WRITTEN TESTIMONY IN SUPPORT OF SB 959: ABC BILL
ACCESS TO BIRTH CERTIFICATES FOR ADULT ADOPTEES
The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Children and Families
October 27, 2005
Marley Elizabeth Greiner
Executive Chair, Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization
Dear Honorable Members of the Children and Families Commitee:
My name is Marley Elizabeth Greiner and I am the co-founder and Executive Chair of Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization. Bastard Nation is the largest adoptee civil rights organization in North America. Our membership includes adopted adults, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Bastard Nation is dedicated to the recognition of the full human and civil rights of adult adoptees. We advocate the opening to adopted persons, upon request at age of majority, those government documents which pertain to the adoptee’s historical, genetic, and legal identity, including the unaltered original birth certificate and adoption decree. We believe that it is the right of people everywhere to have their official original birth records unaltered and free from falsification and that the adoptive status of any person should not prohibit her or him from choosing to exercise that right. In 1998, Bastard Nation was behind Ballot Measure 58 in Oregon, which restored the right of birth certificates access to adults adopted in that state as well as the 1999 legislation in Alabama, which restored that same right. We were instrumental in the passage last year of SB 335, which restored the right of birth certificate access to New Hampshire adoptees.
The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Children and Families has a great task before it to begin to right an enormous wrong done to adopted persons 30 years ago when the legislature sealed the records of Massachusetts adoptees. The passage of SB 959–the righting of this wrong– will do nothing to disrupt or harm the lives of those involved in adoption. Instead, this unsealing will restore dignity to adopted persons, to their birth and adopted families, and to the institution of adoption in Massachusetts.
SB 959 is inclusive. It legislates equality between the adopted and the non-adopted. Members of this committee, unless you are adopted, have the right to your own birth certificates. You do not have to justify to a bureaucrat why you want that document. You do not need the permission of your parents, you are not obliged to sign a registry, you are not required to go to court and beg a judge’s permission, and you certainly do not have to go before a legislative body to request permission, or wrangle with a trade lobby that wants to keep your records hidden from you “for your own good.” Yet, if any of you here today were to learn this afternoon that you are adopted, this is exactly what you would face if you wanted to assert a right to your own information.
SB 959 breaks no promises to birth parents. Advocates of the antiquated sealed records system argue that the unsealing of the government-held personal information of adopted adults will abrogate “promises” or “guarantees” made by adoption professionals to birth parents, especially birth mothers, that their identities would never be revealed to anyone. These so-called promises made by professionals–if they were made at all– reflected adoption agency policy at best and were made outside of the scope of the law where there were no codified guarantees. The state has no obligation to honor them. In over two decades of opposing adoptee civil rights not one single document promising “privacy,” “confidentiality” or “anonymity” has been submitted anywhere by sealed birth records lobbyists. Why? Because these documents don’t exist. Many birth parents, in fact, claim that social workers and lawyers made no such promises to them. Just the opposite. They were told that upon the age of majority their relinquished children would have access to their own records.
Once a termination of parental rights is signed, any rights to that child are terminated. Any wish, desire, or demand birth parents may have regarding that child holds no legal relevance. Even in traditional closed adoptions, birth parent identities are often recorded on court documents given to adoptive parents without birth parent consent. Statute-mandated legal advertisements with identifying information are placed in newspapers for anyone to read without birth parent consent. Courts sometimes open adoption records for “good cause” without birth parent consent. In some states, such as Ohio, Illinois, and Oregon, at adoption finalization, the judge will order the birth certificate to remain unsealed upon the request of the adoptive parents without birth parent consent
Most important: birth certificates are sealed at the time of adoption finalization, not at the time of relinquishment. If a child is never adopted, the birth certificate remains open and available to the person whose record of birth it documents. If the sealing of birth certificates by the Commonwealth were intended to protect the identity of birth parents then those documents would be sealed at the time of termination of parental rights, not at adoption finalization
SB 959 will unseal birth certificates to the individual adopted person–not to the public. When birth certificates are opened, they are opened for the adopted person to whom they pertain or in some cases the adoptive parents of a minor, a right to access that the parents of non-adopted children also enjoy. The records remain closed to everyone else. When Oregon’s M58 was appealed on privacy grounds, the court ruled and was affirmed by a subsequent appeal that birth mothers have no constitutional guarantee of privacy regarding the fact that they relinquished a child, despite promises that may have been made outside of the scope of the law. (1) In Tennessee, the 6th District Court of Appeals ruled that parents do not have the right of anonymity from their own offspring. (2)
SB 959 will not increase abortion. Some argue that birth certificate access for adult adoptees would force women today who want to maintain “privacy” and “anonymity” to abort. This simply is not true. In states that recognize that adoptees have rights to their birth certificates the abortion rates are lower than their surrounding states. (3) During the M58 campaign Oregon Right to Life, the largest pro-life organization in the state, remained neutral, as did Catholic Charities. (4) Alabama Right to Life held a similar position finding nothing objectionable in the bill. Abortion rates in Alabama, have, in fact, decreased by 1.3% since the opening of records
SB 959 reflects best practice adoption standards. Birth certificate access is not a radical idea promulgated by unhappy adopted persons. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Home for Little Wanders support SB 959 unconditionally.
The Evan. B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a prominent adoption think tank, supports SB 959. The Child Welfare League of America, the agency that sets best practice standards in child welfare in the United States endorses SB 959. CWLA’s “Standards of Excellence in Adoption,” in fact, says, “The agency providing adoption services should support efforts to ensure that adults who were adopted have direct access to identifying information about themselves and their birth parents.” The National Association of Social Workers also supports the right to access saying that the right “extends to requests by adult adoptees for identifying information.” The North American Council on Adoptable Children supports the “right to this information and supports access to original birth certificates to any adult adoptee at age of majority,” The National Adoption Center “supports the adult adoptee’s unencumbered access to all medical and historical records.”
SB 959 reflects adoption reform priority. Adoptee birth record access is a top priority throughout the adoption reform community: Bastard Nation, The American Adoption Congress, Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), Ethica: A Voice for Ethical Adoption, The Green Ribbon Campaign for Open Records, and numerous state and local adoption reform groups all support adult access to their own records and SB 959. In Oregon 57% of those who went to the polls in 1998 supported access. In Alabama, a near unanimous House and Senate along with the Lt. Governor and Governor supported access. Over two-thirds of the New Hampshire legislature supported access.
SB 959 reflects adoption practice throughout the world. Unrestricted birth record access is the norm in most of the industrialized West. England, Scotland and virtually all members of the European Union allow access as well as Mexico, Argentina, Vietnam, Korea, and even Croatia. No social disruption has occurred. Kansas and Alaska have never sealed birth certificates.. No social disruption has occurred. In Oregon, since 1999 over 7,000 adoptees have received their original birth certificates. No social disruption has occurred. In Alabama, since 1999 nearly 3,000 adoptees have received their original birth certificates. No social disruption has occurred. This year in New Hampshire about 800 adoptees have received their original birth certificates. No social disruption has occurred. In Ohio, in 1980, because I was adopted before the sealing of certificates, I obtained my own original birth certificate. No social disruption has occurred.
SB 959 should give unconditional access to original birth certificates. Adopted adults are responsible members of society, not dangerous criminals who cannot be trusted to handle our own personal relationships without government supervision. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has no compelling interest in hiding personal identity information and papers from adults who were adopted as children. Any access legislation, therefore, must clearly reject the idea that conditions and restrictions such as disclosure vetoes, contact vetoes (a priori restraining orders) and state-mandated confidential intermediary systems, are acceptable. They are not.
In closing, the case for allowing adopted adults access to their own birth certificates is clear:
Rights are commonsense one-size-fits-all policy and protection for all citizens without exception. Rights are not a favor or a privilege to be doled out on the whim of bureaucrats and special interests. In a democratic society, rights do not discriminate against race, religion, ethnicity, age or gender. Yet adopted adults are discriminated against daily by a parallel system of sealed birth certificates for us and unsealed birth certificates for everybody else. The passage of SB 959 is simply a corrective that will do away with this double standard and embrace all citizens of Massachusetts as equal partners with equal rights to personal identity.
SB 959 assures that the adopted are treated identical to the non-adopted.
I trust that the Joint Committee on Children and Families will agree and support this most important legislative to move it to final passage. SB 959 is the right thing to do!
Massachusetts Sealed Birth Certificates
1 164 Or. App. 543, 993 P.2d 833, 834 (1999).
2 Doe v Sundquist, 106 F. 3rd 703,705 (6th Cir. 1997)
3Abortion, Adoption and Open Records, Bastard Nation Media Room; Frederick E. Greenman, Jr. “More Deception about Access, Abortions, and Adoptions, “American Adoption Congress Decree, Winter 2000-Spring 2001.
4 Carp, E. Wayne, Adoption Politics: Bastard Nation and Ballot Initiative 58. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004, p. 70
1. Massachusetts Statehouse
2. Bastard Nationals: Janet Allen, Fred Rust, Bastardette, Carla McBrine
3. Mary Dyer, Massachusetts Statehouse
4. Janet Allen, Fred Rust, Carla McBrine
5. Janet Allen, Nina Greeley, Bastardette
6. Maj. General Joseph Hooker, Massachusetts State House
7. The Graveyard of Secrets, Shame and Lies