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Minnesota adoptees lack equal access to personal history

  • Article by: Gretchen Traylor
  • May 21, 2013 - 9:07 PM

Two seemingly unrelated stories in the news — marriage equality and Angelina Jolie’s preventive mastectomies — have a connection for some Minnesotans.

Many members of state’s adoption community have sought for decades to regain the right of adult adoptees to have access to their original birth certificates. Our attempts to restore this right, which was taken away in the 1940s under the thought at the time that perpetual sealing of records was in the best interest of the child, have been unsuccessful.

The reasons given for opposing this restoration are based on myth, conjecture and unverifiable fears, and fly in the face of hard data compiled by organizations such as the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, by states that did not seal records away from the party of interest, and by states that have realized the truth that one’s birth certificate belongs to just this party of interest and no one else.

Since 1998, a number of states have reopened records to adopted adults, with more to come every year. While Minnesota may be the 12th state to allow gay marriage, it is certainly not the 12th state to restore a right to a group of people who had no voice in the decision to deny it, no representative present to advocate for them, and no viable way as adults to work around this antiquated, demeaning and, truthfully, dangerous system.

I am an adoptee who nearly died because of a lack of information about my health history, and I am simply one example. In fact, one member of our group is a woman who faced exactly the same situation as Ms. Jolie. Thank God she had found the daughter she had relinquished to adoption decades before, because this daughter and her daughters carry the same gene mutation.

Proponents of maintaining secrecy continue to hold the untrue assumption that we have other fair and equal means to obtain necessary information. This is simply not the case. And herein lies the issue. We are now the only group consistently denied a right given to every other Minnesota citizen. We are the only adults in Minnesota who are systematically denied the chance to protect ourselves, our children and grandchildren from unnecessary risks related to diseases and conditions, and even from unnecessary medical tests.

We are also the only group in Minnesota that is now consistently denied the right to celebrate being who we are, because we are not allowed to know who we are. Never have we sought to legislate reunions with, or ongoing relationships with, our families of origin. These are things that must be worked out between people, just as they are handled among anyone else.

As a side issue: This is a prolife matter as well. As an ardent prolifer and veteran of many years of volunteer service as a crisis pregnancy counselor, I simply cannot understand how a large segment of like-minded people can fail to see the connection between supporting life at its beginnings and following through with supporting life as it is lived by those saved.

Hard data proves that in states with access to original birth records, the abortion rate is lower and the adoption rate higher than the national average. My own experience speaks of this disconnect in a different way, since I have often had young women tell me they’d rather abort a baby than give it to strangers and never see it or know it was OK. Legislation to change access to birth records will help, rather than hinder, life decisions and will change the general perception of adoption for the better.

So, my fellow Minnesotans, please remember adopted adults if you think this state is forward-thinking. What the gay community managed to accomplish in one legislative session, we are still struggling with after over 20 years of effort.

And when you think about Angelina Jolie’s story, think of us. If you are an adoptee, remember that unless you know your history, you can’t know the genetic risks you face.

And, legislators, while you celebrate your giant step toward equality for all, remember us: We’re the ones you continue to keep in the dark regarding our own lives. It’s time to finish what you started, at last. Give us access to our original birth certificates so we can advocate for ourselves and our children — or simply so that we, too, can be equal in Minnesota.

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Gretchen Traylor, of Brooklyn Park, is a retired high school ­special-education teacher, an adoptee, adoptive parent, ­member of an adoption law reform group, and cofounder of an annual retreat to honor birth mothers.

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