Saturday, November 21, 2009

birth parents privacy rights is a lie concocted by the opponents of adoptee rights

by Joyce Bahr

The National Council for Adoption formed in 1980 after England unsealed birth certificates in 1975 and a federal class action lawsuit by 19 members of the New York chapter of the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association was defeated, because a Texas republican senator and adoptive parent used his power to do so. Also at this time adoption social workers were communicating with the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare about reforming adoption and HEW wanted to open records for adoptees and birth parents throughout the country.

There is speculation the NCFA was formed not only to promote adoption but to prevent adoptee and birth parent rights, and this they have done. Not only did they lobby against the Tennessee and Oregon open records bills they legally challenged the new laws. However they were unsuccessful in court challenges to the Tennessee Supreme court, the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Sixth Circuit and the Oregon Appellate Court, as they were unable to produce even one written promise of confidentiality. Also they were unable to prove unsealing birth certificates would cause more abortions.

During the Tennessee initiative to open records only one agency in the state, The Small World Adoption Agency operated by the Mormon Church joined the NCFA to lobby against the bill while other adoption agencies in the state spoke out, saying the NCFA does not want to reform adoption.

The NCFA is a Washington, DC-based trade association with 184 private agency members of which 61% are either Latter Day Saints or Bethany Christian Services-affiliated. They advocate for confidential adoption and deny that adoptees have the need for contact and information about birth families. They fail to recognize grief issues for adoptees and for mothers who surrendered to adoption. For many years they have said the few adoptees who search and are degenerates and misfits. The thousands of birth/natural mothers who have searched are not mentioned at all. Instead of any concern for mothers and acknowledgement of the injustice of forced adoptions they continue their lies of privacy rights.

Surrendering mothers like myself signed surrender papers terminating parental rights for the purpose of adoption placement, and these papers state nothing about confidentiality or a privacy right afforded mothers. When abortion was legalized in 1973 women were given a legal right to privacy in the early trimester of abortion, but there was never any right given to mothers who surrendered, and adoption agencies never gave us a document signed by them stating we would have confidentiality. Certainly agencies could never give anyone a right and they had no intention of giving a mother legal confidentiality. No options to keep your baby were presented and most mothers were manipulated and coerced in a surrender process all about signing the baby away.

Some social workers made statements indicating a surrendering mother would have confidentiality, but what did it mean? Was it legally binding, when courts have held that adoption professionals' verbal sratements of confidentiality cannot be permitted to tie the hands of legislatures? No,neither a social more nor a verbal statement are legally binding and are not supported in a statute. For some the word confidentiality was heard because the agency wanted to let you know they had no intention of telling anyone you were pregnant out of wedlock, but they were not saying they could some how prevent your child from one day finding you. Nor could they prevent social mores from changing. It was confidential however, no confidentiality was given.

Did mothers ask for confidentiality? No, it was imposed on some of them and in private adoptions attorneys never mentioned it. Pregnant mothers were being told what to do and doomed to lose their child because they were unmarried. Doomed to suffer the unbearable pain and agony of postponed or delayed grief or immediate grief.

Research by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, the foremost think tank on adoption issues in their study, For the Records, Restoring a Legal Right for Adult Adoptees finds there is no constitutional right to prevent the disclosure of "confidential" information. Courts have held that the constitutional right of privacy has never included a general right to the nondisclosure of all forms of information that an individual may prefer to keep secret.

Most Americans support adoptees and birth parents in their search and many do search, however if there were a right to privacy for birth parents or adoptees it could have put a damper on searching a long time ago. So there are no privacy rights for birth mothers or fathers and there is no justification for denying adoptees the inalienable right to a copy of their own birth certificate. Mutual consent registries do not work for all and give many no other recourse than to search.

The NCFA should not speak for the thousands of adult adoptees who want to quit wondering, have questions answered, and who realize the importance of knowing their identity for health and well being. It should be the adult adoptees decision to seek the answer to their identity and be able to request a copy of their birth certificate if they so choose. The Donaldson report released in November of 2007 did not rely on disapproved assumptions and the misrepresentation of statistical data as the NCFA would like people to believe. The report recommends for every state's laws to restore unrestricted assess for adult adopted persons to their original birth certificate and it acknowledges the fundamental right to know.

Joyce Bahr is President of the Unsealed Initiative and founder of Manhattan Birth Parents Support Group which she lead for twelve years and is a member of the American Adoption Congress Legislative Committee. She found her son in1986.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Activist Jeff Hancock's Letter/some adoptees cannot get a passport/NY adoptees denied rights!

Please note: This letter was presented to Ms.Wendy Saunders at the State Capitol on 9/2/09

Dear Mr. Governor and Deputy Secretary Saunders,

My purpose in writing your offices today is to request your support of Bills A8410/S5269 known as “The Adoptee Bill of Rights.” This legislation will grant equal rights to adult adoptees born in New York State by providing us access to our “Original Birth Certificates.”

Original Birth Certificates differ greatly from the “Certificate of Live Birth” New York State currently issues adoptees. While the Original Birth Certificate contains our factual identifying information, the “Amended” certificate is erroneously written as though our adoptive families are our birth parents. This practice in today’s society continues to misguide the general public as well as policy makers. Even President Barack Obama has faced scrutiny of late for having an “Amended Birth Certificate” similar to those issued to adoptees in New York State.

Due to these outdated practices adoptees in New York State are not receiving the same rights non-adoptees have as U.S. Citizens. In 2004 the 9-11 Commission created “The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” demanding stricter practices with the granting of a US Passport for travel. Nationwide adult American-born-adoptees have randomly encountered rejection in their applications for US Passport. The information contained on our sealed “Original Birth Certificate” has birth information necessary to fulfill Federal Passport requirements while Amended Birth Certificates do not.

Currently the State Department not only demands extensive detailed proof of birth information, they also demand a non-refundable application fee. Many adult adoptees wait weeks, if not months, for a passport only to have it returned marked “Action Not Taken” while also forfeiting their 100 dollar payment. This denial of our constitutional rights is unfair as we are American-Born residents yet are treated as though we are second class citizens. As a late-discovery adoptee, I am included in the group of adoptees who are denied in their passport application. Ironically, it was a result of the federal passport requirement that I learned of my adoption at the age of 41 in 2007.

There are over 6 million adult adoptees living in the United States today. It is time for New York State to join Maine, Oregon, Kansas, Alaska, Alabama, and New Hampshire by granting adult adoptees like myself with equal access to our “Original Birth Certificates.” Won’t you please join us by supporting passage of “The Adoptee Bill of Rights”?

Sincerely Yours,

Jeffrey A. Hancock, Western New York Regional Coordinator

New York Statewide Adoption Reform's Unsealed Initiative

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adoptee Melinda Warshaw New York Adoptee Rights Activist Demands rights Now!

By Melinda Warshaw

Many New York adopted persons from the baby boom generation are at work contacting state legislators for passage of a bill that will give them the right to a copy of their original birth certificate and updated medical histories. The old sealed record law from the 1930's creates an obstacle for an adopted person's knowledge of his or her own true heritage and birth. Adoptees and biological parents have been searching since the 1970's and have resorted to paying searchers thousands of dollars, a process that could be eliminated with passage of the Bill of Adoptees Rights sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery from Brooklyn and Assembly Member David Koon from Rochester.

This adoptee rights legislation would also give birth or natural parents the option of filing a contact preference; New Hampshire, Oregon, Maine and Alabama currently have similar laws. The birth or natural parent could choose contact, no contact or contract through an intermediary. The adopted person would get a copy of his birth certificate regardless of the contact preference. If the birth or natural parent chose no contact the adoptee would know that contact by them was not welcomed. The norm in today's society is for birth or natural parents to welcome contact, and data proving this has been published on Department of Vital statistics web sites in Oregon and New Hampshire. Kansas and Alaska never closed their records and other states have recently opened records because laws never existed in any states assuring confidentiality to birth or natural parents. Advocates believe that the right of the adoptee trumps the right of the birth or natural parent because the adoptee was not privy to the surrender paper signed by the birth or natural parent.

I was born and adopted in 1947, a time when only married heterosexual couples could legally adopt. I began thinking about my natural mother while in high school but did not speak openly about my adoption until I was twenty-one. In 1980, at the age of thirty-three,I found her and was eager to establish a relationship. I wanted to know my mother, but she was ridden with shame and feared what friends, family and community would think. After several conversations with her and hearing her cold-hearted words of rejection, I ended my attempts to truly be her daughter. My mother was of a time when sex outside of marriage was a cardinal sin and guilt weighed heavily upon women's souls. Unmarried women had no other option than to give the baby up for adoption as children born out-of-wedlock had no voice and no say in the matter. Her rejection was earth-shattering for me and my grief unbearable.

It wasn't until the mid 90's that I realized I was not alone. I discovered audio tapes on adoptees issues available from the Council for Equal Rights in Adoption and began reading books such as Journey of the Adopted Self by Betty Jean Lifton and Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier.Recently after finding a web site,, covering a myriad of adoption issues, I began to fight for change. The web site,, educated me on the Bill of Adoptee Rights now stalled in the Assembly Codes Committee. the Codes Committee is aslo known as Hell, Where Bills go to Die!

Adoptee Hal Aigner, San Francisco journalist, editor and author of Adoption in America,Coming of Age and Faint Trials, was luckier that I was and found his natural mother living in a nursing home six blocks from his apartment. It was 1980 and his elderly mother had no problems with secrecy or confidentiality from her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her first words to Hal were, "I always knew that any son of mine would oneday come lookingfor me." Hal found a loving mother, and his important message to readers is that love was his foremost motivation to search.

Legislation to unseal records would have adoptees pay a small fee to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. Currently, adoptees in New York have no other recourse than to hire a searcher. One of them, who I'll call Patricia, was born in Rockland State Psychiatric Hospital in 1950. She was recently informed by a social worker at the New York City agency Louise Wise Services that her mother had been a paranoid schizophrenic.

Patricia was among many children taken from area mental institutions and placed for adoption under the premise that they would have a clean slate, that environment would outweigh genetics. Patricia gave birth to a daughter who has schizophrenia. Not long ago, Louise Wise Agency closed after two lawsuits stemming from their failure to inform adoptive parents of the natural parents' mental illness. Patricia is aware that a searcher may not be able to find her name at birth and learn her true identity, therefore she too is joining the effort to unseal adoption records in New York.

Thousands of adoptees like myself and Patricia will file for a copy of our birth certificate when records are open. We are asking New York State legislators to move bill A8410 to the assembly floor for a vote and for bill S5269 to be voted on in Senate Health Committee.Our issue is one which has not been listened to. I insist the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and all legislators open their ears and listen, because our inalienable rights are being denied!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Letter Albany Times Union

It's time to unseal birth certificates

First published in print: Sunday, November 1, 2009 Albany Times Union

by Joyce Bahr

November is National Adoption Month and adoptees born in New York are much more hopeful for passage of legislation giving them the right to a noncertified copy of their original birth certificate and updated medical histories.

Bills A8410/S5269 give birth parents the option to file a contact preference. Some may not want to be contacted and others may want to be contacted directly by the adoptee or through an intermediary.

Adoptees are grateful to Republican sponsor Sen. Bill Larkin, an adoptive grandparent, and welcome a new Senate sponsor, Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, chairwoman of the Children and Families Committee. The Assembly sponsor, Assemblyman David Koon Rochester, continues the fight in that house.

Birth parents who had no rights and no options presented to them signed surrender papers that terminated their parental rights, but did not provide confidentiality for them. Recent research by professor Elizabeth Samuels of the Baltimore School of Law concludes confidentiality was for the adoptive parents.

A 2007 report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute finds birth parents lives' are not ruined when they are discreetly contacted by adoptees.

No law prohibits adoptees from searching for their birth parents. It's time for a law unsealing birth certificates.

Senate Democrats and Republicans are in support of one, while the Assembly bill with 70 sponsors has been stalled in the Codes Committee since June 2006. Adoptees are saying out loud, "It's time for our rights."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Adoptees up against backward laws protest at the National Conference of State Legislatures

By Joyce Bahr

Members of New York’s Unsealed Initiative ending a legislative session lobby in Albany for the Bill of Adoptee Rights will be joining protesters at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 21, 2009. Fed up with outdated laws dating back to the 1930’s sealing original birth certificates forever, advocates for change and reform want legislators to know they will no longer tolerate unfairnes, discrimination and disrespect. Kansas and Alaska never sealed birth certificates. Why in the twenty-first century are there laws nullfying a person's right to know the basic facts of their birth?

England gave adopted persons rights to original birth certificates in 1975 and some countries never sealed birth certificates. Many countries have changed their laws since the 1980's giving adoptees long overdue rights, while U.s. adoptees intentions are unequivocally stated with recent success for full rights in Alabama, Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon.

The delay in the U.S. in passing legislation stems from adoption agencies and certain legislators unwillingness to listen and change with the times. Certainly adoptees should not have to feel shame or fear in wanting knowledge of their origins, and speaking out against discrimination facing them. Sealed records discriminate against the very adoptees they were originally meant to protect. Advocates ask do sealed records serve to help anyone when an adoptee reaches the age of majority?

Sealed birth certificate statutes in the U.S. state nothing of confidentiality of birth/natural parents, only confidentiality of birth certificates. Some legislators believe birth/natural parents were given confidentiality however recent research conducted by Elizabeth J. Samuels with the Baltimore School of Law published in the Rutger’s Law Review titled The Idea of Adoption: An Inquiry into the History of Adult Adoptees Access to Birth Records concludes laws closing records to the parties were enacted not as a shield to protect natural/birth parents from their adult children’s ever learning their identity, but as a sword to to prevent them from interfering with the adoptive families raising the child.

Confidentiality of birth/natural parents has been a bone of contention in the struggle for rights and advocates will agree a smokescreen for other reasons to object. One being objection by adoptive parents who reject the idea of a birth/natural parent as an extended family member. In 1997 a study conducted by Cornell University found adoptive parents overwhelmingly support the adoptees right to know. It’s not surprising some adoptive parents in the legislature are sponsors of adoptee rights legislation.

Possibility of numbers of abortions climbing , fear of adoption placements slowing or any other unproven reason, adult adoptees are demanding they alone make the decision to request their birth certificate. And the state should not be an acting Father Knows Best standing in their way to access what is rightfully theirs.

A November 2007 comprehensive study conducted by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute the foremost think tank on adoption issues concludes adoptees behave with maturity and respect when contacting birth/natural parents and that birth/natural parents lives are not ruined from being contacted. The report urges all states to follow states with open record laws and unseal birth certificates. Times have changed with thousands of adoptees and birth/natural parents searching every year. Several states have pending legislation and several states have partial open records, meaning adoptees born in certain years have access. Do natural parents have access?Three states have enacted laws giving them search assistance but not direct access. These states are Illinois, Georgia and Tennessee.

The July 2009 protest organized by members of the Adoptee Rights Demonstration is a demand for legislators to vote on adoptee rights legislation. Not to table it or assign it to a committee known as hell where bills go to die. Protesters are asking legislators to think hard about an adoptees inalienable right to identity and need to know. Advocates describe sealed records laws as outdated, antediluvian, slow to catch up and backwards. It’s time to bring state laws current with society and give adoptees the respect from the state they deserve.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Birth mothers punished before & continue to bear brunt of NYS legislators

Should this onus be on us?

As an unwed 18 year old in the summer of 1962, I became pregnant and with the climate the way it was back then, I was sent away and gave up my baby because as a "single" parent I could not provide for him. Whoever heard of single parent way back when? The innuendos did speak loudly. I was the tramp and my son, the bastard child but nobody knew that because it was a secret. To hide my shame and disgrace [I did not know that I had either], I stayed at an unwed mother's home, gave birth alone, and sent home without my beloved baby. I signed the surrender papers on July 1,1963, when my son was less than 2 months old. For many years, I did not understand why I was treated like a pariah with my first pregnancy. My parents experienced no joy knowing that soon they would become grandparents while still in their 40s because they and society would not accept his birth.

After reading Rickie Solinger's book Wake Up Little Susie did I learn that losing my son to adoption would pay for my sin of having non-marital sex, or in other words, look what I can do without a man and the sanctity of marriage. So our legislators made sure that our punishment would be forever by sealing the adoption records from me, my son, and his adoptive parents. Did I have another choice? Sure, marriage would have been the acceptable choice but it was not an option back then. Foster care – never heard of it. Welfare – never heard of it. So with the adoption & its sealing, so were our fates.

Fast forward to the present. Over the years, both adoptees and/or their birth parents have sought information since the birth & surrender. The agency that I surrendered to painted a picture of my son and his placement in his newly adoptive family. It sounded really good but I still was not content with the aspect of having my own baby be someone else's and me not knowing who, what, where, when and why. There are several states that recently started to issue original birth certificates to adoptees. Kansas & Alaska records were always open. I truly believe that each & everyone would benefit from disclosing the names of parents, medical history, extended family and so forth.

Yet the legislators in NYS are afraid to pass such a bill saying that it has to respect the mothers' promise of confidentiality without which we are told, women would choose to have abortions over surrender. Truth be told in states where records are open, abortions have gone down, adoptions have gone up. It is truly amazing that our elected officials have used the birthmothers as their scapegoat first in instilling that we be punished for our crime and now alternately, records must be sealed to maintain confidentiality. I did not ask for it but was told it was the law. I did not sign any papers where I was promised confidentially. When I tried to have a waiver of confidentiality placed in my file, it was rejected as it violated NYS laws. I was never issued a birth certificate for my son because the agency withheld it from me. That is a real violation of NYS law, depriving the parent of her baby's original birth certificate. Our elected officials should try to remedy some of their past actions by bringing Bill Nos A8410 and S5269 to a vote.

Carole L. Whitehead. NYSAR Board Member for Unsealed Initiative