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!

1 comment:

Judy said...

Excellent letter! I am also a adult adoptee who was born 10-01-1956 in Binghamton, NY. I now live in MA where adult adoptees in my state can request and receive a copy of their original birth certificate if they were born before 1976. However, I cannot even have the same rights as my fellow state citizen because I was born in NY. At least eight other states allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates! The great state of NY should be one of the most progressive, but right now, it is not. PLEASE support the Bill, so that all adult adoptees can finally have the same rights as any other citizen born in the United States of America.