and sealed records by arguing that privacy, including a woman’s
right to surrender a child anonymously, was a cherished American
value under attack by adoption activists. The text is drawn from
a draft pamphlet that Bill Pierce, National Committee for Adoption
(NCFA) founder and open records opponent, circulated for comment.
By the early 1980s, access to records was the overriding concern
of the adoption reform movement, including organizations like the
Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) and Concerned
United Birthparents, both mentioned here. This fact contrasts
sharply with the view, also expressed here, that only a small number
of maladjusted birth parents
and disgruntled adoptees were actually interested in search
There’s a revolution underway in adoption, with many aims
but one major opening goal: to unseal confidential adoption records
The movement includes many organizations at the national level,
and several hundred local affiliates. It started, most agree, with
Jean Paton, creator of an organization called “Orphan Voyage.”
A book by that name and Paton’s 1953 book, The Adoptee
Breaks Silence*, are credited with being the founding documents
of the search movement.
It’s called a search movement because people working with
“Our specific need is to help us find one another; to
open communications between us; to support one another and by
sharing our experiences, thus help others to search, find and
contact their surrendered children. . . ours is
strictly an underground operation so we may feel free to express
ourselves with no guidelines or restrictions of any kind. We encourage
you to share your stories of search—and hopefully of finding
and contacting—your child, EVEN IF UNDERAGE. We will offer
help and suggestions, even if your child is underage.”
Marsha Riben, Find and Seek, Vol. 1, No. 1.
Perhaps the destructiveness and intrusion exemplified by this
approach is what bothers most Americans. They question the fairness
of knocking on the doors of minor children, of disrupting the lives
of couples who adopted with the guarantee that they’d be protected
from such outrageous behavior, that they have a right to mental
peace and tranquility—to privacy.
Just as some biological mothers assert the right to intrude into
the lives of minor children, so also do some adults who were adopted
as children. The most famous of these is Florence Fisher, the president
and founder of the most influential of the adult adoptees’
search groups, Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA).
Fisher does not believe that a woman has a right to plan a confidential
“To perform a sexual act that brings another human being
into the world is to render oneself accountable to that child
for all time. It is indefensible for the adoption agency to indemnify
the natural mother against the accountability by granting her
anonymity from her own child. It is unconscionable for the agency
to influence the natural mother to root her “new life in
a lie built on the grave of her child’s human rights to
save her own skin.”
New Jersey hearing, Dec. 9, 1981, p. 10.
A third group, ORIGINS, should also be mentioned. This is the
group which was involved with a state employee, providing “middle-man”
services between the employee and those who wanted to buy sealed,
confidential adoption records. NBC-TV exposed the scheme by taping
the actual “sale.” Although illegal, the man’s
only punishment for selling hundreds of confidential files was the
loss of his job and a $1,000 fine—paid for by his supporters
among the search groups.
INTRUSION AND ILLEGAL ACTS
These three examples illustrate what’s at the center of
the revolution in adoption: a willingness to disrupt not only the
lives of adoptive parents but even of minor children; rejection
of a woman’s right to plan a private and confidential adoption
for her baby; a claim that illegal acts are justified.
Who’s behind this movement and the various groups? The three
examples given above help tell us. The woman who believes in intruding
in the lives of underage children has been a member of ALMA. She
is currently a member of ORIGINS and the largest organization of
biological parents (birth-parents is the preferred term of the search
group), Concerned United Birthparents (C.U.B.). Most experts believe
that individuals like this woman, with memberships in several anti-privacy
groups, account for the hard core of activists—probably less
than a thousand—who’ve made adoption so controversial.
One thing is certain—the groups are working together for
common goals, share common members and even have their own national
network called “The American Adoption Congress.”
Yet, most agree—the complaints about confidential adoption
are coming from a tiny, unhappy minority for whom adoption did not
work. Unfortunately, that loud but tiny group of individuals, with
nearly 10 years of unchallenged activity, have hurt many. . . .
THE BETTER WAY: VOLUNTARY REGISTRIES
There is a better way. Thanks to the work of hundreds of adult
adoptees, adoptive parents, biological parents, agencies and others
over the past two years, a model law has been written which, if
passed by a State, would allow people who want to have contact to
do so. . . .
The registry works on a simple principle: voluntary, mutual consent.
If all of the people involved—the adopted person grown to
adulthood, the biological mother and the biological father—register
their interest in contact, a trained and sensitive social worker
will work with them to achieve as much contact as they want.
Unlike other attacks on privacy, the registry recognizes the sanctity
of the contract—or promise—made at the time adoption
was planned. . . .
* * *
* The title of Jean Paton’s book was The Adopted Break
Silence. It was published in 1954.