Tag Archives: AB372

AB 372 Passes Out of Judiciary

Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee passed a Fiona Ma’s bill, AB 372 that insults adult adoptees by allowing the birth mother who legally relinquished to veto access to their original record of birth. Why would this insult an adult adoptee?  When you are an adult and need to obtain documents about yourself for whatever reason, you shouldn’t have to have permission a relative to do so. It also assumes that the release of factual information about one’s own birth is somehow dangerous to the point that the government has to intervene and provide a witness protection plan. It is as if the state of California doesn’t trust birth mothers and their adult offspring to manage their own private affairs.

For reasons that may include, but are not limited to, rape, incest,

religious beliefs, or personal preference, I do not authorize the

State Registrar to provide a copy of the original and unredacted

birth certificate to the adoptee.

The problem with this plan is there is no way to make sure every birth mother gets the chance to veto without violating their privacy whether it is by certified letter or as one legislator suggested placing an announcement in the newspaper.

I am one of those California adult adoptees and found my birthfamily in 1994 under California’s depression era (not this one, the last one) sealed records law. It turns out that the first 3 months of my life my name was Cynthia Anne Henke and I appear in the California birth index twice. This is because my original birth certificate only gets sealed when an adoption becomes finalized. Once finalized, I get a new birth certificate with my adoptive parents’ names as if they knew I existed at that time.

My parents who raised me were promised that when I turned 18 I would be able to get all my information. It was a lie. It was only in 1983 that California adult adoptees could get non-id information and participate in a passive registry. It was up to a complete stranger to look at my information and determine subjectively what information I could be trusted with.

This sealed record system sprang up in the depression era. Back in the 1930s, states around the nation would often stamp the birth certificates of illegitimate children with the word “illegitimate”. It was a shameful thing to be born out-of-wedlock. Well meaning people decided that wouldn’t it be better for the child if they were given a new birth certificate to hide their shameful origins away from the prying public eye. The original intent of these laws was never to protect the parties of adoption from each other, but provide privacy from the public. The adoption process already transfers legal responsibility from the birth parents to the adoptive parents.

Over the years, agencies and other “professionals” would use this secrecy to do unethical things to Tennessee’s Georgia Tann baby stealing scandal (Tann provided pseudo-twin baby girls to actress Joan Crawford) to a social worker lying to a birth mother to get her to sign a relinquishment form. As someone who ran the premier adoption website in the 1990s, I heard plenty of stories from birth mothers that would tear your heart out at the way they were treated. Under the veil of secrecy, there is no accountability. This is why in California there is a resistance in opening records, because it is clear from the way birth mothers were treated, the state really doesn’t care about their welfare.

With the help of my birth relatives I can trace my birth roots to the 1400s, yet when I walk into the San Francisco Vital Statistics office with this information, I get a blank piece of paper. That is just absurd. I am a law-abiding, tax paying citizen, not a borderline stalker.

My birth mother and birth grandmother voted for the 1998 Oregon Initiative, Measure 58, to allow adult adoptees to unconditionally get their original birth certificates. She will tell you as many other birth mothers will that they were never promised anything, but were told to never contact their offspring and just get over it. I worked on passing Measure 58 with countless birth mothers, many who were victims of rape who went on record on a full page ad in the Oregonian the weekend before the election. 600 birth mothers came forward in less than 48 hours to add their voices with a picture of three generations of birth mothers.

Flush with the victory of Oregon and the opening of records in Alabama, there was an attempt to open records in California. We not only had a great legal ruling of Doe v. Sundquist (1996), but the refusal of the Supreme Court to hear challenges to the Oregon initiative. Reproductive rights do not extend to the right to privacy from one’s offspring. We already had data from Oregon that showed that earth did not crack open and release all the maladies the foes of open records claimed.

I cannot tell you how it felt to hear Darrell Steinberg suggest that we couldn’t be trusted with our own information. How would you feel if a person who represented you and your native state suggested that your birth is so shameful that it deserves to be sealed forever? Legal arguments, experiences in different open states and countries, our testimonies, and another full page ad of birth mothers in support did not matter over the possibility that one or two people out there might not be able to handle their personal interactions well. My information is held hostage to someone else’s potential embarrassment.

Some would say that it is only piece of paper and ask, “What is the big deal?” It is true that it is a piece of paper and not all adopted persons care about accessing it. I would like for my native state to restore my right to my own information and trust that I will do the right thing. I want the reason why I want my original birth certificate to be my business and I shouldn’t have to do an inch more than any other native Californian to get that.

Why can’t I be treated like adopted persons in Britain, Alaska, Alabama, Oregon, Kansas, New Hamspire, and Maine?