Should adoptees own their original birth certificates?
Millions of adopted Americans can't access to their original birth certificates. Some are fighting for access, while others think the records should remain closed.
This story was originally reported by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
There are an estimated 6 million adoptees in the United States, and the vast majority of them don't have access to their original birth certificates. Instead, they have an amended birth certificate that says the names of their adopted parents, rather than their birth parents. Millions of adoptees have found their birth parents, but for many others, the information remains out of reach.
"What it really boils down to for so many of us is the fact that we're a subordinate class of American citizens," adoptee Diane Crossfield told PRI's The Takeaway. Other citizens have the right to access their original birth certificates, but adoptees don't. In fact, according Crossfield, the information on the amended birth certificates may not even be correct. She spoke with one adoptee who says she's not sure what her real age is, because she believes the information on the amended birth certificate may be wrong. Crossfield, who helped found the Adoptee Rights Coalition, believes, " We are being denied a piece of paper that... should belong to us."
Giving all adoptees access to that piece of paper would violate people's privacy, according to Tom Snyder, who chairs the family law section of the New Jersey State Bar Association. Synder says that parents who put their children up for adoption did so with the expectation that could do so anonymously. Opening up the birth certificates would violate their privacy, according to Snyder, and disparate groups from New Jersey Right to Life to the ACLU agree.
Crossfield believes that the privacy argument is based on a myth. She points out, "Privacy, secrecy, anonymity, they were never included in any surrender documents, and nor has there ever been a piece of legislation that guarantees privacy to surrendering parents." Since children who age out of the foster care system are given access to their birth certificates, Crossfield believes that records are being sealed "to placate the adoptive parents" rather than to protect people who give children up for adoption.
For Crossfield, the issue is about more than politics. It's personal. She told The Takeaway, "It's my identity, it's my origins."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at thetakeaway.org