Letter to Connecticut Law Revision Commission on Sealed Adoption Records
February 25, 1999
To Whom It May Concern:
We would like to thank the Connecticut Law Revision Commission for forwarding its report on Sealed Adoption records to Bastard Nation for our review. We applaud the Commission’s in-depth investigation of the history and practice of sealed records, and are pleased that the Commission’s conclusion is that records should be open to adult adoptees.
Our objections to the Commission’s recommendations rest largely in a provision included in the draft legislation that birthparents who relinquished between 1977 (when records were sealed), and the effective date of the draft open records legislation, be given the opportunity to deny access of the original birth certificate to the adult adoptee upon a showing of good cause in a court of law. We believe that there is no instance in which a person should be deprived of the most fundamental of rights, access to the original document of one’s birth, and in fact we believe that the Commission’s findings themselves are an argument against such provisions.
We note that the Commission argues that in fact sealed records do not guarantee birthparents anonymity and that adoptees “use numerous other legal means to search for their birth information…..Numerous guides and manuals offer advice on how, in the face of sealed adoption records, to search for the identities of birth relatives.” Further, the Commission finds that “A review of Connecticut’s sealed records policy requires consideration of that policy’s effect in the real world. Adult adoptees, in fact, continue to search for their identities, often with success.”
Despite these findings, the Commission, in defending its good cause provision, states that it is designed for “Birth parents who relied on a promise of anonymity and wish continued anonymity”. Clearly, these two findings conflict.
The draft “good cause” provisions also require that the court notify a birthparent when an adoptee adopted between 1977 and the date of the effective statute, applies for his/her original birth certificate. This provision also conflicts with the Commission’s criticism of current CT law.
The Commission states that “…… Connecticut statutes require the adoption agency to contact the birth parents if their identity is requested. However, many adoptees who seek the identity of their birthparents do not want, or are not ready for, contact or reunion with their birth parents. The requirement that birth parents be notified puts some adoptees who want birth information but do not wish to intrude on the birth parents in the awkward position of choosing between requesting release of birth information that will cause their birth parent to be contacted or of not requesting the information at all.”
Lastly, the Commission rightly concludes that “… birth information, as claimed by adult adoptees, is personal to the adoptee, access to which the adoptee has an inherent interest and right. The adult adoptee, we believe, has an inherent, inalienable, right to knowledge of his identity and personal history. As such, the state laws denying that access violate fundamental rights of the adoptee.”
If the Commission believes what they have written, then they cannot support the court petition “good cause” process, as there is no circumstance under which one person could rightly deny access to another person to the original record of their birth. We do not believe that the Commission chose the word “inalienable” lightly.
With regard to alleged promises of secrecy made to birthparents, the Commission finds that “Persons who advocate for the continued anonymity for these birth parents point to a promise of secrecy made under the adoption laws in place at the time of their relinquishment for adoption. That promise was made at a time when secrecy in adoption was considered best for all involved. Current understanding about adoption dynamics points out, however, that secrecy is generally harmful to all members of the adoption.”
Once again, the “good cause” provision suggested by the Commission in its draft legislation conflicts with the Commission’s findings.
In short, aside from our own belief that “good cause” provisions for birthparents continue to perpetuate adopted persons’ unequal status under the law, we note that the Commission itself provided the best arguments in opposition to this section of their draft legislation.
We also note some scattered errors in the Commission’s findings. The report states that “As the twentieth century progressed, however, the confidentiality law and practices evolved to give birth parents anonymity from their birth children who had been placed for adoption. By the 1950’s, most states had laws that gave such anonymity to birth parents.”
In fact, most laws sealing records to adoptees were not designed, nor did they in effect, “give anonymity to birthparents.” Most state laws still allowed adoptive parents to access records which identified the birth parents, and all states enacted their laws so that records were not sealed until the child was adopted. If a birthparent relinquished and the child was not adopted, even if the birthparent had made an adoption plan, the records were not sealed. In addition, the names of birthparents were published in newspapers as notice of adoption finalization hearings.
The Commission’s report also states, ” As this movement to unseal records developed, some birth parents became concerned that records would be opened and that they would lose their anonymity. Thus, organizations have been formed to protect the sealed records.” In fact, there are no birthparent organizations that exist in the U.S for the purpose of keeping records sealed. We are not aware of any organized birthparent opposition to open records. The organizations of birthparents that DO exist, including Concerned United BIrthparents and the National Council of Birthparents, lobby FOR open records. The primary organization in support of sealed records, the National Council for Adoption, was not formed by or for birthparents, it was formed by and for adoption agencies. There is no evidence that records were sealed, or remain sealed, at the behest of organized opposition by birthparents.
We conclude that the Commission’s report, except for the rare errors pointed out above, does an excellent job of dismantling each and every argument in favor of sealing records. We are therefore baffled by the draft legislation, a portion of which seems to rest on many of the premises that the Commission has taken many months and much research to debunk. We hope that the Commission will reconsider, and support introduction of a bill that will open records unconditionally to adult adoptees, and restore the right of adoptees to access the records of their birth in the same manner as all other citizens.
Bastard Nation Executive Committee