Do You See What I See? A Layman's Observations About Truth and Lies in Adoption Reform

“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:32

The above quote has been widely misappropriated and misapplied by adoption reform activists through the years to assert that knowledge of our roots through obtaining the truth contained in our original birth certificates will set adult adoptees free from a variety of genealogical, psychological, medical and discriminatory maladies. Though the assertion has wide appeal, the verse, when read in the context of the preceding verse, of course has nothing to do with the adoption reform movement. It’s an appealing, inspiring concept that may have some general application, but in the final analysis, it’s a soul-stirring truth claim rooted in a huge inferential leap wrapped in a misapplied scripture.

Similarly, the valid and passionately held belief (which I share) that every adoptee should have access without a court order to an unaltered copy of their original birth certificate, which should contain the true name(s) of their original parent(s) has fallen prey to embracing appealing political assumptions that, so far, are simply rooted in fiction.

How can advocates expect to win a battle for truth in adoption if the foundational assumptions undergirding their political platform are fictional?

The discussion about adult adoptees’ right to obtain a non-certified copy of their original birth certificate is heating up, and I, for one, believe it’s a conversation long overdue. Is it a civil/fundamental right rooted in principles of due process and equal protection found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution? Is it a procedural right? A human right? A policy decision left up to states that create remedial rights for citizens in order to carry out the administration of compelling interests of the state regarding a document created by the state for purposes of the state?

Last month’s blog outlined key differences between the “all or nothing now” (AONN) camp and those who I call Pragmatists, who have evolved to a different mindset after years of legal input and time in the trenches.

The AONN camp’s political platform is undergirded by two key assertions:

1) Adult adoptee access to original birth certificates is a fundamental civil right.

2) Therefore, any legislation recognizing such a civil right must “leave no one behind.”

There are some serious problems with both assertions.

Recently, after being challenged to either start winning cases or give up the claim and apologize for a cruel hoax, leaders of the “all or nothing now” (AONN) camp publicly stated that winning a Supreme Court case affirming adult adoptee access to original birth certificates has “never been part of our strategy.” Really? Even though it is the US Supreme Court that has denied, affirmed, or reversed itself in virtually every other civil rights movement in U.S. history? At least eighty-two (82) cases are summarized on the website of the Leadership Conference, which claims to be “the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition.”

Why would anyone asserting a civil rights issue punt when it comes to appealing a case up the ladder to the Supreme Court?

Perhaps the decision not to pursue a Supreme Court ruling is rooted in the outcomes of three 1970s cases (see summaries below). Arguments that sealed original birth certificates abridge an array of fundamental rights of adoptees resulted in two dismissals and an abstention by federal courts. This presents AONN with quite a dilemma, and some AONN leaders have already started backing off the use of “civil rights” and changing the assertion to “a right.”

In the same way that it is impossible to get a bill passed through a state legislature if a committee chair refuses to calendar the bill for hearing and a vote, it seems reasonable to assume that it is pretty much impossible to get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a matter that lower federal courts refuse to even consider. If there is some secret, back door way to link an issue to civil rights without amending the Constitution or a ruling from the Supreme Court, this non-lawyer layman would love to hear it.

I am an advocate for truth and transparency in adoption. I want every single adult adoptee to have unrestricted access to their original birth certificate and at least certain adoption records. At the same time, I know that, no matter how much success is achieved by the adoption reform movement, even after every single original birth certificate and adoption records file held by every court and Vital Records Department in every state is once again made available by law to adult adoptees, it is not a 100% attainable goal.

I hate the fact that this is true, and it breaks my heart. But tens, if not hundreds of thousands of adoptees would still be left behind without their truth, even if they get a non-certified copy of the document.[i] Why?

  • Maternity homes routinely encouraged or required women who relinquished during the Baby Scoop Era (approximately 1940 – 1980) to use fictitious names. Unless OBC access laws are also changed to require that the custodians of maternity home records disclose the real names of women from their records, a huge truth gap remains.

  • Safe Haven laws typically allow women to leave their infants with a hospital or fire station with no requirement to be named on an original birth certificate.

  • Some records contain no names of parents, or simply cannot be found.

  • So far, only about 5-10% of those eligible to apply for their original birth certificates (and adoption records in certain states) have done so. Lack of awareness or lack of interest “leaves behind” over 90% of eligible adult adoptees.

  • Conservatively, anywhere from 200 to 5000 adoptees per state die every year, having already been left behind because of unjust laws and recalcitrant courts.

Therefore, the claim that any political strategy will result in “no one left behin