from the Editorial staff of the Oregonian

September 23, 1998

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Oregon must keep its word

Adoptees should have access to their true birth certificates, but Measure 58 would shatter past promises to birth mothers

If Oregon Ballot Measure 58 simply changed adoption law beginning Jan 1, 1999, and enabled future adoptees, upon reaching the age of 21 to access their birth certificates, it would be worthy of strong support.

Instead, M 58 which voters must decide upon in November's general election, seeks to change the past. It would reverse decades of adoption law and break promises of confidentiality that Oregon made to thousands of women who gave up their children for adoption.

Oregon must keep its word. Voters should oppose M 58 and then urge the Legislature to amend state law so that all future adoptees have access to their true birth certificates.

That would be fair to adoptees, who should have legal access to their birth certificates, among the most personal of documents held by the government. And that would be responsible to their birth parents, who should know, in advance, the ground rules of their adoption agreement.

From today's perspective, the current law is deeply unfair to adoptees. Approved by the Legislature in 1957, the law sealed the original birth certificates of adoptees and ordered the creation of new certificates carrying the names of adoptive parents.

But Oregon can't change the past. It can't reach back 40 years and erase the stigma---the shame---surrounding out of wedlock births. Some of these pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. Many of these births took place in secret, and many women never told their families, their friends. The common advice at the time was to keep these births forever secret. Many women did just that.

Times and attitudes have changed, of course. Much of the stigma about unwed parenting has faded. Some 90 percent of adoptions in Oregon today are "open" in one sense or another, meaning that information about birth parents and their children is shared.

Too, voluntary adoption registries have been established in Oregon and other states that allow adoptees to seek medical information and contact birth parents, if both sides wish a reunion. These registries are growing larger and more efficient, but they are not perfect. Efforts to reunite are often frustrating and expensive.

Sadly, some adoptees never find answers to the desperate questions they have about their birth parents. Some are unable to get even the most basic information about their birth: the few critical details on their birth certificates---the names of their parents, the date and place of their birth.

That should be changed. M 58, however isn't the right way to do it. A new law should be crafted, and it should look forward, not backward.

It should reflect the contemporary views on adoption and the rights of adoptees. But it shouldn't break thousands of solemn promises.

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