To: House Judiciary Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1319 - Forced Identification in Birth Records
Date: January 25, 2017

The North Dakota Catholic Conference opposes House Bill 1319.

This is an issue that can generate strong emotional feelings. On one side we have adult adoptees who understandably wish to know something about their genetic heritage. On the other side, we have birth parents who, often for very personal reasons, who desired to have their identity protected. For obvious reasons, their voices are not here. It for us to speak for them.

Catholic Charities of North Dakota has been facilitating adoptions in the state since 1923. The Catholic Church has been facilitating them for even longer. We come at this from experience and our experience tells us there are many other ways respectful to all parties involved that will work better than forcing the disclosure of identifying birth records.

Most adoptions today are open. That is the preferred method. There are times, however, when the birth mother wishes — or perhaps needs — confidentiality. It can make a difference as to whether that woman chooses adoption for her child or abortion. To be frank, so long as abortion is legal and so as long confidentiality could make the difference between choosing adoption or abortion for just one woman, our laws should protect those birth records.

We respectfully request a Do Not Pass recommendation on HB 1319.



Responses to Common Claims

Forced Identity Laws and Abortion

Advocates for forced identification often dismiss the concerns of pro-life organizations by referencing statements by the American Adoption Congress (AAC), an organization that advocates for forced identity of birth mothers.
 Here is a look at those claims.

AAC: (Pro-life groups claim that) lifting secrecy will increase abortion.

Truth: That is not the position of pro-life opponents to forced identification laws. The claim is the availability of confidentiality might make a difference for some women.


AAC: Data from states where access exists reveals that if access has had any effect on adoptions and abortions, it was to increase adoptions and decrease abortions.

Truth: This confuses causation with correlation. Adoption numbers relative to pregnancies are very low. Closed adoptions are even rarer. Considering this fact and the fact that numerous factors are known to affect abortion rates, it would be impossible to make any conclusion that forced identification laws or laws that protect a woman’s identity have any discernible impact on overall abortion rates.

 
AAC: Since adult adoptees in Oregon and Alabama obtained access to their original birth certificates in 2000, abortions have declined much faster in those states than in the nation as a whole.  Between then and 2003 (the last year for which national data are available) resident abortions declined 10% in Oregon and 13% in Alabama, but only 2% in the nation as a whole.  In other words, after adoptees gained access in those states, abortions declined five times as fast as in the country as a whole.

Truth: Same point as above. This confuses causation with correlation. Adoption numbers relative to pregnancies are very low. Closed adoptions are even rarer. Considering this fact and the fact that numerous factors are known to affect abortion rates, it would be impossible to make any conclusion that forced identification laws or laws that protect a woman’s identity have any discernible impact on overall abortion rates.

 
AAC: Workers at pro-life centers such as Birthright report that young women today will only choose adoption if they are assured of updates or contact with the adoptive family. Gretchen Traylor, Birthright counselor in Minnesota, says, "When adoption  is under consideration, the young woman’s overriding concern is that she will be unable to contact her child later in life, and that the child will not be able to find her as well. Pregnant women tell me that if such contact is NOT available, they would rather abort.”

Truth: Even if true, it does not mean that there are not women for whom protection of identity is important to their decision to place the child for adoption.


AAC: In a national survey of 1,900 women having abortions, not one woman cited the inability to choose a confidential adoption as a factor in her decision to have the abortion. "Reasons for Terminating an Unwanted Pregnancy," Guttmacher Institute, 2003.

Truth: The Guttmacher Institute’s website does not identify any study with that name, nor does an internet search. (The only internet search reference to a study by that name are secondary references by advocates for forced identification of birth mothers.)

The Guttmacher Institute, however, does cite a 2004 study entitled “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives.” That study, however, only surveyed women who had abortions and therefore tells us nothing about why women chose to not have an abortion.

Furthermore, that study did not list “inability to choose a confidential adoption” as one of the survey options. Some women, however, did list “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant” as one of the reasons women choose abortion.


AAC: A September 24, 2004 (Page D1) Wall Street Journal article reports that those parts of the country practicing open adoption currently do not have enough couples to adopt infants being relinquished by birth parents wanting open adoption.

Truth: The article, even if true, tells us nothing about identity options and abortion. Moreover, the claim wrongly presumes that states that protect the identity of birth mothers do not have open adoptions. In fact, most adoptions are open adoptions, as they are in North Dakota.



Do Adoptees have a Legal Right to Identifying Birth Records?

Advocates for forced identification often claim that no court has ever recognized a birth mother’s right to confidentiality, relying on information from the American Adoption Congress (AAC), an organization that advocates for forced identity of birth mothers.

The claim, however, is a misleading. The three cases cited by AAC do not support the proposition that adoptees have any legal rights to birth records besides what is granted through state law. At most, the cases hold that birth parents do not have right under the U.S. Constitution to confidentiality if a state law mandates opening those records.

Whether birth records should be forcibly opened is solely a matter of state law and does not involve constitutional rights.