Keeping track of laws impacting adoptees and the advocacy players

A recent tweet on the status of adoptee records legislation in 2017 in state legislatures was sent out by the Adoptee Rights Law Center, which is tracking laws with an online mapping tool.

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:

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):

Click on the logo to read the AAC’s most recent change concerning its commitment supporting full legal rights for all adoptees. The organization until June 5, 2017, publicly stated its support of legislation that did not promote full equal rights for all adoptees.

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.

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. 



How many infants were relinquished to adoption?

I just published a short essay on the the limited and imprecise data available on the number of U.S. adoptees who were relinquished during the boom years of adoption between 1944 and 1975. The most frequently quoted data cited in most respected sources comes from a 1984 paper published by Penelope Maza for the United States Children Bureau. I have put her data into an easier to read chart.

Number of Adoptees in the United States Adoption Boom Years

Table 1: Penelope Maza published the most frequently cited population data study on the number of U.S. adoptees born in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s in her paper called ““Adoption Trends: 1944-1975,” in 1984.

On my of goals for my forthcoming memoir, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, is to show policy-makers, the media, adoptees, the public, and researchers the size of the adoptee population in the country.

It is likely not a coincidence that the data collection on the number of adoptees has always been imprecise. I cannot rule out that the role of secrecy, shame, and stigma attached to this class of human beings mattered in the way they have been improperly counted. This lack of precision likely prevents the public and also public health and other experts from truly understanding the scope this modern social engineering experiment.

As most health and public health experts say, “If you aren’t counted, you don’t count.” This rule applies today because of the imprecise system for counting U.S. adoptees by the U.S. Census Bureau (only started in 2000).

There is also no standard practice for counting adoptees in each state by the states, many of which lack adequate auditing procedures to help lawmakers understand the scope of people impacted by their policy decisions and lawmaking that impact adoptees. Those decisions can continue to deny a class of people equal rights under the law simply because they were, almost certainly, born out of marriage and illegitimate, and placed for adoption.

State of Michigan public health officials I contacted for my book and during my quest for my original birth certificate could not share any data with me on the number of adoptees impacted by their laws. They claimed, “It would not be possible to determine this number.”

This again showed me the simple truth that if you aren’t counted, you don’t count.



Many U.S. adoptees become expert researchers because of legal discrimination

Photo of Adoptee Records and Research for Book on Adoption in the USA

My vital records and research on my adoption experience now fill a box. For most people, they have a single file, with their original birth certificate. I was denied that by the adoption system and discriminatory laws.

Many adoptees may have a box or several boxes that look like mine. It is my adoption records box. I have taken it everywhere I have moved over the last three decades. 

Unfortunately I had to become an archivist just to know who I was. That is because the state where I was born, Michigan, had laws that denied me my human right to know who I was and where I came from. I was forced to play a game that unfortunately went on for nearly 30 years, without any apology from anyone in state government who did everything they could to prevent me from rightfully knowing my past.

However, I was really good. Records I kept and used were instrumental in my later and final battle with Michigan’s discriminatory public health  system that did all it could to keep my birth certificate from me, even though I knew my birth family and mother for decades. Welcome to my world and the world of tens of thousands of adoptees.

Most people’s vital records files have one document, and that is it. My story has a box. My book tells that story that is contained in papers in that box. 

Where Detroit adoptees were born and ‘relinquished’

The Florence Crittenton Maternity Home, at 11850 Woodrow Wilson, in Detroit, was located next to the Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit. The maternity home, as shown in in this photograph, was under renovation and construction. Women who stayed in the home would deliver their infants next door, at the hospital, located at 1554 Tuxedo Avenue.

I was born in Crittenton General Hospital, one the nation’s largest hospitals created to serve unwed mothers and their infants and later a major health center delivering infants relinquished for adoption. It was located at 1554 Tuxedo Avenue, and closed in 1974. This photo dates from 1929.

This week, I finally received a copy of one of the few pictures that may be publicly available of the former Florence Crittenton Maternity Home of Detroit from the 1950s. This was the third Crittenton maternity home that the national organization opened in Detroit. It was located adjacent to the Crttenton General Hospital, where I was born. 

The hospital provided both maternal health services and boarding for single, pregnant mothers. I and literally thousands and thousands of other adoptees were born in such facilities during the boom years of American adoption, from the 1950s through the early 1970s. 

The National Crittenton Foundation of Portland, Oregon, in my home town, provided me the image of the maternity home, and I am grateful for their support and for meeting with me to discuss my upcoming book and the larger story of this foundation’s predecessors.

I have written at length about the original Florence Crittenton Mission and its successor agencies on my blog, documenting how this benevolent and originally Christian group that first served prostitutes and “fallen women” became an organization that sought to help abused, vulnerable, and single-parent women. Part of its original core mission was to fight and eradicate the stigma associated with illegitimacy and to keep mothers and their infants together.

The issue of illegitimacy, ultimately, drove the booming adoption system into which people like me were placed.

Most bastards born into this system–the word “bastard” accurately describes my status in life and my life story–were told we did not have the equal legal rights of all non-adopted U.S. citizens to know who we were by so-called “adoption professionals” and state agencies and legislatures. This inequality and human rights issue remains to this day, without much public interest outside of adoptee advocates themselves.

The national Crittenton organizations that succeeded the original mission evolved into adoption placement centers, starting in the late 1940s, as so-called “adoption professionals” such as social workers assumed greater control of maternity facilities that were ubiquitous in most large U.S. cities (see Regina Kunzel’s study of this movement: Fallen Women, Problem Girls). The Crittenton facilities, like my birthplace in Detroit, became essential facilities in a national movement to promote adoption as the “most suitable plan” to separate bastard babies like me from their birth mothers and biological kin and place them in new families.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, 98 percent of all babies, like me and thousands of others, who were born in Crittenton facilities or served by them during the peak adoption years were placed for adoption.

This story is my story, and also the story of thousands of others like me who passed through the halls of this building and its earlier maternity home facilities and maternity hospitals in Detroit and dozens of other cities. My forthcoming memoir and critical examination of the American adoption experience, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, offers a detailed look at the history of this now demolished hospital and how its legacy still remains today.

The former maternity home building is now run by Cass Community Social Services. You can see photos of the old maternity home, as it appears today, on Google maps

(Editor’s note: I have updated this post on July 14, 2017, to reflect new information shared with me that the photo of the maternity home, seen on this page, was incorrectly identified as the hospital. I have updated this page to now include an image of the original Crittenton General Hospital of Detroit, dating from 1929.)



Who has the right to lead on adoptee rights?

The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s new campaign has a hashtag and tagline, but is it really about reform?

On May 20, 2017, I published an article on my policy blog that replies to a recent newsletter flash I received from the adoption research and advocacy group called the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI). The organization has suddenly proclaimed a bold new advocacy position and campaign on adoptee rights as a “human rights” issue.

In my piece (“Adoptee Rights Advocates Must Critically View Any Group Lacking ‘Street Cred’”) I make three key points about this new effort and how adoptees, the media, policy-makers, and supporters of adoptee rights should cautiously view this and all other efforts by groups who claim to promote legal rights for adopted persons, illegitimately born people, and people who call themselves bastards:

  • The institute’s new campaign seeking to become the champion of “human rights” for adoptees seeking their birth records must be viewed critically given the group’s track record and the way it is linked to the promotion of what some adoptees and reporters like Dan Rather call the “adoption industry.”
  • Authentic advocacy and scholarship on adoptee rights or any issue involves “walking the talk” and having what ordinary folks call “street cred.” For example, Florence Fisher, and the group she lead in the 1970s called the Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA), showed that when ALMA took a clear stand for adoptees by calling for the “free access to our original birth certificates and the records of our adoption” and went to court in New York in 1977 with a federal class action lawsuit, claiming adoptees had rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 13th and 14th amendments to their original birth records. They lost but their actions spoke volumes. You have to demonstrate what you believe through meaningful action, not fluffy words of cute social media memes.
  • My work in my upcoming book on my adoption experience and how U.S. adoption should be understood through a public health lens gives full credit to insightful writers and advocates, like Lauren Sabina Kneisly, who clearly define the real power systems involved in adoption and the political realities of being an adoptee and bastard. Real advocates and credible scholars acknowledge their sources and forebears. Those who only seek influence or power in any field will try to co-opt the work of real reformers.

I have shared this article with numerous adoptee rights advocates I know on Twitter and now await a possible reply by the DAI to my piece. I alerted the DAI about my article with two tweets.

In my article I said I would publish a reply, but I will need to see how the group responds first. As I stated in my article, “I do not endorse their work to date as being clear, mission-driven advocacy that seeks to address historic discrimination against adoptees or work that seeks to change laws to promote equality for all adoptees by giving every single living adoptee full and unfettered access to their records–as done in most developed nations.”