By Lorraine Dusky
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Many women who surrendered their children for adoption hope to be "found." As one of them--now thankfully reunited--I'm celebrating Jan. 1 as the day when New Hampshire joins those states with open birth records.
(WOMENSENEWS)--On Monday, Janet Allen plans to walk into the Division of Vital Records Administration in Concord, N.H., and ask for a copy of her original birth certificate. It will be the first time she can legally obtain it.
Allen, 51, a state legislator, was adopted as an infant. In New Hampshire, where she was born and adopted, Allen has been denied the right to that singular piece of paper that contains the answer to one of life's most basic questions: Who am I? The change in the law occurs two days from now, New Years Day, 2005. As one of the people who worked for the bill's passage, Allen will be first in line.
"I am no longer a child and am delighted to finally have the same rights as non-adopted adults," she says. "The law now guarantees that no one will ever again have to go before a judge to beg, plead and be humiliated for a piece of paper that belongs to him."
Why does it matter so much to her and thousands of other adopted people in the state? Because her original birth certificate--not the amended one she's had most of her life--contains the names of her birth parents, and thus the key to her identity and origin. With the names, adopted people can search out their natural parents and perhaps obtain not only answers, but also updated medical information as well as the possibility of an ongoing relationship.
With the law's passage, New Hampshire will joined six other states--Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Tennessee and Oregon--that allow individuals adopted as children the right to their original birth certificates.
Some states had open birth records until the 1960s and even into 1980s. But as adoption became more common following the sexual revolution of those times, most of the states left with open records closed them, sweeping aside the rights of adopted children, no matter their age, to investigate their origins.
The bills to modernize the laws encounter stiff opposition and intense lobbying in state legislatures everywhere from adoption agencies and attorneys, local Catholic charities, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Against these well-funded organizations, the impassioned pleas of adoptees asking for open records are nearly drowned out, even though they are the ones whose rights should be tantamount.
In numerous states, bills to open the records have either languished in committee or died at the end of a legislative session. The opposition always hinges on the supposed anonymity that the women who gave up their children 30, 40 years ago were promised then, and are said to fervently desire today.
I am one of those women, and I was not "promised" anonymity from my daughter. It was forced on me like a pair of manacles. The relinquishment papers gave me no opportunity to confirm or deny whether I might want to know her one day. There were no boxes to check marked either "contact desired" or "no con