We support the loving option of placing a child for adoption as an alternative to abortion. Because we understand that some women in crisis pregnancies will not make the decision to place her child for adoption unless her confidentiality is guaranteed, we believe that the birth mother should be the one to decide whether to have contact or no contact with the child she places for adoption. We also support mutual consent registries which allows both parties in an adoption to register with the state if they desire contact with one another. For more information on adoption, visit www.adoptioncouncil.org
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The New Jersey Senate is set to vote Monday on a controversial measure that has bounced around the Statehouse in various forms for nearly 30 years: legislation to make all adoption records public information. The proposal is so wrenching for so many people because it straddles two equally compelling but competing sets of personal values and needs.
On the one hand are birth parents who have given up their children with the promise by the state that their names would forever be kept under lock and key; on the other are those who believe the children of adoption have a legal and moral entitlement to know exactly who those birth parents are. There are enough emotional entreaties on both sides to muddle the debate. But in the pure abstract, the bill as crafted should not be advanced.
One flaw of the measure is that its requirements fall unreasonably hard on the backs of birth parents, some of whom gave up their children decades ago, fully believing the matter closed. Now they would have to file a notarized letter of "no contact" with the state if they wish to remain anonymous. And there is no telling how many of them would even learn about the rules, or have the wherewithal to meet the guidelines if they did find out, leaving some open to unwanted contacts from long-lost offspring. The state made a pact with them but would breach that commitment.
Beyond the natural curiosity of knowing who one's real parents are â€” and no one denies that it is strong, even overwhelming for some adoptees â€” advocates for open records have maintained for years that it is both culturally and medically beneficial for adoptees to know their real family histories. This is true. But it would be fairly easy for the state to supply most of this information simply by requiring that these histories be provided at the time of adoption and supplied to adoptees upon later request, while blacking out the names of birth parents, should they not want their identities exposed.
Here again, regretably, the legislation goes too far, insisting that birth parents provide medical and cultural updates every 10 years, until age 40, or surrender their anonymity. Cumbersome and intrusive, the idea is highhanded and best forgotten.
Opponents of the legislation also fear the loss of anonymity could discourage prospective parents from considering adoption, opting instead for abortion. While there is no telling if and how often this might happen, the argument is certainly plausible.
Sponsors of the legislation, including state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, have allowed themselves to be swayed by a long-established and very well-organized lobby for the bill backed by children of adoption. There is no similar organization for and of birth parents, perhaps because their secrecy is paramount. Still, those few who have ventured forth to speak out against the bill have been clear about their desire for the state to respect their privacy for all of these and other reasons.
Just as this is not a perfect world, there is no ideal solution to this problem, but the status quo in this case is the lesser of two evils. May lawmakers have the wisdom to do nothing at all.
Friday, January 25, 2008
BY SUSAN K. LIVIO
After 90 minutes of intensely personal testimony, a Senate panel unanimously approved a bill yesterday to allow adult adoptees to get original birth records now sealed under state law.
Open-records advocates who have spent nearly 30 years lobbying for the legislation recruited Darryl McDaniels -- DMC of the pioneering rap group Run DMC -- to urge the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee to support the bill.
The 43-year-old performer said he only learned about his adoption seven years ago while writing an autobiography. When he quizzed his mother about where he was born, she admitted he was adopted. The revelation devastated him because "I always thought I knew who I was."
"I understand protecting the rights of the birth mother, and there should be a protocol for that. This is not about making the birth mother's life hectic," McDaniels said, his voice cracking. "This is about the right of a human being to know the truth of the story of my existence."
The bill (S611) would allow adult adoptees or the adoptive parent of a child to petition the state registrar for an original birth certificate with the names of the biological parents.
The measure gives parents a year from the bill's enactment to file a notarized "No contact" letter with the state if they wish to remain anonymous. They would have to complete a medical and cultural history form every 10 years until the parent is 40, and every five years thereafter, or forfeit their anonymity. The bill, in one form or another, has been before the Legislature since the 1980-81 session. Religious leaders, anti-abortion activists and, more recently, the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have successfully lobbied against it, asking lawmakers to protect birth mothers, who believed they had anonymity when they gave up their children.
One speaker, Philip Foley, struck a particularly sorrowful note, telling how his wife had surrendered a child conceived through a rape when she was a teenager, only to have a member of their family confronted years later by his wife's adult daughter.
But Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the committee chairman and one of the bill's sponsors, said the bill is important.
"By implementing this bill into law, we will be offering answers to some of the most basic questions of identity for thousands of New Jerseyans," Vitale said after the vote.
Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer), who was adopted himself, reluctantly voted for the bill.
"I am torn by these two very important interests -- the interests of moms who, in good faith, put children up for adoption, and kids like me, like Darryl, who don't start our lives from Chapter One." "
My sister, who passed away, always wanted to know," Baroni said. "One of the greatest days in her life was when she met her birth mother."
"In the end, I don't want to be a legislator who looks at Darryl and other kids and says, 'I know better than you do,'" Baroni said.
Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, said she and a coalition of other opponents would continue to fight the legislation. "This is not a compassionate choice at all."
The bill now awaits a full vote in the 40-member Senate.