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:
- Conditional Legislation: Why Some Adoptees And Not Others? from my 73adoptee blog
- Conditional Access Legislation And Other Legislative Compromises position paper from Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization