Law & Legal & Attorney Family Law

Sealed Records & Adoption Reform

    Where Records Are Open

    • Despite an organized, sometimes militant, reform movement dating from the 1970s, as of 2010 only eight states offer open adoption records: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee. Alaska and Kansas have never had closed records; the other six states have revised their former adoption laws. Various activist groups estimate that up to six million adoptees still do not have access to their birth and adoption records. In states without open records, mutual consent reunion registries, where birth parents and their relinquished children can be reunited, are flourishing.

    Sides in the Debate

    • The issue has spawned three major positions: favoring unrestricted access to records by adult adoptees, against unrestricted access and a compromise position whereby some restrictions may be tolerated if it will speed changing of the laws. The Birth Mother, First Mother Forum reports that only three to six percent of birth mothers wish no contact with their children, even if the birth was due to rape or incest. Cornell University conducted a 1994-95 survey that found a surprising 78 percent of adoptive parents in New York favored open records.

    Arguments Against Open Records

    • Records were originally sealed to protect all parties in the adoption triad from the social stigma associated with illegitimacy, infertility, poverty and any other reasons that the adoption took place. Some people still favor this view. Proponents of keeping the records sealed also argue that adoptions will do down and abortions will go up if open-record laws pass.

    Arguments for Open Records

    • The intentions behind sealing the records may have been good, but adult adoptees feel that a part of their identity has been denied them. A number of determined adoptee reform organizations, like Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) and the militant Bastard Nation, have sprung up. Birth parents are also fighting for reform through Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) and the Birth Mother, First Mother Forum. The latter group rebuts the other side's abortion argument, saying that adoptions are proportionally higher, and abortions lower, than the national average in both Alaska and Kansas, which have never sealed adoption records.

    Why the Issue Has Magnified

    • The adoption reform movement was born in the 1970s with the emphasis on equal rights for all individuals, the recognition of the importance of identity and a general rejection of the silent acceptance of rules and customs by previous generations. The adopted child was not satisfied with the birth certificate reissued in most states with the adopted parents listed as birth parents. When the Internet became available, it brought like-minded people living in geographically distant places together, thus expanding the reform movement.

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