Access Denied: Why Adoption Contact Vetoes Are Just Plain Wrong

When I saw the letter, I knew what it was. It’s got that big Illinois Department of Vital Health logo on it, one I’ve come to know in recent years. I knew the letter was from the state Adoption Registry. And I knew it contained my birth mother’s denial of contact.

If you’re new to my story, you might want to read about my confidential intermediary experience to catch up. Needless to say I’ve been made well aware of my birth mother’s wishes by the governmental nannies I ended up paying for. This is the icing on the cake, that little bit of lagniappe that lets you know you’re less than zero.

Because I did not begin this journey asking to contact my birth family. I started it asking for my birth certificate, years ago at the courthouse, when what I got when I stood in line with everyone else wasn’t quite the same. My birth certificate (the amended version, I later came to realize) said I was born to my adoptive parents, which is patently absurd. And it listed my place of birth, a detail I’d never known.

Until then it hadn’t occurred to me that my access to my records might not be like everyone else’s. You go to the courthouse and stand in line, right? If you’re adopted, that’s like being told Shawnee National Forest is a neighborhood park. There is a whole wilderness out there the likes of which you have never seen. It’s full of dangers, roads that lead nowhere, signposts that claim to point the way yet lead you only to darkness.

And it’s packed with ideas that would be ridiculous anywhere else but become assumptions when tagged with “adoption.” Like the notion that one adult should have the ability to usurp the rights of another.

I wound up contacting my birth mother because it was the only way to gain access to my records. Most adoptees have little in the way of solid data, even within the official paperwork. Sometimes information was lost, or never gathered; more disturbingly it may have been altered, even to the day and/or place of birth. What little exists is protected better than the Master Control Program in the movie TRON. I’ve got a little blue disk here labeled “Adoptee Rights” I’m going to fling.

Contact veto systems – laws that allow birth parents to veto the adult adoptee’s ability to obtain their original birth certificate – are just plain wrong.

An adult adoptee’s desire for his or her records has NOTHING to do with ANYONE but the adoptee. It is no one’s place to tell us whether or not we should have access to that information. Period.

Note that I’m talking about contact vetoes, not to be confused with contact preference forms which do not limit the adoptee’s ability to access records. Asking a birth family’s preference is fine. Giving that preference priority over an adoptee’s rights is not.

This is the point at which folks usually whine about “privacy of the birth family.” Why do people assume adoptees are crazy stalker psychos ready to jump out of the bushes at the first hint of blood kin? Back to TRON, here’s a CLU: Adoptees are as capable of acting like adults as anyone else.

And there was never any such thing as a promise of “birth parent privacy.” The Evan B. Donaldson looked long and hard at this last year, in their must-read report “For The Records: Restoring A Legal Right To Adult Adoptees.” The researchers did not find a single written document declaring that the privacy of birth families would be protected. On the contrary, most birth mothers were threatened that if they ever tried to look, they would be in trouble. And more research, as recently posted on the Unsealed Initiative list, may indicate that some birth relatives were actually told in writing that confidentiality could not be guaranteed.

There are existing anti-harassment laws on the books. And those negative reunion stories are far less frequent than biased news articles represent. If someone doesn’t want to be contacted, all they have to do is say so! Sealing an adoptee’s records via a contact veto provides them no alternative recourse to obtain their information, in a matter that has nothing to do with the person granted the power to make that decision.

Rather, closed adoption records serve exactly one purpose: shielding the true nature of the adoption industry. Because they clearly don’t serve adoptees, nor the majority of birth relatives, nor adoptive families. All they do is continue clandestine practices which lead to the exact same problems that have prospective adopters all up in arms over new regulations on adoptions. Don’t you see the cycle, or do you have to be an outsider like an adoptee to get it?

It’s hard for people to understand that the right of adult adoptees to access their records is completely separate from search and reunion. That’s a smokescreen designed to get us to try compromises like intermediaries and registries, injecting more money into the adoption industry instead of actually addressing the issue of adoptee rights. Even many adoptees are unaware how the system is gamed, to their disadvantage. And why should they be? The adoption marketing engine does a better job than Bill Gates convincing all of us that the flaws in Microsoft Windows are “features.”

Even worse, there are those who think even preventing the adoptee from accessing the official records isn’t good enough. As I’ve mentioned before, as written the proposed Illinois HB 4623 would allow birth parents to expunge their names FROM THE ORIGINAL RECORD. Do you understand what a horrible precedent that is? No other vital document is mangled in this way. Only if you’re adopted are you debased to such a level.

Why should birth relatives be forced into deciding whether or not they want contact in order for an adult adoptee to access his or her records? And why is adult adoptee records access always cast in apocalyptic terms? The world is not going to end if we have our birth certificates, folks. Life goes on in Alaska, Kansas, Tennessee, Oregon, Alabama, and more recently Maine, not to mention Great Britain, Australia, and, well, much of the world.

Adoptees are not computer programs, easily rewritten or deleted to suit the expectations of others. Contact veto systems are just another slapdash solution that chips away at our dignity, a little bit at a time.

For further reading, see Bastard Nation’s “Conditional Access Legislation And Other Legislative Compromises.”


  1. Great blog that is telling the truth as to what the adoption law in Illinois is all about. You are so right in that a birth parent can just say “no” to contact – to the adoptee. The government does not have to be involved and should not be. After all they are not involved if a non-adoptee requests their OBC and learns their father is not the one they have always known. This does happen but the parties involved handle it with no interference from the government. It is simply not right for adoption records to not be opened in Illinois. It is unconstitutional to not do so.

  2. I have an idea. How about we develop a video game that simulates the process an adoptee goes through as he tries to answer the age old question “Who am I?”

  3. Mary Lynn – Birth certificates aren’t changed at surrender, they’re not amended until the adoption is finalized. Meaning if the adoption doesn’t go through or the adoptee ends up in foster care, there is no amended certificate. So how can sealing amended certificates provide a “guarantee” of privacy for birth parents? Answer: It doesn’t; the only privacy protected is that of the adoption industry itself.

    Pennagal – Sort of like Lightcycle, except it’s an endless maze!

  4. You’re not “less than zero” in my book, Triona. You’re one SUPER ADOPTEE.

    Every one of your blogs gets to the nitty gritty of the adoptee’s world. Keep writing, girl!


  5. http://Anonymous says

    You are a voice for many!
    Like Anita said you are very special. Everyone deserves to know who they are! I cant believe all the brick walls you have hit & obstacles you have jumped. Great Blog Thank You!

  6. Thanks, everyone. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

    But no one should have to go through the humiliation that many searchers experience – unsympathetic remarks from clerks, judges, social workers and others such as:

    “Why do you want to know?”
    “You should just leave it alone.”
    “Your birth parents didn’t want you.”
    “Your child is better off.”
    “You should be grateful.”

    The shame surrounding adoption continues because it is reinforced by solutions that assume it is something to be ashamed of – solutions like intermediaries and contact vetos. If adoption’s so great, why not open the records and do away with those obsolete assumptions?

  7. How well I remember all the unsympathetic remarks. There are enough emotions to deal with while searching that adoptees and birth parents don’t need to be treated this way.

    I used to become so angry over Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s promoting adoption but yet he did not feel that anyone should be reunited some day. God rest his soul but I consider his type to be sick, not the triad members who are searching.

    I feel that we must show that state registries and CI programs are not working. The majority that benefit are those making a profit from it.