Copyright © 1998 The Seattle Times Company
Posted at 11:55 p.m. PDT; Sunday, October 25, 1998

Bid to ease birth-parent searches under fire

by Amalie Young
The Associated Press

PORTLAND - She was raped, had a baby girl and put her up for adoption. It took nearly 20 years for mother and daughter to deal with the emotions, research and red tape to find each other again.

Now, an Oregon ballot measure would make it much easier for adoptees to find their birth parents. And the mother fears her daughter will now go looking for her father - bringing a rapist back into their lives.

"It's really frightening, and I can't tell you how powerless I feel," said the woman, now in her mid-40s, who wouldn't give her name.

She and others who oppose the measure contend that allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates would spark a wave of potentially traumatic encounters with their birth parents.

Backers of the measure say it's not about happy reunions - but allowing access to records every adoptee should have.

"When you seal up someone's records, you implicitly say there is something wrong, something to be ashamed of," said Helen Hill, an adoptee and the measure's chief petitioner.

Retroactive measure

The proposal, known as Measure 58, would give adoptees open access to their original birth records when they turn 21. It would be retroactive, meaning that parents who were guaranteed privacy years ago could find themselves revealed.

If the measure passes on Nov. 3, Oregon will be the first state where voters - not legislators - have passed such a law. Alaska and Kansas are the other states that open adoption records.

A statewide poll conducted for The Oregonian and KATU-TV found that 54 percent of Oregon voters supported the measure, 35 percent opposed it and 11 percent were undecided. The poll of 618 people conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6 has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Warren Deras, an attorney and adoptive parent who opposes the measure, said many voters may not realize that not every reunion makes for a happy ending.

"The thing that hits people immediately is this warm, fuzzy Orphan Annie story," Deras said. "But there are certain cases where open cases just wouldn't work."

He thinks birth parents who are promised anonymity and build their lives around that promise should be able to find their children when the time is right.

One woman's case

The woman who was raped, for example, decided six months ago she was ready to get in contact with her daughter.

"This was still a baby that I carried for nine months that I wanted to meet," she said. "I had the same longing that any mother has."

Through the current voluntary state registry system, they began to exchange letters and photographs - but no identifying information.

When a caseworker decided to tell the woman's daughter about the rape, their relationship changed. Her daughter was sympathetic at first - but then said she wanted to find her father.

"All she really wanted was to use me to get in touch with the man who raped me," said the woman, who decided immediately to end the relationship.

The woman's brief reunion with her daughter put some of her curiosity to rest, but she said she is thankful that her daughter does not have the access to records that could open the door for an encounter with her rapist.

"My fantasy daughter was gone, but at least I had a real daughter," she said. "It just didn't happen to be someone who I could have a relationship with."

Copyright © 1998 The Seattle Times Company