This is a big week for adoption in Missouri. This week lawmakers are hearing arguments for and against MO 1599, commonly known as the Missouri Adoptee Rights Bill. A decision will be made in the coming weeks. So just what is this bill?
In Missouri, as in most other states, adoptees have no right to their original birth certificates (OBCs). (Our friends in Kansas are just one of six states that allow adoptees over the age of 18 full unrestricted access to their OBCs. A handful of others allow access with several restrictions). Adoptees are issued alternative birth certificates, but these can be confusing as they often list the adoptive parents as the birth parents, and often list the city the adoptive parents live in as the place of the birth. In other words, they’re not really certificates of birth at all.
This is a problem. Not only is it denying adult adoptees a basic document about their lives, but it can also make it harder for them to get things like passports, drivers licenses, or insurance coverage for genetic testing. It can be another reminder that they’re not like most people.
Currently an adult adoptee in Missouri who wants information about their OBC must get permission from their biological parent(s). This can be a problem if they don’t know who those parents are. Many hire searchers- just like we’re doing in Ethiopia. Sometimes, the birth parents don’t want any contact and deny the request.
But requesting an OBC is NOT the same as requesting a relationship with a birth parent. A relationship is a two way street. If the birth parent doesn’t want to participate in a relationship, they are within their rights not to do so. A certificate is a piece of paper about a person. It’s not right for someone else to control that piece of paper.
What does the other side say? The other side says that birth parents make the decision to give their child up under the promise of privacy. But if this is happening, it’s only an implied promise. Agencies need to carefully choose how they represent adoption. Until the adoption is finalized- which often takes months- the OBC is public record. If the adoptive parents have great foresight, they can request the OBC then. It’s only after the adoption is complete that the record is sealed. I do understand that women who make the decision for adoption- often poor, young, scared women- want it kept private. And I feel for that; I truly do. But I don’t believe their “right” to privacy is greater than an adoptees right to documents about themselves.
One of my fears when I first started researching this is that if there is no hope for privacy, these birth mothers- again, often poor, young, and scared- may choose abortion instead of adoption. But data shows that that’s not the case. The states that have always allowed unrestricted access to OBCs have lower abortion rates than surrounding states, and the states that have recently opened up OBCs have seen abortion rates drop. Here’s an article that goes into more detail and provides sources.
I don’t like secrets. I think the world would be a better place if we were all a little more honest with each other. And adoptees deserve honesty about their beginnings.