Oregon Adoptee Rights Initiative
Measure 58
Our Birth Certificate: Our Right

Frequently Asked Questions

about Oregon's initiative to grant
Adult Adoptee Access to
original birth certificates (obc's)

1. Will access to OBC's threaten a parent's relationship with an adopted child?

Adult adoptees having access to their original birth certificates does not threaten parent-child relationships. With a law that gives ADULTS ONLY access to their original birth records, nothing changes while the adoptee is a child under the care of adoptive parents. Whether the relationship becomes better or worse when the adoptee is an adult depends a lot more on how parents raise their children as members of an adoptive family than on whether the adult adoptee has access to birth records.

2. Will access to OBC's cause a birthparent to try and reclaim the child?

Access to the OBC is only available to adult adoptees who have reached the age of 21.

3. Will access to OBC's impinge upon a birthparent's privacy?

Birthparent's do not sign a contract guaranteeing them anonymity. Nowhere does the constitution or statutes define privacy as a right of a parent to remain unknown to their offspring. It is one thing to exercise compassion and understanding towards a young girl scared and pregnant with an unwanted child, it is quite another to deny the civil rights of an adult to access their own private information because a birth mother, now aged 40, 50 or older, is reluctant to tell her husband or family her "secret". The state, in any case, should not be involved in regulating contact between individuals who have not been proven to be dangerous and who are guilty of no crime.

Many birthparents aren't even aware that adoptee birth records are sealed. Studies on adoption reunion done by Harvard and in New Zealand where records have been opened since l985 show that the overwhelming majority of birthmothers welcome reunion.

4. Will access to OBC's lead to a rise in abortion?

This myth has been perpetuated by paid lobbyists for adoption agencies and sold as a scare tactic to unsuspecting Christians and potential adoptive parents. This claim is contradicted by available evidence. The fact is that in nations where original birth access has been the law for many years, such as Great Britain and New Zealand, studies have shown that there has been no increase in abortion. In Kansas and Alaska, two states which have had adult access to original birth certificates for decades, the percentage of abortions is lower than the national average.

5. Is access to OBC's a dangerous, radical experiment?

Actually, sealed records is the experiment. Birth certificates were sealed to adopted adults by the Oregon Senate in l957. Before that, adopted adults were guaranteed access to obc's at age 21. Originally, it was thought to be a kindness to the adoptee, who would be protected from a lifetime stigma of illegitimacy. Sealing records was a social experiment of the post war decades that is now widely recognized to be outdated. The forty year old law which originally sealed the obc does not reflect our enlightened times. Adoptees have come of age and now, joined by adoptive parents and birthparents alike, they are vehemently protesting a social experiment which was unsuccessful and serves to promote secrecy and shame. The same concept that justified sealing records also justified not telling the adoptee he was adopted.

6. Will access to OBC's cause fewer adoptions?

Studies indicate that the rate of adoption is not adversely affected when obc's are opened to adults. This is another baseless scare tactic. In Great Britain, Kansas, Alaska, and New Zealand, more adoptions took place after records were opened than did before.

7. Do only ungrateful, maladjusted adoptees want access to their OBC's?

Ever since Alex Haley and the book Roots, genealogy has captured the fancy of the American culture. Why is this yearning such a natural and popular thing for the rest of us, but when it comes to an adoptee, it is pathological? Many high achieving, well-adjusted adoptees have a desire to know the true facts of their birth. The desire to know the facts of one's history is, in the word's of the Judges of Tennessee's 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, "...a desire due much sympathy and respect". The point is, indeed, respect. The fundamental issue is civil rights. All adult citizens deserve the right to their own vital information which is essential to a sense of autonomy and self determination.

format courtesy of Bastard Nation, www.bastards.org
For more information, please contact:
Chief Petitioner: Helen Hill 503 368 5786 or 1 800 262 5551
Official Website: www.plumsite.com/oregon/

See also:
Oregon Secretary of State Official 1998 General Election Online Voter's Guide

Some Facts, Statistics, Legal Precedents and Opinion

pertaining to a Proposed Initiative to grant Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates

Oregon had, until l957, adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. Oregon Statute 432.420 specifically stated that an adoptee, upon age of majority (21) could unconditionally access his/her unamended, original birth certificate. In l957, a law was passed and 432.420 was amended to seal the records of all adult adoptees permanently unless a court ordered disclosure.

Adoptees comprise an estimated 5 to 8 percent of the population of Oregon. The number of those affected in some way by adoption (birth parents and extended families, adoptive families, siblings) is probably six times that high, or from one third to nearly one half of the population.

If this measure prevails, Oregon will be the fourth state of the Union to require that adult adoptees be given access to copies of their original birth certificates, unaltered and unamended. Alaska, Kansas and Tennessee have open records laws. (Tennesse's recently passed access to original birth certificate bill is now being appealed in a Tennessee Court of Appeals.) Many countries have national open records laws, England, Wales, Israel, Argentina, and Mexico, to name a few.

This is the first time in history that adoption reform has been attempted through the initiative process.

We are backing a proposed statutory amendment, simple in the extreme. There are no compromise riders such as contact or disclosure vetoes, white out provisions, mandatory CI's, etc., which are tacked on in some cases to proposed adoption reform in an effort to "please everyone", but end up compromising further an already compromised group of citizens. This is a straight, clear, civil rights initiative providing access ONLY to the adult owner of the original birth certificate, with no exceptions.

The intent of this measure is not to provide a means to search and reunite, although that is certainly likely to be an outcome in some cases, but to address a constitutional violation that occurred with the enactment of the sealed records law in l957. A state should not pass legislation which excludes one group of citizen's from the same rights all others possess. This is a promise made to all Oregon citizens in both Section 20 of the Oregon Bill of Rights and in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. The law passed in l957 was, in our opinion, in direct violation of the constitution. For all non-adopted citizens, the right to access copies of their true, unamended and original certificates of birth on file at the Bureau of Vital Statistics is a right clearly protected and outlined in proceedures described in Oregon Revised Statutes 432.120 and 432.146. Only adopted citizens were separated from this right by the law passed in l957, adding the statute (432.420) which permanently seals the records of adopted adults except upon order of a court.

Carved into stone on the face of the Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem are these words: "A free state is formed and is maintained by the voluntary union of the whole people joined together UNDER THE SAME BODY OF LAWS.

Some will counter that the right to privacy of the birth mother will be violated if such a measure is passed. The case in Tennessee this last year, where open records legislation was passed and is now in litigation, gives us significant legal precedent. When a group backed by Pat Robertson's 700 club, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the National Council For Adoption filed an appeal, protesting Tennessee's decision to open original birth certificates to adult adoptees, both the Tennessee 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and, later, the United State's Supreme Court, found that the open records legislation passed in Tennessee was constitutional and just, and that the Constitution of both Tennessee and the United States does not encompass a general right to nondisclosure of private information. They further stated that the interest of an adoptee to access his/her birth record is, in the words of the Tennessee Court: "An interest entitled to a good deal of respect and sympathy". We maintain that it is a greater invasion of privacy for the state to seal up a group of adult citizen's true, documented facts of origin. There are many, many birth mothers who are the most vehement supporters of this measure.

We believe that it is illogical for the state to be involved in regulating contact between adult citizens. The practice of sealing an ADULT'S original birth certificate is tantamount, we believe, to a state-sanctioned cover up, and as such is a rare and suspect use of the legal system. We are expected as citizens of the state to conduct our affairs with honesty and integrity, we are asking the state to do the same.

Another important quote from the judges of the Tennessee 6th Circuit Court of Appeals: "A birth is simultaneously an intimate occasion and a public event---the government has long kept records of when, where, and by whom babies are born. Such records have myriad purposes, such as furthering the interest of children in knowing the circumstances of their birth."

The original birth certificate is sealed UPON DECREE OF ADOPTION. If a relinquished child is not adopted, the original birth certificate is never sealed. Thus, the practice of sealing records was never intended to "protect" the birthmother, or records would have been sealed upon the end of the legal relationship between the birthmother and the adoptee rather than at the beginning of the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the adoptee.

Oregon adult adoptees must be restored the right to "grow up", and claim their right to a very private, historical document, to be treated, in other words, as autonomous adults. Adoptees live in a state of perpetual childhood when, unlike the rest of the population, a fundamental document containing vital and private information is withheld by the state.

We believe that the practice of sealing the records of a minor adoptee, under age 21, remains a wise and considerate law. Our only issue is with the 1957 law that violated the rights of adopted ADULTS.

Helen Hill, Chief Petitioner
PO Box 353 Nehalem, Oregon, 97131, 1 800 262 5551

This information may be reproduced and circulated but must remain unchanged.

1 800 262 5551