August 1, 2007

"Achieving Equal Access to Records" by L. Anne Babb, Ph.D.

Symbol of Judgement
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Usually the people who oppose open records are adoptive parents and lawmakers. The majority of our opponents are Caucasian, and most of them are men. Many have personal and profit-based connections to adoption and have reasons on that basis for opposing adoptee access to the original birth certificate.
How are we to achieve equality in records access when we have to deal with wrong-headed folks who are so powerful and who have so many compelling reasons to oppose open records? I think there are four things that adoption reform activists can do to achieve equal access even when wrong-headed people with destructive mindsets oppose us:
1. Help people see open records as an issue of justice.
The first thing you can do to achieve equal access to records is to help people see open records as an issue of justice. There are universal principles of right and wrong that transcend culture, race, time, religion, and space. They are eternal principles, and one of them is the principle of justice. You don't just take what isn't yours; you treat people fairly; you don't take away from others rights that you yourself possess. In the Bible's book of the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 10, it says, "Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that... they may plunder the orphans. "Woe to those who enact evil statutes," and to those who help them do it. But not everyone understands open records as an issue of justice. We talk about "civil rights for adoptees," but when people think of civil rights, they think of the civil rights movement for African Americans, about Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks.
They can't really see how your civil rights are being abrogated because you're Caucasian and you're smart and you even seem privileged.
Because adoption has developed along parallel racial lines in America, most of the people complaining about closed records and fighting to open them are European American. People of color in this country haven't trusted our adoption system and have most often adopted informally, as part of the process preserving the birth heritage of the children so adopted.
Thus, my son-in-law, an African American adoptee, knows his birth and adoptive families and has from the time he was a very little boy. He has relationships with both and doesn't differentiate between his siblings by birth and those by adoption, or his aunts, uncles, and cousins by birth and those by adoption. He grew up with the name given to him by his original mother at birth. No one ever had to seal his birth certificate. No one wanted to.
To the average-thinking person, the sealed birth certificate is a stupid idea. My own children scoff at it in discussion since they all know who they are, what their names at birth were, and who their parents-all of them-are. Those in relationship with their birth parents aren't confused about who their "real" parents are. As one of our adopted kids recently said, "When somebody asks me, 'What about your real parents?,' I say 'Which ones?"' That's what people will naturally tend to do in adoption if we let them be. if we let them think for themselves.
Unfortunately, many Americans have had some help thinking about adoption, and they've had help from the wrong people. They don't readily recognize open records as an issue of justice at its foundation. Those who "get it" as an ethical issue of justice don't need to be appealed to: they're already with us, on the same page. But those who don't get it need to be appealed to.
So the second step to achieving equal access to records is
2. Appeal to those who can be appealed to.
As I said, those who don't "get" equal access to records as an issue of justice are wrong-headed because they've either had a wrong-headed person feeding them bad information, or because they themselves are wrong-hearted.
Adolf Hitler recognized the power of lies and emotion. He said that he used emotion to sway the many and reserved reason for the few. In Mein Kampf, he wrote, "By means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated, it is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell-and hell, heaven... The greater the lie, the more readily will it be believed." About wrong-hearted people with destructive mindsets, the Apostle Peter wrote,"... in their greed they will exploit you with false words." As Doe v. Sundquist proved, judges and lawmakers can be appealed to through the use of facts. We counter the lie that open records increases abortions by pointing to statistics in Alaska, Kansas, Great Britain, and New South Wales that show just the opposite. We counter the lie that birth mothers don't want to be found by showing that the vast majority do not oppose birth certificate access.
We dispense with these same old, tired arguments and then we come in and we teach people about justice. Because we must never; ever forget to simply refute the lies. We have to do more than just play defense. We have to bring our offense out if we want to score. We have to show people who can be appealed to that this is an issue of justice. We have to show people, as Martin Luther King did, that "passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil."
And in order to appeal to those who can be appealed to, we have to take the high road. We can't fight lies with lies; we can't fight soft-mindedness by being soft-minded ourselves. We can't fight compromise by compromising. No compromise: that has to be our stance.
The third thing you can do to achieve equal access to records is to
3. Reprove those who can't be appealed to.
Why? Why do we need to reprove and correct those who can't be appealed to? We're talking about the wrong-headed people who are that way because they're wrong-hearted. You can give them all the information in the world about justice, right and wrong, civil rights, and appeal to every human value and emotion you want to, and they will remain unmoved. They are closed-minded because their hearts are closed to you. You couldn't pry their hearts open with a crowbar and you can't do it no matter how eloquent or true your appeals. So why reprove those who can't be appealed to?
Because it's the right thing to do. The Prophet Isaiah, adviser to King Hezekiah about 739 B.C. said, "Learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow."
If we keep quiet about the injustices being done--even if they are done by powerful people--we're enabling it to continue. In a sense, we're hiding the shame of our society and of our adoptive parents, and of the lawmakers, agency people, and attorneys who have helped them to perpetuate the lie that it's OK to compromise someone else's rights. The Prophet Ezekiel reproved his wicked countrymen by saying, "you have injured your neighbor for gain by oppression." That's calling a spade, a spade.
The fourth thing you can do to achieve equal access to records is
4. Stick together and increase your ranks.
They say there is strength in numbers. We know that there is also stupidity in numbers. Martin Luther King said that everyone seems to crave the anaesthetizing security of being identified with the majority."
Make people want to be a part of your majority, as activists have done in Oregon. You know, when Rosa Parks first decided to take the responsibility for her personal justice into her own hands, I'm sure there wasn't a rush of White folks or Black ones to sit beside her and around her on that bus in a show of strength and solidarity of number. But I am equally sure, and history confirms, that people standing up for what's right because it is right eventually wins out. Like water over a rock, people together doing the right thing wears down those who are doing the wrong.
The fifth thing you can do to achieve equal access to records is
5. Pray.
Proverbs 23:10 says, Do not move the ancient boundary, or go into the fields of the fatherless; for their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.
Exodus 22:22-23 says, You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. if you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled...
And then, the Prophet Jeremiah, who lived from 626 B.C. to 587 B.C., had a lot to say about the interest of God in dealing with injustice. Jeremiah lived during the time of Israel's Babylonian exile. The Assyrian Empire had disintegrated after the fall if its capital, Ninevah, in 612 B.C. Babylon ruled the civilized world, and two political parties vied for control of the captive court at Jerusalem. The pro-Egyptian party believed that Egypt was reviving as a world power and should be relied upon by the Jews as a bulwark against Babylonian aggression. The pro-Babylonians urged submission to Babylon--compromise with them--as the price of continued national existence (sound familiar?).
The prophets of God counseled the nation to look neither to Egypt nor to Babylon, but to trust in God. So the prophet Jeremiah had this to say about the nation he lived in: Wicked men are found among My people, they watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich.
They are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness; they do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish for these things? declares the Lord, On a nation such as this shall I not avenge Myself?
I believe that it's not only emotionally and psychologically dangerous to have the destructive mind-sets I talked about earlier. I also believe that it is spiritually dangerous. I believe that in the long run, people tend to grow toward what expresses goodness, justice, and love, because I believe God is a God of goodness, justice and love. This is a God who can be appealed to through prayer.
As the Apostle James wrote, the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. So if you pray, pray for justice. Pray for Divine intervention, and ask God to throw open the records that men say they will never open. Jesus said that there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
The God of the Bible is on the side of justice; He is on your side. If you pray, pray. Ask Him to help the cause of equal access to records, and ask Him to deal with our opponents.
And if you don't pray, or don't even believe in God, that's OK. Whether you pray or not, the outcome will be the same: Justice is coming because there's just no holding it back.
Advocate, activist, and author of "Ethics in American Adoption" and "Adopting and Advocating for the Special Needs Child", Mrs. Babb is the mother of 12 children, including six adopted with special needs, all either transracial or international. She is the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), NAATRJN representative for Oklahoma, Executive Director of The Family Tree Adoption Advocacy Center and former President of the American Adoption Congress (AAC).
(This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of the Bastard Quarterly.)
Copyright 1998 L. Anne BabbAll Rights Reserved.

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