For Oregonians, much of what all of us cherish is at stake. Privacy. Fundamental rights. Sanctity of contracts. And for some, their pasts.
Only a year ago, an Oregon law known as Measure 58, which now would open sealed adoption records as well as make all future adoptions open, was passed. A group of birthmothers filed suit to keep the records closed. The Oregon State Supreme Court upheld the lower court rulings, finding that oral guarantees made by state officials to women concerning the sealing of adoption records don't have to be honored. Unless the Supreme Court reviews the case in the next week, the law will take effect. If it does take effect, a great miscarriage of justice will have occurred.
Up until just a few years ago, women in the state of Oregon who gave birth to adopted children were counseled by state physicians, lawyers, counselors and adoption agencies that their identities would be protected and the adoption records sealed, never to be reopened unless with their consent. Now, the state contends that those were informal guarantees only, made extra-legally. Now, the state says, they can be brushed aside so that adoptees can obtain their original birth certificates, information about their past, and information about their biological parents.
To women that give up their children for adoption, this promise was no formality. Nobody enters into a contractual agreement unless he or she sees benefit in it. If one side is not informed fully in one of these exchanges, a truly consensual agreement cannot be formed. Had these women not thought it a valid contract, their decisions and consequently the course of their lives would have been drastically different.
If Oregon believed that these were valid contracts made with birthmothers, then they are unjustifiably breaking the law by passing an ex post facto law nullifying the original law. They are brushing off solid contracts, and disregarding sound agreements with birthmothers because they believe there is a more compelling interest. No matter how pressing the matter is, though, breaking a consensual and valid contract after the fact is hardly ever permissible.
Oregon didn't believe these were valid contracts, but led these women to believe that they were, they're making two mistakes. Not only are they reneging on a contract, but also committing the gravest of contract fraud -- fooling women in a time of great vulnerability into falsely believing that their records would be sealed. That's wrong.
Contract law notwithstanding, it is clear that birth parents have a greater expectation of privacy than adoptees have a right to know. While some birthmothers may seal records for selfish reasons, many are rape victims or victims of abuse. For them, the resurrection of these issues is a roadblock to life itself. For this guarantee to be nullified retroactively is to reopen a chapter of their lives that they deserve to forget. It is an intrusion on the sanctity of their mind that the principle of privacy cannot tolerate. Adoptees who already have adoptive families and who have a nagging desire to know details of their past, seem to pale in comparison to the harm that could be caused to the severely traumatized birthmother.
Not the least of all this are the side effects associated with letting this law take effect. Without a guarantee of privacy, there is a disincentive to bear unwanted children and give them up for adoption. Instead, we reasonably could expect abortion rates to rise. Whether or not you think the choice to abort is right or wrong, it is fair to strive to reduce the number of abortions.
To add to that, fewer prospective adoptive parents might elect to adopt. No parent, adoptive or biological, wants to be a proxy parent till something better can be found. That's why many adoptive parents adopt on the condition that records are sealed. Opening up those floodgates could cause concern with many families. A large portion of adoptive parents wouldn't want their adopted children to know about the past of their biological parents while growing up. They wouldn't want this lingering about throughout their child's lifetime.
In two days time, Oregon is about to commit an unforgivable betrayal. It will take back its word on some crucial promises. In so doing, it will undermine its credibility in entering upon any contract, it will turn the lives of several women into living nightmares, and it could further widen the gap in the shortage of adoptive parents. Oregon made a big mistake. Let's just hope the Supreme Court catches it before it's too late.