MONTPELIER – For Rebecca Dragon and other adoptees, the key need in updating Vermont’s adoption law is to lift restrictions on access to birth records – thus putting adoptees on the same level as other citizens.
Dragon, who lives in Pownal, was among several adoptees who testified on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, which is examining law reform, H.629. The afternoon session included a third day of testimony on the bill, which seeks to revise and expand adoption laws last revised in the 1990s.
“I encourage you to appreciate the amount of emotional labor that goes into adoptees speaking before a legislative body, simply asking to be treated fairly under the law,” Dragon told committee members during his testimony, delivered via Zoom. “My personal goal is to help you reframe your perspective and your questions so that any further work you do on this bill, or any subsequent bill, fully centers the civil rights of the major marginalized party in adoption: the adopted.”
A communications liaison for the Pownal Select Board, Dragon said she is also vice president of the nonprofit organization PEAR (People for Ethical Adoption Reform), director of education and national adoption and that she was a founding member of the board of directors of Adoptés. For choice.
“H.629 as it now exists is intended to allow adoptees born in Vermont access to their original birth certificates,” Dragon said, which she says is commendable.
“However, in this bill you have included dehumanizing and infantilizing caveats that would further marginalize adoptees and deprive them of fairness in the eyes of the law,” she said. “What other adult Vermont citizen is subject to having their own identity and documents restricted, either by the state or by someone else because they share their DNA?”
The main caveat, she said later on Wednesday, is a provision allowing a biological parent to ban the publication of the birth certificate.
According to the wording of the bill as it was introduced, records could be released to an adopted adult “unless the former parent has filed a non-disclosure request or filed with a court or agency any type of document clearly indicating that the identity of the former parent is not released and has not removed the document.
This article is similar to the wording of reform legislation passed in the 1990s, which allowed access to birth records to adult adoptees adopted in 1986 or later.
Dragon added in his testimony, “Please consider a ‘clean bill’ that would give Vermont adoptees access to their original birth certificates in the same way that any other citizen of the state can. access theirs, through the Ministry of Health for a nominative. costs.”
His testimony on this point echoes that of other adoptees who appeared before the committee on Wednesday.
Vermont is one of the last New England states with what Dragon calls “outdated laws that deny adoptees access to their own vital records.”
Advocate and Adoption Companion Gregory Luce, Founder of National Adoptee Rights Law Center, based in Minnesota, testified before the committee on Tuesday. Luce said New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut — as well as New York — have removed those restrictions.
“Vermont and Massachusetts are the outliers,” he said, “and Massachusetts is on the verge of removing this restriction entirely.”
Luce, who represents adoptees seeking access to their records, said the oft-expressed concern that birth parents might have their privacy invaded after many years has not proven to be an issue.
“Adoptes understand privacy like everyone else,” he said, but they are “continually treated as a threat.”
In fact, Luce said, at least 100,000 birth certificates have been released to date in more than 10 states “with no reported incidents.”
Over the years, he added, the expectation of greater transparency in all areas of life, as well as the disappearance of stigma for mothers of children born out of wedlock, have reduced this kind of concern.
Adoptees have also always had ways of determining their birth parents and other family members, he said, and the availability of DNA testing has further simplified that process.
Dragon said on Wednesday, “All a domestic adoptee needs is a DNA test, fifth cousin compatibility and a skilled ‘search angel’, and they can find their birth parents. so that they can show up at their doorstep. This is how I showed up at the door of my own biological family. Well, in truth, I showed up in the ancestry.com my biological uncle’s inbox and DNA match and respectfully introduced myself.
BORN IN DC
Dragon, who was born in Washington, DC, in 1972, said the district has some of the most restrictive birth record access laws in the country.
She said a friend took a DNA test and suggested she do the same. Within three weeks, Dragon said, she found an uncle and quickly identified other relatives by checking obituaries and similar sources.
She has had a relationship with her biological family since 2016. Her family, she learned, can trace ancestors in the Washington area back seven generations.
Dragon and his immediate family moved to Vermont in 2011.
“It’s something very difficult for anyone who wasn’t brought up [lacking that knowledge] understand,” she said. “It’s a deeply complex web,” and family reunions aren’t always “what TV shows want us to believe.”
Finding his own biological family members “has been overwhelmingly positive,” Dragon said, but years of not knowing the circumstances of someone’s birth “remains a trauma that should never have happened.”
Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, expressed support for what she also called “a clean bill” with no restrictions on access to records by adopted adults.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Grad said she was unhappy with H.629 as it is currently written.
The vice-chairman of the committee, Rep. Tom Burditt, R-West Rutland, expressed a similar sentiment.
“We’re talking about an adult who wants something of their own,” Burditt said at one point.
He said that barring damning new evidence on the issue, “I certainly support access to birth certificates.”
Dragon said in a follow-up discussion before the committee that Luce or his organization could provide an example of a “clean bill” that the adoptee group would bring forward for consideration. Grad said they should submit one.
The committee also discussed holding a public hearing on proposed changes to the adoption law or forming a study group that would work after the legislative session to develop a bill.
The problem with the latter, Grad said, is that it could delay any legislation “for years.”
The House committee is expected to discuss the bill again next week.
“CONFIDENTIALITY OR SECRET”
Dragon told lawmakers, “During your [prior] discussions, I’ve heard the argument that “the privacy of the biological mother and the biological family” must be protected, especially against the alleged horror of having rogue adoptees “showing up at the gates” demanding a connection and causing disruption. This false confusion between privacy and secrecy is a relic of hopelessly outdated thinking about adoption, from a time when doctors encouraged smoking for good health.
No one “has a right to secrecy, especially when the secrecy is so deep that it would make another living person, the adoptee, a secret even to themselves,” she said.
With DNA testing available to adoptees looking for biological parents, she said allowing an adult adoptee to access their birth certificate and contact their parents directly first, if they wish – rather than searching among multiple family members – would better retain information only between relatives. and their offspring.