As one of the “official bloggers” at the Ethics and Accountability conference in Arlington, VA today and tomorrow, I need to send dispatches to the adoption-deficient. I’m really tired and will post more tomorrow probably, but what better, or easier thing to blog about than…Bastardette herself! Below is my 10 minute presentation. Do you have any idea how hard it is to craft a 10 minute presentation? Not that you care, so I won’t get into the pain of snipping away cleaverisms and to stick to the bare bones message.

At the left is a picture of my panel, “Adoption Access to Records and History Adopted People and the “Right to Know.” Fred Greenman, General Counsel, American Adoption Congress; Pam Hasegawa, moderator, Trish Maskew, president of Ethica (not on panel), Bastardette, Elizabeth Sammuels, professor of law, U. of Baltimore and records access legal scholar).

* * * * * *


There are a number of reasons why the original birth certificates of adoptees remain sealed in all but a handful of states. Well-funded adoption industry lobbies such as the National Council for Adoption; powerful tangential lobbies such as the National Right to Life Committee, the Family Research Council, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and various feminists who believe adoptee identity rights endanger their own social and political agendas; politically influential adoptive and birth parents; reactionary and back-scratching politicians, and political lethargy. Our right to identity and public records about our birth have no traction in the political landscape, unless they intersect with the high priority issues of abortion and so-called “privacy rights,” (not ours, but other peoples’), and then only negatively. Adoptees are expected to shut up and be grateful for allegedly being made middle class and not tossed in a dumpster or reared in a trailer park. Those who press for records access and information about themselves are blamed for “disappearing adoption privacy rights.” Adoptees (and first and adoptive parents who support them) bite the beneficent hand that feeds them. Adoptees are destroying adoption!

Adoption reformers have not just been innocent gawkers to this train wreck. As they have for 30 years, many continue to defeat themselves by compliantly accepting less than what they claim to want with “baby steps” and that lock out people. One side of their mouth demands “rights” but the other side pleads “reunion.” They say compromise is progress. “Something is better than nothing.” But there is no precedent for these bad laws to be fixed later. Compromisers legitimate and frame their arguments in the ideology and language of the opposition. They accept the faulty social construct of “the triad” and its false doctrine of “competing rights” “balanced rights” and “special rights.” Without the core ethic of the absolute right of birth certificates and identity for all adoptees, reformers support institutional protectionism. Their compromises obstruct rights and information for all, and the opportunity for reunion for those who seek it.


Ten years ago Bastard Nation was founded on the guiding principle that access to original birth certificates, identity, and history is a natural right, not a privilege doled out by the state. Adopted people want their original birth certificates for many valid reasons, but reasons are immaterial since they are nearly always argued on desire, not the right to possess them and the unredacted information contained in them. We have a right to the facts about our births, origins, and adoptions–adoptions which were imposed and contracted upon us, usually without our knowledge and consent, by the state that then seals our information and refuses to acknowledge our right to that information or that we even existed before our adoptions.

The not-adopted need not justify why they want their vital records nor are they forced to ask their parents’ permission, grovel before a judge, join a government registry, seek mental health counseling, or spend years getting a bill passed to get them. They have a presumed right to their own birth certificates and can do with them what they please. All arguments for access, therefore, must flow from the presumed right of all adults to unrestricted access and possession of their true birth certificates, not just a majority class. Otherwise, the right of anyone to possess their own birth certificate is not a right but a favor the state grants to some; a proposition which we doubt courts or politicians want to consider. The real issue, therefore, moves from personal desire to political rights and adoptees’ relation to the state. Who owns your identity: you or the state?

In Oregon, two years after BN was founded, we had our first victory with the passage of Ballot Measure 58 in which The People decided that Oregon adoptees had a right to their own birth certificates. When we initiated the campaign, adoption reformers wrung their hands: “You’ll throw us back 20 years!” They forgot to mention that in their 20 years of activism they had failed to open one single state to full access, and in fact, had mucked things up so badly with compromise legislation such as contractual birth parent disclosure vetoes and tiered access, that it will be virtually impossible to gain unrestricted access in those states without major legal wrangling—if ever. Our victory in Oregon was followed by legislative restoration in Alabama in 2000 and New Hampshire in 2005, where we worked with others to pass unrestricted access. Earlier this year folks in Maine, unconnected to Bastard Nation, who had previously considered compromise, got a clean bill passed which will open all records there in 2009. Exact figures are unavailable, but since 1999 at least 14,000 adoptees have received their birth records under the Just Say No To Compromise policy. Holding the line works. Conversely, compromise legislation slugs endlessly through the pipeline, amended out of recognition in a vain attempt to please an unpleasable opposition that insists that the status quo continue ad infinitum.

Adoptee rights advocates are bogged down by the concept of “the adoption triad,”: the first parent(s), the adoptive parent(s), and Baby Bumble—the adoptee– all of whom allegedly have “competing rights” that must be balanced Translation: adoptees loose

The “triad” characterizes the entire adoption structure as a nuclear unit. In reality it hides information as well as people (grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, current or future siblings, fosterers) and institutions central to the adoption experience (adoption agencies, Children’s Services, social workers, facilitators, therapists, doctors, lawyers, courts, politicians, marketers and the marketplace). There are a myriad of complicated relational permutations concealed by the “triad”— too many to discuss here today. The Mythology of the “Triad” chart in your packet, however, illustrates the waterline that separates adoption’s actors and suggests the tangled relationships as well as agendas and secrets in current adoption practice. Once the other actors are introduced we see hidden power relationships based on chronology of events, economics, class, gender, race, market demand, and other factors.

The “triad” concept moved from sociological to political discourse where it became manipulated by those living below the waterline—private business (adoption professionals) and their government security force (the state) which ultimately defines what adoption is and can force its will on the rest of us . For instance, first mothers were, morphed from “threat to the adoptive family ” to “courageous” women who need protected from their adult offspring ungratefully asking for what is theirs: the true record of their births. In response the state and the adoptocracy colluded to develop an aggressive claim of bureaucratic “promises” to first mothers asserting that their “anonymity” is protected by sealed birth records; thus creating a new “privacy right” (which has nothing to with “privacy”) for women who heretofore had been banished from agency attention after performing their production duties. When documented evidence of these promises or even the desire for them was not forthcoming, the adoptocracy countered that although there was nothing in writing, promises are “implied.” What would the neighbors say if the government broke a promise! .

These and other claims made to keep records sealed and identities of parents and offspring hidden from each other are ludicrous as Fred and Elizabeth point out.

Surrender does not equal adoption. Privacy and confidentiality do no equal anonymity– nor do sealed birth certificates.

Under normal circumstances, competitive rights and their balancing is a problem only when there is a conflict of rights. Since there is no right of anonymity from one’s own offspring and there is a presumed right to own one’s birth certificate, there is nothing that needs balanced—except the minds of the secret keepers. What adoptacrats really want when they toss around “competing rights,” “implied promises,” and “confidentiality” is protection for their commercial misdeeds and their continued control over other people’s personal information. It’s about institutional power.

The false doctrine of competitive/balance/special rights discourse foisted by the below-the-waterline players, on the above-the-waterline people affected most by adoption is a false flag operation. Ron Morgan, in his essay “Adoption is Five-Legged Stool” (in your packet) writes, “The beauty of the Triad, at least to the fourth and fifth leg (adoption professionals and the state) is that it renders their agency invisible. The state and its quasi-agents, the professional adoption class, can float divinely over the pell and mell and gore, offering definitive commentary and altering the rules of the game. It’s a tidy racket.”

This tidy racket played out in Massachusetts recently when a reform organization packed with the professional adoption class rejected a clean bill and embraced a replacement pushed by politicians and a handful of spineless adoptees that restored the right of access to some, keeps all future records open, but continues to seal the records of other adoptees born between certain dates in order to “protect the privacy rights” of first parents who surrendered children during those dates. By doing so, reformers legitimated “implied promises” of confidentiality debunked years ago. A lie they insist we must “respect.” The message is clear. Adoptees have no right to birth certificates or their personal information. Even their “advocates” agree.


Records accesss is a social justice issue. The “triad” with its plea for “balanced rights” forces compromise and corrupts the core principle of adoptee rights to records, identity, and autonomy. Without an ethical canon of absolute inclusion and no compromise, the rights of adoptees will continue to be Balkanized, and adoptees will continue to be treated as a separate class undeserving of their own information.


  1. Terrific! At some point when you catch your breath, could you please post more info & possibly a graph about the absurdity of the adoption triad as we’ve all known it. .

    The traditional triad ignores the absolute power that the state and agencies have. We need to stop dancing around the maypole with our 1st and a.parents and attack the ones with the real power and influence.

    We need to change our paradigm!


  2. Shorstein explained that three things dictate a successful adoption: commitment, compliance and communication…The key, rather, is ensuring the adoptive parents and the birth mother have a positive relationship and a clear understanding of what is going to happen moments after the baby is born… If the birth mother is going to change her mind, it isn’t going to be at the hospital. It will be three or four weeks or two to three months ahead of time.
    “I refuse to accept having the birth mother say at the hospital, ‘I saw the baby and I don’t want to do this.’ If that happens, usually a family member has jumped in and intervened.
    “I stress commitment, compliance and communication. If you have all three of those, an adoption will not fail.”
    Shorstein was nominated for the Angels in Adoption award by Sen. Bill Nelson.

    Angel in adoption? Sounds more like a devil to me. Here’s the link to his site. Pretty disturbing:

  3. Shorstein’s site is clearly a sales pitch to make money from mothers. Look at how sketchy the information is to mothers–already labelled ‘birth mothers’ before they’ve given birth and ARE mothers–compared with adopters.

    Excellent explication of adoption and power, Bastardette!

  4. There are a number of reasons as you stress why obtaining open records legislation is so difficult. I think you are right to stress the antiquated notion of the “triad”. A new paradigm is badly needed.

    While open records has had some success as you point out in recent years (Oregon, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Maine)we are no where near resolving this problem. I count approximately 43(?) states that still maintain closed records. At this rate, they’ll be open after all of us have long since died.

    I would lay the failure to open records in more states in this late date of 2007 on the following:

    1. The fact that there is enormous inertia in the political system. Many other pressing problems remain unaddressed

    2. The role of lobby groups such as the NCFA (and adoption agencies) in preventing the passage of open record laws.

    3. The fact that adoption rights is simply too specialized or specific a topic to interest large numbers of people who are unaffected.

    4. The willingness of much of “Amerika” to stand by nonchalantly while large numbers of people are deprived of civil or constitutional rights.

    5. What I will term as a certain ambivalence by a segment of people who claim they support open records when they really have a different agenda.

    6. The fact that certain supporters of open records are probably a detriment to the cause. I’ve talked to state assemblymen and legislators who seemed more fearful of this legislation after they met or corresponded with some people who undoubtedly felt they were doing the cause a favor–when they weren’t. All issues generate a certain lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, open records has generated its share of this group X 10.

    7. The movement has not been good at building alliances both inside and outside the adoption community. I know people who have either given up in or been driven away by certain attitudes.

    I hope there is a way to rectify some of these problems. Conferences can be a help, but only if we are using them to reach out to people who aren’t already converted and active.

    A big thank you for your efforts.

  5. Ack! As I write this, I’m sitting in the airport at Baltimore, stranded until who knows when. The departure keeps pushing back and is now 2:10 AM–only 4 1/2 hours late. Luckily, I’m with a cute Southwest airlines pilot!


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