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Adoptees, Birth Parents Lament Death of Legislation : Records: Registry bill would have established a centralized, national network to process requests for reunions. It ran into sharp opposition from private adoption agencies and died in waning days of Congress.


WASHINGTON — Adopted as a day-old infant, Linda Sargent Thompson has spent 20 years searching for her birth mother. She scans faces everywhere she goes, looking for a resemblance that will bring her closer to the family who can make her feel complete.

For many adoptees and the parents who give them up, a reunion is a healing experience. Until they find each other, they say, there's a hole in their hearts.

"Knowing who your brothers and sisters are, who your (birth) parents are, is a basic, basic human desire," said Bill Betzen, administrator of Catholic Counseling Services in Dallas. "It goes right to the core of being human."

Congress came close to helping reunite the adult adoptees, birth parents and siblings who search for one another. The legislation, which would have established a centralized, national network to process requests for reunions, died in the last days of the session.

Sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and backed by the Clinton Administration and numerous adoption organizations, the registry ran into sharp opposition from William Pierce, president of the Washington-based National Council for Adoption, which represents 130 private adoption agencies.

Pierce argued that Levin's registry was an intrusion by the federal government into a state issue and raised questions about privacy rights.

Levin, however, said Pierce's campaign against the bill misstated what it would do and the opposition generated by the lobbyist wound up killing it during a House-Senate conference.

"Pierce has flat-out lied about my bill. The word 'distorted' is too weak a word for what he's done," Levin said. "It's inhumane to do what he's done."

Pierce replied: "I think it's certainly not accurate and I find it very disappointing."

"That kind of rhetoric doesn't have any place in civil discussions between people who have different points of view," Pierce added.

Levin cited a 1991 document from Pierce's group that claimed the registry would "bankroll 'search groups' and private investigators who snoop and confront people who want to be left alone."

Levin said his plan was "totally mutual and totally voluntary."

Pierce argued that a national registry is not an appropriate federal activity and that thousands of Americans "want their privacy rights protected and are particularly concerned about any federal data bank which could possibly lead to inappropriate disclosure of their private, sensitive information."

He said that Levin's plan was too vague and was unnecessary because 47 states already have a system for exchanging information.

Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) also questioned the measure and was on the House-Senate conference committee that stripped it from a larger bill, minority health legislation, that later died in the Senate.

Bliley, who adopted two children, is an honorary member of Pierce's advisory board, but his spokesman, Charles Boesel, said that had nothing to do with the congressman's position. He said Bliley opposed the registry because it was being rammed through at the last minute.

Pierce's tactics have been questioned before. Last fall, pushed by complaints, the State Department wrote to 50 nations explaining that the National Council for Adoption was not an official U.S. agency and that governments can work with whomever they chose in international adoptions.

Some adoptees, birth parents and their advocates are unhappy that the registry was not approved. And they are angry with Pierce.

David Hodgson, a psychologist whose Gaithersburg, Md., practice includes counseling birth parents and adoptees, said Pierce's claims about the Levin bill are "totally inaccurate, fallacious." Hodgson is himself a birth parent who searched for and found his daughter.

"All the research indicates that open records are the direction we need to go for the sake of children and adults in adoption," added Betzen. "Secrets do not do anyone any good."

Susan Cox, who was adopted from Korea at age 5 and then searched for her birth mother at 40, said efforts to prevent reunions among consenting adults are "shortsighted and ill-advised."

Cox is the director of development for Holt International Children's Services in Eugene, Ore., an international adoption agency that is a member of Pierce's organization.

For Linda Sargent Thompson, who lives in North Augusta, S.C., and turns 50 in December, the search continues for her birth mother and any relatives.

She needs them, she said, "for medical reasons, to get a sense of being, a sense of place, a family." Until then, "there's a part of you that's not complete."

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