into a threat that they’d better not go trying to contact their child. By 1990 all states but 3 (South Dakota, Alaska, and Kanses) closed all records. There are plenty of statistics that say mothers want just as much for their children to find them one day, and that the secrets have done more health and psychological damage to adoptees than good.
The issue has since become something buttressed by groups supported by adoptive parents, mostly based on fears that a birth mother will come back to haunt them. These are likely the same parents who would discourage their children from searching for their birth family later in life. They might feel threatened that their child is trying to replace them (when really their child will probably be closer to them if they allow them this.) These parents probably were not given support from agencies in order to be informed of the full scope of the issues.
Let us give them other perspectives. Let us give them our stories.
I'm always so happy to hear about the many adoptive parents who fight for their child's right to records and who support their child's search for roots.
But it’s not just those in the triad who are against open access to birth certificates. There are many powerful groups that strongly oppose it. In Ohio (side note: I'm baffled by Andrea's comment on the last post that her friend's adoptive child's birth certificate was destroyed!), Ohio Right to Life has been a major opponent because they believe if information is shared openly, mothers will opt for abortion instead of adoption. This is not true, and there is evidence to prove as such. Take a look at Kansas, which has always had open records. The abortion rates in that state have either stayed the same or gone down in recent decades. There is no evidence, statistical or otherwise, that proves more women choose abortion because they do not want the possibility of their baby coming to find them later.
Planned Parenthood bats for the other team too. They get more funding for abortions, apparently, so they’re not about to be okay with supporting healthier adoptions.
One of the biggest opponents in many states countrywide is the Catholic Church. One woman at an adoption conference I attended in April said she’d been fighting the Catholic Church in New Jersey for 29 years now--documentation in hand to dispel every myth--and had made little progress. I’d like to ask the Catholic Diocese to check out the Old Testament, the pages and pages of tribe recordings and lists of names. It is important where one comes from. It is simply not fair to withhold vital information from someone about themselves in order for some people to save face. It places value on one person's rights over another's, which ironically is one of the big arguments that pro-life advocates use.
Some people have theories that there are a lot of powerful people who are secret birth parents (politicians, priests), and so they have a strong vested interest in keeping birth certificates sealed (or destroyed!) Obviously it's difficult to research something like this, so I can't say whether it's true, but it does make one wonder...
Luckily there are a few states that have opened birth certificate access recently. I believe Oregon did so in 2000, so any child born and adopted in or after 2000 will have access. Here's a video showing a recent victory in Maine.