Three more birth mothers join Measure 58 suit

Seven women are now seeking to block the Oregon law to allow adult adoptees to see their original birth certificates

Friday, December 18 1998

By Spencer Heinz of The Oregonian staff

Another three anonymous birth mothers have joined the original four in suing the state over a voter-approved Oregon law that would enable adult adoptees to see their original birth certificates.

In an amended complaint sent this week to Marion County Circuit Judge Albin W. Norblad in Salem, Portland lawyer Franklin Hunsaker said the seven woman argue that their decisions to place children for adoption hinged on promises of confidentiality, and that the retroactive law would unconstitutionally break those promises by revealing names of birth parents.

One of new plaintiffs said she is an incest victim.

Supporters of Oregon's measure 58, which voters approved 57 percent to 43 percent in the Nov. 3 general election, counter that they believe no one had authority to issue such promises if any were made at all.

"I didn't read anything to suggest that there was any more of a contract in any of these cases than in the original four," said Thomas E. McDermott, a Portland lawyer representing Measure 58 chief petitioner Helen Hill and others in their requests to help the state defend the law in court.

The law was to go into effect Dec. 3, but the original four birth mothers sued the state Dec. 1 and the law has been stalled since then. Norblad ordered it held until the issues could be resolved in court. No hearing date has been set.

Lawyers with the Oregon attorney general's office, assigned to defend the law, estimate the case will take at least two to three months -- longer if either side appeals.

The lawsuit identifies the seven mothers only by the names of "Jane Doe 1" through "Jane Doe 7."

Jane Doe 1, identified as an Oregon resident who gave birth to a girl out of wedlock in 1961, says in court papers that she has not told her husband or four other grown children. She said the treating physician and a nun assured her that "my decision to place the child for adoption would be kept in confidence and that, pursuant to Oregon law, my identity and all other identifying information about me would be kept confidential and would remain sealed."

The complaint says Jane Doe 5 was raped by her father in 1975, gave birth to a child in Oregon in 1976 and relinquished the child for adoption. She has told only her husband about the rape and the adoption, and she says that contact from the child might reopen a closed chapter in her life.

"Consequently, when she learned that Measure 58 had passed, she became physically ill and felt that the whole chapter of her life involving the incest and the adoption was going to be opened up," the complaint says.

Frederick F. Greenman, a New York attorney working with McDermott on behalf of the law's supporters, said Jane Doe 5's case was the most severe and sorrowful case imaginable. But Greenman said such a desire for confidentiality might not be considering the interests of either the adoptive parents or the now-grown child in terms of knowing the adoptee's potential mental and physical health issues -- and those of children the adoptee might one day have.

"And that interest, I think, is at least as strong as the interests of the mother, as tragic as her situation is," Greenman said.

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