Term ‘birth mother’ to be dropped from adoption legislation

Some mothers find term ‘reductive and hurtful’; no alternative chosen yet

The joint committee on children, equality, disability integration and youth is carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill. Photograph: iStock

The joint committee on children, equality, disability integration and youth is carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill. Photograph: iStock

 

The term “birth mother” is set to be dropped from legislation on adoption and tracing working its way through the Oireachtas, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman will tell a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

Mr O’Gorman is to give evidence on Tuesday afternoon to the joint committee on children, equality, disability integration and youth, which is carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill.

In his opening statement, the Green Party Minister will say that he has met with a group of mothers to discuss the “deeply sensitive issue of the term”, which is used in the heads of the Bill.

“I am clear that a more suitable term is needed,” he will say, although no alternative term has yet been agreed. Mr O’Gorman has met with a group of mothers who feel the term is “reductive and hurtful”.

“Some find the term natural mother more appropriate, other prefer the term first mother,” he will say, noting that a survey of adopted people undertaken by the advocacy group Aitheantas finds that there is a preference for the term.

“The differing viewpoints are indicative of the challenge to find a term that is acceptable and works legislatively, albeit that I want to emphasise that I am deeply committed to doing so and that I acknowledge that the term ‘birth mother’ needs to be amended.”

Information session

Mr O’Gorman will also flag changes envisaged by the Bill which will see an “information session” take place when an applicant’s birth parent has expressed a wish for no contact with the adopted person. The information session, Mr O’Gorman will say, is an important balance to protect the constitutional privacy rights of mothers with the constitutional identity rights of children.

Despite some advocates’ view that the information session is not required and hampers the release of information, he will tell the committee that it is a “necessary and minimal mechanism” and that he stands behind it as a “fair and compassionate way to communicate with an applicant that a parent has asserted a preference not to be contacted”. A written statement, he will argue, doesn’t fulfil the State’s obligation to convey the mother’s request for no contact and “is not the correct way to communicate this type of information”.

“Conveying a mother’s no contact preference in a letter rather than by a suitable person does not recognise that to some people – not all people – this information will cause upset. A suitable person can provide sensitivity, compassion and context and point the person towards available supports if sought,” he will say. While most mothers will be happy for information to be released, some experienced crisis pregnancies with little support and “may have lived with this all their lives and may not have told anyone”.

“There is a very human dimension to this that goes to the very core of this debate about balancing of rights. That particular group of mothers has lived with pain, hurt and fear. My department has received anonymous calls from women in that position. I received a handwritten anonymous letter from such a woman recently. These are woman who will not come before any Oireachtas Committee,” he will say.

He will argue that the session will be simple, minimal and non-adversarial. However, in recognition of commentary, he said he is considering amendments which would “better emphasise the identity rights of the relevant person, to enable the session to be held virtually, without the requirement for a social worker, and to ensure that it will be as sensitive and user-friendly as possible”.