Compromising On Adoptee Access? The Foot You Shoot May Be Your Own

I wrote this as a response to the news that Missouri has enacted a compromise bill for adult adoptee original birth certificate (OBC) access. I really wish people would understand that compromise legislation is a ploy to get us to shut up and go away. You never know if you yourself may be the one vetoed out of your own rights.
If you are thinking of supporting a bill, please understand what these compromises actually mean. Insist upon clean bills, every time, no exceptions.
What I said was:
While I appreciate all the hard work those involved have done to enact this bill [in Missouri], baby steps and compromises are not a fair solution. So-called “disclosure vetoes” such as the one in this new MO law require adoptees to get approval from their birth mothers before they can have their original birth certificates. Disclosure vetoes are sometimes phrased as “contact preferences”, but if it is binding on adoptees and prevents them from accessing their OBCs, it’s a veto.
This is unequal and a blow to the civil rights of adoptees. No one else needs such approval. The fact is that “baby steps” end up stopping at step one. No state that has enacted compromise legislation like this has ever revisited it. The legislators consider it a done deal and don’t want to revisit. Speaking from experience, a system like this does NOT work. The people typically in charge of it are often political allies of those who enact it. In other words, it’s a way to make money off adoptees, again. For example in Illinois the people who run the program are political allies of the legislator who enacted it, and make six figure salaries off babysitting adoptees and their birth families.
Compromise legislation is neither right nor fair. ALL citizens, regardless of adoptive status, deserve the same equal treatment. That means ALL adult adoptees should be able to access their original birth certificates in the same manner, and for the same reasonable fees, as everyone else.
Forgive me but this strikes close to home. I am an adult adoptee who has been denied her original birth certificate because of Illinois’ disclosure veto. I personally could not look at myself in the mirror if I got my OBC via a law that meant the adoptees in front of or behind me were unable to get theirs. We must all stand together and insist upon our civil rights instead of falling for cleverly-worded “solutions”. This is a political gimmick to lure you into thinking you are restoring your rights when you are really shooting yourself (and others) in the foot. Please think about and understand what compromise legislation means. It means you get your information at someone else’s expense. It means you yourself could very easily be the one left behind. You won’t know until you try to access your OBC and discover that you’re one of the “small percentage” that got bit by a veto.
It is perfectly possible to enact clean legislation. Other states like Maine have done it. You have to take the higher ground, insist on clean bills, and kill the bill if it is amended with a disclosure veto. South Dakota just went through that and I admire the South Dakota SEAL group for vowing to kill the bill they worked so hard for if it was compromised.
For every state that enacts a compromise, it makes it that much more difficult to enact clean legislation elsewhere. This is why we have not made more progress in opening records, because people are willing to fall for these compromises. Working together is paramount. Access must be equal, across the board. I have no problem with true contact preferences, those that allow birth families to state their preference while still allowing the adoptee to obtain his/her OBC (versus a binding veto, whatever it might be called). The notion that such preferences must be binding assumes that all adoptees are potential stalkers, which is demeaning and discriminatory. There is a vast difference between search/reunion and the right to one’s identity. The former is a decision that families must make among themselves. The latter should be a basic right of all human beings. Missouri’s bill is a tragedy for those who will be left behind.
One thing I would like to mention is that I do actually have a problem with true contact preferences (those that are not binding on the adoptee). Namely, that is that it is too easy for what begins as a “preference” to become a binding veto. Politicians are confused as to the difference between a contact preference and a disclosure veto. See the recent South Dakota decision on HB 1223 for an example of that. But I would rather see an otherwise clean bill pass with a nonbinding preference than a binding veto.

Think Before You Support Compromise Adoption Reform Bills

The new legislative session is upon us, and I encourage you to think long and hard before throwing your support behind a bill just because it claims “adoption records access”.

Whenever there’s word of a new records access bill, members of the adoption community scramble to support it amid cries of “Write the legislators!” and “Write the newspapers!” But not all bills are created equal. Some are wonderful, shining examples of clean legislation, like Maine, for example. Others are travesties and need to die before they suck the life out of adult adoptee and birth parent rights.
A clean records access bill is one in which adult adoptees (and birth mothers too!) have the same access to original, unaltered birth certificates as people not touched by adoption. Compromises take many forms but may include:
  • A disclosure veto, which allows a birth parent to prevent an adult adoptee’s access to his or her birth certificate. (On the other hand, a contact preference is just that, a preference. It does not legally deny access to the adult adoptee’s birth certificate.)
  • A mandatory intermediary, which requires adult adoptees and birth parents to submit to third-party mediation even if all they want is information and not contact.
  • Sandwich bills, in which adult adoptees born before or after certain dates have access, while others do not.
There are several bills in discussion right now, including New Jersey and Missouri. It’s sad that people have invested effort in these bills because they are so compromised, they will do more harm than good. They’re based on the myths that “baby steps” are necessary to adoption reform, that compromise legislation can be revisited, that nothing else will work in XYZ state, that “almost good enough” is good enough. None of this is true. The best way–the ONLY way–to restore equal rights to adult adoptees and birth mothers is to enact clean legislation from the start.
Here are some truths about compromise legislation:
  • Baby steps are not needed to achieve clean original birth certificate access. It’s been done in Maine. It’s been done in Oregon. IT CAN HAPPEN. But you have to work at it, and if your nice clean bill gets lobotomized, you have to take the higher ground, kill it and start again.
  • Look to your left. Look to your right. One of your brethren in adoption is going to be left behind if you compromise. Ask yourself if you actually want to support a bill that means getting your information at the expense of someone else. And remember, that someone else could easily be you.
  • NOT ONE STATE that has enacted compromise legislation has EVER changed it later to clean birth certificate access. Once you have the compromise you are stuck with it. The politicians consider it a done deal and won’t revisit it. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot for nothing.
  • Compromises in one state bleed over onto others. Legislators ask, if it works for this other state, why shouldn’t we do it that way? It makes it harder to enact clean legislation elsewhere.
  • There are politicians and lobbyists who want you to compromise because it’s a way for them to pay lip service to reform while not actually doing anything. In other words, it’s a ploy to get us to be good little bastards and birth mommies and go away. Post-adoption services exist to make money, period. They do not exist to help you. They do not exist to restore your civil rights. Don’t buy into the rhetoric. Demand clean legislation, each and every time.
  • Adoption records access is not about medical history, search and reunion or anything else. It is about identity. It is about the right to be treated equally. Don’t get caught up in the arguments. Take it back to basics and stay focused.
What to look for in a bad bill:
  • Disclosure vetoes, mandatory intermediaries, sandwiches.
  • Convoluted language or anything that says, “we’ll figure out how to do this later”. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably not clean.
  • Sometimes shell bills are introduced that are replaced at the last minute by compromise bills that no one sees before the committee vote, like the fast one they pulled with Illinois HB 4623 in 2008.
So when you see there’s a new bill up for discussion, for heaven’s sake research it before you rush to support it. Read the bill for yourself. Ask your friends in the adoption community. Find out about the legislative sponsors. Use your head and your common sense. Don’t be a knee-jerk supporter just because it says “records access” on the tin.
For more on compromise legislation: