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I am writing to you today to ask that you vote NO on HB 162, a so-called adoptee rights bill that does nothing to restore the right of all Pennsylvania adoptees to access to their own original birth certificates. (OBC)
For 60 years, the original birth certificates of Pennsylvania adoptees were available to them upon request. Up until 1985 all Pennsylvania adoptees were relinquished into an adoption system that guaranteed them the right to their own OBC. Unfortunately, the legislature that year decided to void that right retroactively, creating a legal class of citizens once permitted, then barred from owning an intimate public document about themselves that the state’s not-adopted can get for the asking
HB 162, in fact, does not meet the standard of OBC access practiced in other states. The bill does not authorize the release the OBC to the person to whom it obtains, but instead creates a “birth summary” of selected pieces of information from the certificate to be sent off to the adoptee. It also authorizes birthparents, upon request, to have their names redacted from the summary, Moreover, HB 162 demands that adoptees be high school graduates or the holders of a GED to access this parsed summary! Ironically, there may already a good number of pre-1985 adoptees with in-tact OBCs in their possession, legally obtained.
Privacy vs anonymity
Unrestricted OBC access is not a “privacy” issue. There is no evidence in any state that OBCs were sealed to “protect” the reputation or “privacy” of biological parents who relinquished children for adoption. On the contrary, records were sealed to protect the reputations of “bastard children” and to protect adoptive families from birthparent interference.
”Privacy” and “”anonymity” are not synonymous either legally or linguistically. Moreover, courts have ruled that adoption anonymity does not exist. (Doe v Sundquist, and Does v Oregon Summary Judgment). Laws change constantly, and the state, lawyers, social workers, and others were never in a position to promise anonymity in adoption. In fact, in the over 40 years of the adoptee rights battle, not one document has been submitted anywhere that promises or guarantees sealed records and an anonymity “right” to birthparents.
Identifying information about surrendering parents often appears on court documents given to adoptive parents who can at any point give that information to the adopted person. The names of surrendering parents are published in legal ads. Courts can open “sealed records” for “good cause.” Critically, the OBC is sealed at the time of adoption finalization, not surrender. If a child is not adopted, the record is never sealed. If a child is adopted, but the adoption is overturned or disrupted, the OBC is unsealed. In some states adoptive parents can request the court at the time of adoption finalization to keep the document unsealed.
This is the 21st century. The information superhighway grows wider and longer each day, and adoptees and their birth and adoptive families are on it. Thousands of successful adoption searches happen each year—hundreds in Pennsylvania alone—nearly all without the OBC. Inexpensive DNA testing and the Internet have made adoption secrecy virtually impossible. The minuscule number of birthparents or so-called “professional experts” who believe that restricted access or no access equals anonymity are greatly mistaken.
Critically, in this age of heightened security, the government requires all of us to prove our identities and citizenship– a legal paper trail of identity. As a result, adopted persons without an OBC are in danger of losing even more rights than just their OBC access. US-born adoptees report increased problems in obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, professional certifications, Social Security benefits, pensions and security clearances due to what government bureaucrats refer to as “irregularities” in their amended birth certificates issued by Pennsylvania and all other states, and are demanding the OBC as proof of identity.
A major irregularity is a “late birth certificate“ filed a year or more after the birth of a child. . . Late filing is caused by various factors: delayed adoption, multiple/disrupted adoption, older child and foster care placement, and bureaucratic slowness. Until recently, states required that children live with their adoptive parent(s) for about a year before the adoption was finalized’ and thus a new amended birth certificate was only then. According to the US Department of State a “late birth certificate” may only be accepted for passport application if it lists the documentation used to create it and is signed by the attending physician or midwife, or, lists an affidavit signed by the parents, or shows early public records. Obviously, in the case of sealed records adoption, this requirement is impossible to meet. Reportedly, some states are now backdating the filing date of amended birth certificates to “keep up” with federal requirements; thus creating an even larger legal fiction regarding adoptees’ births than now exists.
Other “irregularities” include age discrepancies between parents and child, missing information, and irregular signatures (ex: typed rather than signed). This problem will grow with the increase in adoption of older children from foster care, adoptions by same sex couples, and Rea; lD requirements.
Arguments against OBC access conflate rights with “reunion.” Adopted people want their original birth certificates for many reasons, but reasons are immaterial. A right is not a privilege and we have the right to our own birth certificates .just as the Not Adopted enjoy.
There is no state interest in keeping original birth certificates sealed from the adoptees to which they pertain. Nor does the state have a right or duty to mediate and oversee the personal relationships of adults. Those who claim a statutory right to privacy through sealed records or though restricted access to them promote statutory privilege and state favoritism.
Pennsylvania was one of the last states to seal OBCs from adoptees. In fact, 15 years later states began to unseal them. In 2000 Alabama, the last state to seal records (1990) unsealed them, without exception, through legislation brought forward by adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents, with the support of Alabama Vial Statistics which found the sealing of records burdensome and time consuming.
Please VOTE NO on HB 162, and then come back with a clean bill that provides for OBC access for all Pennsylvania adoptees, not just some.