Connecticut has long been a leader in advancing women’s equality. The Constitution State is home to Estelle Griswold of Griswold v Connecticut—the landmark 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to privacy and paved the way for Roe v. Wade. In 1975, its residents elected Ella Grasso, the first woman in the U.S. to become governor in her own right. In 1990, its lawmakers codified the abortion rights ensured by Roe.
Connecticut now has the opportunity to remain a leader in the national fight for justice and women’s equality by repealing a misguided law written by men more than a half-century ago that deemed women too “fragile” to make their own decisions, handle their own affairs or use their own voices.
If lawmakers in the Connecticut House pass SB 972, An Act Concerning Access to Original Birth Records By Adult Adoptees, before its legislative session ends on Tuesday, Connecticut will become the eleventh state to unseal adoptees’ birth records.
Doing this would help put an end to an oppressive era in U.S. history that denied women their choice of whether to parent, denied women the ability to control their sexuality and bodies and supported the premise that any woman who had broken society’s patriarchal norms by becoming pregnant “out of wedlock” should be shunned and shamed. It would also eradicate another of the many misogynistic laws put in place to “protect” women that really were no more than thinly-veiled efforts to silence and marginalize them.
The Connecticut Legislature’s decision in 1975 to seal the birth records of all adoptees—even for those who already knew the names of their biological parents as allowed under the law at that time—took place as part of an era where being pregnant, without being married, was just about the worst thing a woman could do.
Starting in the late 1940s and continuing through the mid-1980s, it was a time in U.S. history when single women who became pregnant were sent to live with far-away relatives or in maternity homes, forced to live under assumed names, and received “rehabilitation services” to help ensure they wouldn’t “repeat their mistake.” They were also told they had absolutely no choice but to give up their babies, even though this was not the truth.
During this period known as the “Baby Scoop Era,” more than four million mothers across the country gave up their babies; approximately 40,000 of them were from Connecticut.
Looking back, the statistics are as astounding as the mindset and shame cast on these “ruined women”—who were told by doctors, social workers and other trusted professionals that they should forget this “unfortunate situation” ever occurred and move on with their lives.
“For 40 years, I was a prisoner of silence, but a mother never forgets,” birth mother Diane Hook of Middlebury has asserted. “The ‘sin’ of relinquishing a child to adoption is in the shame, fear and lies that have been perpetuated through closed birth records that seal both the adoptee’s and the birth parents’ truths.”
Those who oppose SB 972 cite the erroneous assumption that most birth parents, particularly birth mothers, don’t want the children they relinquished to know their identities. But dozens of Connecticut birth mothers like Hooks have testified that nothing could be further from the truth. Statistics from states that have already provided open access to adoptee’ birth records also show that only 0.05 percent of birth mothers—or roughly one in 2,000—preferred not to be contacted by the children they gave up for adoption.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned we should be “suspicious of women-only protective legislation.” Yet as is the case in so many states, Connecticut’s current law renders those caught in adoption—both adult adoptees and birth parents—as second-class citizens, living their entire lives under government-imposed gag orders that continue forced silence based in shame.
Hooks became pregnant as a teen and relinquished her son in 1961. “It’s caused so much pain.” She’s not alone: For many birth mothers, it’s also caused lifelong struggles with PTSD, anxiety and depression, health professionals assert.
The Connecticut House of Representatives must pass SB 972 and reverse an outdated law that treats adult women as if they require special legal protections given only to children and the legally incompetent. Not doing so would perpetuate the demeaning stereotype that women who relinquished their children are weak and less-than-competent adults who need state protection to handle their most basic affairs and personal choices.
Women are more than capable of managing their personal business. In Connecticut and throughout the U.S., they must be treated as full, equal adults under the law. Connecticut must pass SB 972 and take another step in that direction.
Estelle Griswold and Ella Grasso would expect no less.