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Adoption Politics

Bastard Nation and Ballot Initiative 58

E. Wayne Carp

April 2004
248 pages, 11 photographs, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1305-2, $29.95

book cover imageThe passage of Measure 58 in Oregon in 1998 was a milestone in adoption reform. For the first time in U.S. history a grassroots initiative restored the legal right of adopted adults to request and receive their original birth certificates. Within a day after the law went into effect, nearly 2,400 adoptees had applied for these previously sealed records, elevating their right to know over a birth mother’s right to privacy.

E. Wayne Carp, a nationally respected authority on adoption history, now reveals the efforts of the radical adoptee rights organization Bastard Nation to pass this milestone initiative. He has written an intimate history of a passionately proposed and opposed initiative that has the potential to revolutionize the adoption reform movement nationwide.

Carp follows the campaign from its inception through the hard-fought signature drives of proponents Helen Hill and Shea Grimm to the electoral campaign and ensuing court battles. The opposition was formidable: government officials, adoption agencies, news media, the ACLU, religious organizations, and ad-hoc citizen political groups. Using correspondence and his own candid interviews with all the key players, Carp shows how both sides mobilized their constituencies and formed their strategies. In describing challenges to Measure 58’s constitutionality, Carp reveals legal arguments that were never publicized by the Oregon media and remained unknown to the American public until now--issues centering on privacy rights that are crucial to understanding both sides of the controversy and the hazards of initiative politics.

As Carp shows, Measure 58 was important because it framed the issue of adoption reform in terms of civil rights and equal protection of the law rather than in terms of psychological needs or medical necessity. The resulting law now gives adult adoptees access to birth certificates but it also allows birth mothers to indicate whether or not they wish to be contacted. Carp not only chronicles a milestone initiative and a model piece of legislation for other states to emulate, he also proposes a sensible way to cut the Gordian Knot that bedevils adoption reform today.

“From the pathbreaking historian of adoption secrecy and disclosure, Adoption Politics provides a gripping account of local politics in the Internet age and a perceptive analysis of how a new kind of grassroots initiative transformed adoption law.”--Barbara Melosh, author of Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption

“A rich, detailed, and fascinating account. The voices of activists on both sides of the issue, framed by Carp’s keen analysis and elegant prose, make this book essential reading for all those touched by adoption, as well as anyone interested in the politics of private life.”--Elaine Tyler May, author of Barren in the Promised Land

“A timely, balanced, and thought-provoking book that raises questions about adoption, citizen initiatives, and privacy rights that we cannot afford to ignore.”--Steven Mintz, author of Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of Family Life

E. WAYNE CARP holds the Bensen Family Chair in History at Pacific Lutheran University. His other books include Family Matters: Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption and Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives.

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