Most adoptees do not have time to track the status of legislation at the state level that may impact adult adoptees’ access to their original birth records. Bill tracking is the work of insiders and advocacy groups who dedicate themselves professionally and personally to single or related issues.
For any adoptee who wishes to know what laws impact their legal and human right to receive copies of their original birth certificate and birth records, they can follow two websites: Adoptee Rights Law and Bastard Nation.
Both are maintained by adoptee rights advocates who share a simple and unswerving commitment that all adoptees have basic human rights and the legal right to their original identity documents, without any barrier or prejudice. Other good resources are available, and please use those too. However, these two sources work hard to keep their information current and in the larger perspective and framework of full legal and human rights for all U.S. adoptees.
I will also list two other sources (American Adoption Congress, Donaldson Adoption Institute), but I rank these as less useful because of the history and statements of both groups that do not make clear a genuine moral, political, and legal commitment to the full legal rights for all adoptees under the law, particularly in a moral and human-rights based framework. That said, I also encourage people to still follow them to keep up with current news. This also requires using one’s best judgment to understand the filter in which the information is being shared with you—and this is a filter that matters the most.
Adoptee Rights Law Center:
Gregory D. Luce, a Minnesota-based attorney and adoptee rights legal activist, is now publishing a resource he calls the “United States of OBC” (OBC being an acronym for original birth certificates). Luce categorizes each state and the District of Columbia by the degree of access: unrestricted, restricted, conditional, extreme fees, adoption registry requirement, date-based restrictions, redaction provisions, disclosure veto/birth parent consent, zombie veto (a veto that extends beyond a birth parent’s death), and pending or not in effect.
Luce’s OBC access maps provide an excellent way to understand the geographic breakdown of legalized discrimination against adoptees and illegitimately born people in the United States. As you can see when you click on his map page, the Jim Crow-style laws, as I like to call them, are pervasive and, sadly, mostly accepted without much widespread moral outrage. Tools such as the ones Luce and his law center are bringing to public attention help to highlight the national disgrace that is the status of equal rights for millions of adopted Americans.
Bastard Nation is an adoptee rights advocacy group that has been instrumental in the last two decades in helping to pass legislation in Oregon, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire that restored adult adoptees’ full legal access to their original birth certificates and birth records. The group provides an unequivocal mission statement concerning adoptees’ human and civil rights for access to their original birth records, and it is committed to working with partners nationally who share its mission. The group correctly notes, “The right to know one’s identity is primarily a political issue directly affected by the practice of sealed records adoptions.”
For those interested in “inside ball,” Bastard Nation tracks all state-level legislation on its website. This page may be most useful for adoptees, reporters, researchers, and policy-makers who want to understand the current debates in real-time.
American Adoption Congress (AAC):
The AAC, a group started during the heyday of the Adoption Rights Movement (ARM) in the 1970s, does not share Bastard Nation’s commitment to a legal standard in all states that treats all adoptees equally under the law—a standard that is found widely in most developed nations such as England, France, and Australia. The AAC had, until the beginning of June 2017, openly claimed it would support so-called “compromise legislation” in collaboration with state adoptee advocates that would deny some adoptees equal rights by law.
The AAC continues to publish a summary of state laws on its legislation page that can be useful. Links to state laws are included in legislative summaries. The AAC uses these categories to laws governing birth records for adoptees: unrestricted access, access with restrictions, partial access, partial with restrictions, and sealed. There are some useful summaries of the likelihood of legislation in some states based on the national organization’s assessment of the advocacy climate in each state. I have used this site and page for my research.
Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI):
The DAI, formerly called the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, also features a map highlighting the status of adoption laws state by state. The group uses fives categories to describe state adoption laws: access, access with restrictions, partial access with restrictions, partial access, and no access. The group does not provide real-time coverage of state legislative battles, even though that group has been involved in such issues legislatively. (See the group’s most recent spring 2017 newsletter to understand its priorities and issues.)
The group in May 2017 launched a campaign to assert itself as a de facto leader for adoptee rights. This announcement brought strong and swift rebuttals from the Adoptee Rights Law Center, Bastard Nation, and advocates who have worked with Bastard Nation. You can read comments provided by all parties in Luce’s post from June 5, 2017, “Bastards in the Room,” where he writes, “For all its messaging and all its promise, the Donaldson approach is the same today as it was ten or fifteen years ago: be OK with compromise because such thinking allows for complications and context and nuance and also satisfies the interests of the entire ‘family’ of adoption.” The DAI issued a rebuttal, and then the blog free-for-all began that is well worth a read.
For the record, I published my own article about the DAI’s campaign on May 20, 2017 (“Adoptee Rights Advocates Must Critically View Any Group Lacking ‘Street Cred’“). I explained why I could not support the DAI’s bid for moral leadership on adoptee rights because it had not demonstrated clear, mission-driven advocacy, particularly compared to the Adoptee Rights Law Center and Bastard Nation. For that reason alone, not to mention its history in legislative settings, I do not support its campaign and encourage others to not support it also.
[Author note: The DAI announced it was ending operations in January 2018. It noted published information would be kept live online, but it is not clear how long. Its closure also ends its extremely short-lived campaign for adoptee rights launched in May 2017. On a positive note a coalition of more than 45 adoptee rights groups and supporters defeated a bad adoptee records bill in New York in December 2017 and are working for a cleaner measure promising actual access to birth records by all New York-born adult adoptees.]
Contact Me, Please:
If anyone thinks I should provide some additional resources, please let me know and send me an email. I welcome all feedback from researchers, advocates, members of the press, and those who care about issues surrounding illegitimacy, bastardy, legal rights, human rights, and adoptee rights. Thanks.