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266Posted in USA Today 5/12/2003 in the Editorial/Opinion area.

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  • kochist
    May 12, 2003
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      Posted in USA Today 5/12/2003 in the Editorial/Opinion area.

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      USA Today
      Letter to the Editor
      7950 Jones Branch Drive
      McLean, VA 22108-0605
      Or E-mail at Editor@U...

      Help adult adoptees find birth parents
      By Lorraine Dusky
      Give those individuals adopted at birth their original birth
      certificates with the names of their birth parents.
      Some 30 years ago, I gave up a child for adoption. I was told
      her original birth records would be forever sealed and that I should
      make a new life for myself.

      But try as I might, my life continued to include her. I never
      stopped wondering about her; was she like that blonde girl at the
      mall who seemed to be her age? You don't have someone in your body
      for nine months and forget.

      In time, I joined with adult adoptees and birth mothers like
      myself to change the laws. Our aim is to give those individuals
      adopted at birth their original birth certificates with the names of
      their birth parents and, if they can locate them, the option to
      contact them. As adults, they are certainly old enough to make this
      choice on their own.

      We've been at this for three decades, lobbying, testifying,
      writing letters, marching and telling our stories in the media.
      Somehow our efforts have left the public with the perception that
      adoptees have the right to their original birth records. The belief
      is fueled by a spate of TV movies and talk shows that feature
      reunions between birth parents and their children.

      Although we are far from that reality, we are starting to see
      some thin cracks in the opposition. Alabama, Delaware, Oregon and
      Tennessee have unsealed their records in the past half dozen years,
      joining Alaska and Kansas. This year, legislators in Connecticut,
      Louisiana, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey and
      New York introduced open-records measures. None, however, is likely
      to pass.

      The fact is that archaic laws - most from the 1930s and '40s,
      when adoption brokers pushed for sealed records - remain firmly in
      place in 44 states. These laws deny adopted "children" who have grown
      to adulthood their original birth certificates and thus lock away in
      some musty basement file the answer to the most primal question: Who
      am I? Identity is many things, but surely it begins with the
      knowledge of one's own true heritage and birth.

      What is standing in the way of further progress? The argument
      that is most often heard in state capitals is that the "privacy" of
      the birth mother must be protected. More work is needed if we are to
      combat several mistaken, outdated notions:

      a.. Myth No. 1: Birth mothers want to remain anonymous from
      their children.
      Most birth mothers enthusiastically welcome their children back
      into their lives. In Oregon, for instance, birth mothers are able to
      file a form indicating whether or not they wish to be contacted. The
      number of women asking for no contact now amounts to about one a
      month. Adoptees seeking their original birth certificates have
      stabilized at about 25 a month, after an initial several thousand
      requests when the records were first opened in 2000.

      But still the myth - that of the poor, woebegone "unwed mother"
      who has never told a soul what happened - persists. It is in her name
      that the National Council for Adoption and the Church of Jesus Christ
      of Latter-day Saints work to keep records sealed. Why? The secrecy-
      seeking woman makes a sympathetic smoke screen and obscures what
      these organizations really want, which is to cling to the outdated
      system of closed adoptions.

      a.. Myth No. 2: We were promised anonymity from our children
      by the state.
      Not true. We were told it was anonymity or nothing. No matter
      how sorry a group we birthmothers were at the time, we are different
      now, and we deserve no special treatment, not when the state affords
      no such protection to any other group of people.

      If we are to be allowed anonymity from our children, how can
      the state find the authority to bring paternity suits? How can the
      state claim to have a vested interest in giving the special
      protections of "privacy" to me - from my own flesh and blood - while
      it is trampling the rights of others?

      a.. Myth No. 3: Adoptions will go down, and abortions up, if
      records are unsealed.
      Wrong. In the open-records states of Kansas and Alaska,
      adoptions are proportionally higher and abortion rates lower than the
      U.S. average. Kansas has significantly lower abortion rates than the
      four states surrounding it.

      a.. Myth No. 4: Creating registries that match birth parents
      and adoptees is better than releasing birth data.
      Most states that have registries have tacked on so many
      restrictive provisions that the registries have been made largely
      ineffective. In addition, a registry is a poor excuse for one's
      original birth certificate. Being able to own that piece of paper
      surely would seem to be a constitutionally guaranteed right.

      Change is coming. A 1994-95 Cornell University survey of
      adoptive parents in New York found that 78% favored open records.
      Indeed, adoptive parents are among the sponsors of some of the open-
      records legislation.

      For myself, I went around the law. By going underground, I
      found my daughter and her wonderful, welcoming family more than two
      decades ago. She might not have her original birth certificate, but
      she does have the truth.

      Lorraine Dusky is the author of Birthmark, a memoir about
      surrendering a child to adoption.