One particular group of Americans has been systematically denied access to medical records, medical histories, and family records for more than 60 years. These Americans have their identities seized by the state, sealed, and replaced with new records that are fraudulent. These Americans look like anyone else; many don't even know their own secret. These hidden victims are those Americans who have undergone closed adoptions.
Adoption records have been sealed in the United States since the 1930s. By sealing the records, social reformers hoped that they could simultaneously eliminate the birth mother's stigma of having an illegitimate child and the adopting couple's stigma of infertility. The push for sealed adoption records took on a greater sense of urgency during World War II, when many illegitimate children were born to the wives of soldiers who were fighting in Europe and Asia.
As adoption became institutionalized, those providing services discovered that the secrecy increased their control over both the birth parents and those adopting. Finally, the secrecy "made for nice marketing to adopting parents—that this child would be yours, and the birth family was completely out," says Abigail Lovett, vice president of the American Adoption Congress, an organization that is fighting to reform adoption laws nationwide. "Everybody thought this was going to be the best way to do things."
The sealing and unsealing of adoption records is an extremely complicated issue—one ...