Keeping Secrets
Opponents of Measure 58 say access to your parents'
names is a privilege, not a right.


If Measure 58 passes, adults who were adopted in Oregon will be able to request copies of their original birth certificates in the same way non-adopted people can. Proponents of 58 say adoptees' birth certificates belong to them, not the state. The measure will not open adoption files.

To Warren Deras, a Portland lawyer and adoptive father of two, the measure would undermine the institution of adoption by removing the protection of confidentiality.

Deras, who has long been active in Republican Party circles, is the treasurer of Concerned Adoption Professionals, an ad hoc group of people who oppose 58. The group does not represent adoption agencies in any official capacity.

Clearly, the closed-record system of the past hasn't worked. Over the past few decades, both adoptees and birth mothers have come out against the state's practice of denying them any information about the fate of their offspring. That, combined with an increased demand for a lower supply of healthy white infants, has shifted public opinion and agency practices to give birth mothers more control over how much contact they want with the adoptive families. Today,
80 to 90 percent of current adoptions are open to varying degrees.

Yet there are still women who want to put their pregnancies behind them, some of whom gave up their children decades ago.

At issue, Deras says, is whether people believe women have the right to privacy. If so, then the current system that seals birth certificates and adoption records works. For people who want more information, there are institutional procedures they can go through that will satisfy their curiosity without causing undue harm.

Measure 58 proponents say that denying adoptees their birth certificates is
a violation of their civil rights. Deras sees that argument as a red herring, an excuse for adoptees who want to search for their birth parents without going through the existing system.

"I don't think it's a decision an adoptee should be able to make on the spur of the moment," says Deras. "Anyone could say, 'Gee, I've got my 12 dollars. I want my birth certificate.'" --PW


originally published September 16, 1998

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