With all the hubbub today after the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released its white paper, “For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees” — which recommends every state provide adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates — and news organizations picked up the report, thought I’d offer up the link to the full white paper here.
I’m also including excerpts of the report’s highlights below.
(But first I have to ask, Why on earth is this still such a big issue?)
- Adopted persons are the only individuals in the United States who, as a class, are not permitted to routinely obtain their original birth certificates. This … raises significant civil rights concerns, particularly given the growing understanding of the need to know one’s history, heritage, medical and genealogical data.
- Denying adult adopted persons access to information related to their births and adoptions has potentially serious, negative consequences with regard to their physical and mental health. As recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office in its Family History Initiative, biological family medical history is vital to prevention, early diagnosis and treatment … [of] heart disease, cancer and certain mental health conditions.
- As states have amended their laws to provide adult adopted persons with access to their birth and/or adoption information, there has been no evidence of the sorts of negative consequences predicted by opponents of changing these laws, including intrusive behavior such as stalking by adopted persons who receive their personal information.
- Similarly, there has been no evidence that the lives of birthmothers have been damaged as a result of the release of information to the children (now adults) whom they relinquished for adoption. … Few birthmothers have expressed the desire to keep records sealed or the wish not to be contacted; indeed, in the vast majority of cases, the converse appears to be true.
- Another assertion by critics of changing these laws — that abortion rates rise as a result of such access — is not supported by the experiences of states that have re-opened records (or have never closed them); in fact, the data indicate that reopening records may reduce abortion rates and may increase adoption rates.
- For many adopted persons, the desire to obtain their records is entirely separate from any desire to search for their birthmothers or other relatives; they simply believe — as a human and civil right — that they are entitled to the same basic information about themselves that people raised in their birth families receive as a matter of course. Indeed, many who do get their birth certificates or other documents never search, while others successfully search (a growing phenomenon because of the internet) without any of their documents.
- Research shows that knowledge of what happened to the children they relinquished for adoption plays a powerful role in the resolution of birthmothers’ grief, thereby suggesting that providing access to birth and/or adoption information can have other positive consequences.
- There has been scant evidence that birthmothers were explicitly promised anonymity from the children they relinquished for adoption. Relinquishment documents provided to courts that have heard challenges to states’ new “open records” laws do not contain any such promises. To the extent that adoption professionals might have verbally made such statements, courts have found that they were contrary to state law and cannot be considered legally binding.