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Inside Black Market Baby Ring Featured In TLC's 'Taken At Birth' — And Jane Blasio's Role In Bringing It Down

Photo: TLC
Who Is Jane Blasio? New Details On Woman Who Uncovered Illegal Adoption Scam That She Was Part Of

The three-part TLC special that premiered in 2019, Taken At Birth, documented the shocking case of Dr. Thomas Hicks, a doctor who — according to the special — sold hundreds of babies out of the back of his clinic for decades.

But how did he get away with it for so long? Some participants in the special suggested that the authorities not only looked the other way while these black market adoptions were taking place, but some were also actively participating in the illegal adoptions.

And it took the efforts of one woman to finally bring this practice to light.

Who is Jane Blasio, and what really went on with her adoption?

American society has never been kind to women. Even today, in 2020, we still have a long way to go when it comes to making social strides for women's benefit. But it's safe to say that in the 1940s things were infinitely worse for women.

Abortion wasn't legal, unwed mothers were sent to the Midwest (or convents) to "hide the shame," and, in some cases, women gave their babies over to their parents to raise (Jack Nicholson was one such example — his unwed teen mother turned him over to her parents to raise, and he was raised to believe that his mother was his sister, and his grandmother was his mother). 

So the existence of black market babies in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s seemed like a foregone conclusion to those who were alive and raised during that time. (It doesn't make it right — it just explains it.) 

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Let's look at the gob-smacking revelations about Dr. Thomas Hicks, the "Hicks Babies," and the black market adoption practice that Blasio brought to light. 

Blasio wanted to find out what happened before she was adopted.

"My story is not unique," said Jane Blasio in the first segment of the special. "There are over 200 other Hicks babies with the same questions."

At the beginning of TLC's Taken at Birth, Blasio revealed that she didn't know when, precisely, she was born, because the birth certificate that her parents had was, to turn a phrase, doctored.

She proceeds to tell the story of what she looked like when her parents first purchased her from Dr. Thomas Hicks: she was covered in dried blood, looked sickly and her parents weren't even sure she was going to make it. Yet, they couldn't stop at the hospital to get her checked out, because they had no birth certificate. 

Blasio went on to tell hosts Lisa Joyner and Chris Jacobs — best known for their work on Long Lost Family — that her father, who was a former police officer, knew that something was shady about it all, but kept his mouth shut. It wasn't until Jane was 23 years old, and her adoptive mother passed away, that she began researching the Hicks Babies in earnest. 

DNA technology helped the Hicks babies.

The final segment of Taken at Birth aired on Friday, October 11th, 2019 on TLC. And, in that final segment, the ramifications were shown of how DNA helped the so-called "Hicks Babies" find their families... and their truth. 

“This is a dark story; Dr. Hicks was selling babies... lying to mothers, but it’s a story of restoration... Hicks babies finding their truth. It’s not always perfect, not always wonderful; it is restoration,” Blasio said

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There's a lot more to the story than meets the eye.

Remember: at the height of Dr. Hicks' black market practice, abortion was illegal in the United States. Abortion wouldn't be legal until 1973, when the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision determined that abortions were, indeed, legal. As a result, illegal abortions were common.

As an interesting historical sidebar, this writer remembers when her maternal grandmother recounted the tale of how Lysol was recommended as a douche when she first came to the United States. The Smithsonian Magazine has some interesting insight into why the cleaning product was marketed as such: "feminine hygiene" was a euphemism for "birth control." 

Until 1965, married couples couldn't get birth control; until 1972, single people couldn't. That's within the average readership of this site's lifetimes. 

Lysol was, in fact, the most popular birth control method during the Great Depression in the United States — and it bears noting that the formula on the market, back then, was far more acidic than it is today because it contained cresol, or, the main ingredient in photographic developers and explosives. 

Mother Jones went a step further and noted that, until Roe v. Wade, women used Lysol, among other awful methods, as an abortifacient. So, at this time in American history, women were going so far as to shove nearly-straight-up acid up their vaginas to induce abortions because they couldn't get it any other way. That creates the perfect storm for someone like Dr. Hicks.

Hicks was an early abortion provider.

About 20 minutes into the first segment of Taken At Birth, one of Dr. Hicks' grandchildren talked about this time in the United States, and said that her grandfather, who was performing abortions at a time that it was highly illegal in the United States, would sometimes recommend that mothers carry their babies to term and subsequently give them away so as to avoid the stigma of having an abortion.

This testimony is borne out by another story that focuses on John Stapleton, another "Hicks Baby." Stapleton and his adopted sister, Cyndy, were just two of more than 200 newborns sold by Dr. Thomas Hicks.

Dr. Hicks' granddaughter also strongly implied that, in some cases, Dr. Hicks himself was the father of the "Hicks babies" in question.

Dr. Hicks died a disgrace.

Dr. Hicks' karma  ventually caught up with him something fierce. He tried to keep his baby-selling scam a secret by doctoring up birth certificates, and he performed illegal abortions, but the law didn't catch up to him until 1964.

But, here's the worst part: Dr. Hicks didn't get his licensed revoked for selling babies. He got his licensed revoked because he was caught performing an abortion. (Ain't that some bull!) Dr. Hicks died a disgrace in 1972, one year before the Roe v. Wade decision. 

Blasio blew the whistle back in the 1990s.

New York Times profile of Blasio appeared in 1997, which was around the same time she blew the whistle on Dr. Thomas Hicks. As a result of her profile, more than 200 "Hicks babies" came forward.

Black market adoptions still exist today, though perhaps for different reasons.

Abortion is legal today (though whether that remains to be true depends on that weird Supreme Court we have right now), but black markets for babies still exist in the United States. In 2015, it was even revealed that some "black market babies" were sold for as little as $100 around the same time as Dr. Hicks was performing illegal abortions.

And, as recently as 2017, it was revealed that many international adoptions are done "on the black market," particularly in countries like Guatemala, where abject poverty forces people to do the unthinkable. 

"Between 2000 and 2007, more than 20,000 children left Guatemala for other countries with minimal controls in their adoption processing. With adoption fees ranging anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per child, Guatemala’s market of children resulted in a multi-billion dollar global business. Facilitated by 'jaladores,' these people were in the business of snatching babies off the street and tricking mothers into selling their infants for next to nothing. Jaladores also orchestrated abductions in hospitals by giving the mothers sleeping pills or notifying them that their babies had died," stated one report, describing a practice that's all-too-familiar to Hicks Babies.

Will there be another season of Taken At Birth?

Although the series became pretty popular with the fans, it was originally only meant to have a limited run and no plans for any additional episodes have been announced. 

But, we never know if there could be more Taken At Birth in the future, as there are so many more cases about these babies and the fans have been wanting to know more. 

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Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, and photographer whose work has appeared in People, Teen Vogue, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, and more.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on October 11, 2019 and was updated with the latest information.