I attended the Sub HB 7 hearing today before the Ohio House Health Committee. I’ll write about it tomorrow. Being an academic by training, Bastardette loves footnotes. Unfortunately, Blogger does funky things with footnotes so I just cut and pasted their text at the end. I have not included the attachments since they were in chart form which Blogger definitely doesn’t like.
IDENTITY RIGHTS FOR ALL OHIO ADOPTEES
APRIL 30, 2008
HOUSE HEALTH COMMITTEE
SUB HB 7
IN SUPPORT OF RESTORATION OF LANGUAGE FROM
ORIGINAL HB 7:
UNRESTRICTED ORIGINAL BIRTH CERTIFICATE ACCESS
FOR ALL OHIO ADOPTEES
Buckeye for Equal Access (BEA) is a voluntary group of adopted adults, birthparents, adoptive parents, and others connected to Ohio through adoption. We advocate unrestricted access to the unfalsified and unredacted original birth certificates (obc) upon request, for all Ohio adoptees. No exceptions. Our membership includes people from Akron, Columbus, Cleveland, Youngstown, Heath, Fostoria, Marion, Lakemore, Toledo, Concord and all points in between.
BEA is extremely disappointed that unrestricted access to the obc included in HB 7 has been deleted from the sub bill. We ask the committee to amend the sub bill to restore records access with the exact language of the original bill—with no disclosure vetoes or other mechanisms to keep information hidden from adoptees. We are not advocating the incorporation of any other section of the original bill into the sub bill nor are we endorsing other sections of that bill.
Current Ohio law discriminates against adoptees with an arbitrary state-constructed blacklist, based solely on date of birth or adoption finalization and birthparent consent. The law prohibits large numbers of adopted persons from accessing their own original birth certificates and information about themselves.
Adoptees born before January 1, 1963 have unrestricted access to their obc and adoption degree. Those born between January 1, 1964 and September 16, 1996 have no access except by court order. Those adopted after September 16, 1996 have unrestricted access unless a birthparent utilizes a special right—a right that no other parent and no other adult has over another adult—a “right” to bar another adult from receiving the public record of their own birth.
There is no legal or moral justification for this 3-tiered disparity. Adopted persons are not only treated differently than the not-adopted, but we are separated amongst ourselves by arbitrary legislatively-set boundaries.
Current Ohio law makes no sense and countermands the good that adoption purportedly does. Current Ohio law maintains secret files on adoptees. It selectively seals the public records of some while letting others get theirs for the asking. It stigmatizes black holers (those adopted in the middle years) while their adoptive siblings from open years have no problem getting their records.
Current Ohio law, with its tiered system, says there is something terribly wrong with adoption as a way to build families and with those who live within those families. It forces adopted people (and their families) who want information about themselves to beg government and adoption agency bureaucrats for scraps of information, file petitions, appear in court, join a government “reunion” registry, pay professional searchers and private investigators thousands of dollars–or spend years getting a bill, such as HB 7, passed to get their own birth certificates.
Moreover, sealed birth records perpetuate a culture of shame and wrongness around adoption. In previous hearings we have heard statements of praise for parents (especially mothers) who surrender their children to adoption. Yet, if adoption were so praiseworthy, why do the people it affects most need to be hidden from each other by the government?
As Kate Livingston so eloquently testified to you last week:
It has been a huge wake-up call to realize that many of the same people who encouraged me to do an adoption, who applauded me for giving life to my son, who praised my ‘courage’ and ‘fortitude’- also think that despite all of my efforts, my son would be better off not knowing who I was. What else have I and so many other birthmothers done, but accept responsibility for our actions, nurture our children for 9 months, face unparalleled social stigma- all to demonstrate that our children are worth all that the world has to offer- even if we cannot provide it ourselves?
This is the 21st century. The information superhighway grows wider and longer each day, and adoptees and their families are on it. Thousands of successful adoption searches happen each year—hundreds in Ohio alone—nearly all without the obc.
Moreover, in this age of heightened security, the government requires all of us to prove our identities and citizenship. 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, and pensions due to what government bureaucrats refer to as “irregularities” in their amended birth certificates.
A major irregularity is a “late birth certificate (filed a year or more after the birth). 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. (1) Other “irregularities” include age discrepancies between parents and child, and even missing information. This problem will grow with the increase in adoption of older children from fostercare and adoptions by same sex couples. (2) Clearly the absence of an obc can and will continue to hinder some adopted persons, unable to prove their identity, from obtaining passports and other entitlements and documents. The government demands a paper trail of identity, but adoptee identity, according to the State of Ohio, only begins at the time of adoption. We don’t exist before then.
“Privacy” arguments against adoptee access are misleading. Privacy does NOT mean absolute, eternal anonymity or secrecy from parties with a legitimate interest in information. That is simply not the meaning of the word, either in normal discourse or in the law. Courts, in fact, have generally determined that the federal constitutional right to privacy means protection of individuals from government intrusion. The sealing of the obc from us–the people to whom they pertain–is clearly a government violation of OUR privacy and an over-reaching act of government authority over our lives.
Tennessee, Oregon, and federal courts located in those states have affirmed that adoptee access to their own birth certificates is not a breach of birthparent privacy since the document is not released to the public, but to the adopted adult to whom it pertains. (3)
Ohio’s current outdated law legitimizes debunked spurious claims of “implied promises of confidentiality” to birthparents—promises which apparently never existed in the state before January 1, 1964 or after September 16, 1996. These so-called “promises” have been disproved repeatedly by activists, legal scholars, historians, and in court rulings. In 30 years of birth record access campaigns throughout the US, not one document has ever been presented by the opposition to any legislature that gives “promises of confidentiality,” “privacy” or “anonymity”– implied or otherwise. (4) If verbal “promises” were made by individual adoption professionals or lawyers, they were private policy statements without the force of law—or reality– behind them. And, of course, no one can promise that a law will never change.
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 Ohio, adoptive parents can request the court at the time of adoption finalization to keep the obc unsealed. Birthparents have no say or special right in any of these procedures or decisions and at no time are anonymous.
Large numbers of birthmothers say they were never promised anonymity. Nor did they ask for or want it. Just the opposite. They say they were told that their children, upon reaching the age of majority, would have access to their obc and other identifying information.
In no state has it ever been shown that records were sealed to “protect” birthmothers’ “privacy” nor that they asked for “protection.” It was simply part of the deal forced on them if they chose to place their children for adoption. There is ample documentation in every state that sealed records laws, most of which were enacted after World War 2, were never intended to “protect” birthmothers. They were written to protect the reputations of “illegitimate” and adopted minors and the integrity of the adoptive family: to keep the public—including birthmothers—out of adoptive families’ business.
This is especially well documented in Ohio. William Norris, author of the 1964 law, later worked to undo it. Several years ago he testified before the House Human Resource Committee in favor of HB 457, that would restore access:
In doing what I did on this 1960s legislation, I was unable to see the impact this would have on my adopted children when they became adults. Subsequent events have taught me that we went too far. While it was appropriate for the 1964 law to foreclose access to adoptees’ birth records maintained by the Department of Health as far as the general public was concerned, I now recognize that closing those birth records to adoptees whose adoptions were finalized after January 1, 1964 was a grave mistake. This has resulted in unnecessary discrimination by denying to a special group of citizens the right to have access to their original birth certificates.
It is now obvious to me that the 1964 legislation produced an absurd anomaly in Ohio, and it is painful to reflect on the fact that these changes in the law were made in the belief that they were in the best interests of the entire adoptive process. …The 1964 law has not worked out in the way it was originally intended and it should be changed by the passage of a new law such as HB 457. (5)
Adopted people want their original birth certificates for many reasons. But reasons are immaterial We have a right to the facts about our births, origins, and adoptions. We have a right to do whatever we please with the information found on our birth certificates, just as the not-adopted do. We should not be parsed, chopped, spindled and mutilated.
The right to the public record of our births is not some radical controversial idea or an attack on adoption. Wendy’s founder, the highly uncontroversial Dave Thomas, whom some of you may have known, and probably the most prominent and generous advocate of adoption in US history, certainly didn’t think so.
In an interview for Adam Pertman’s book, Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America, Thomas said, “Those things are controversial for people who have never been adopted, who really don’t understand. Everyone should be able to get their birth certificate, their own information. I’d hate to think I couldn’t get mine.” Thomas, in fact, did have his original birth certificate, given to him by his adoptive grandmother. (6)
The deletion of records access from Sub Bill 7 deletes adoptees from the Ohio landscape. Since records were sealed in 1964 there have been several attempts to restore our rights. Until those rights are restored, we will continue to come here. Year after year after year.
The Ohio legislature has a duty to assure that all Ohioans are treated the same under law. The current legislature, particularly the Health Committee, has the opportunity to stop this hamster wheel right now. You can incorporate the exact records access language from HB 7 into this sub bill. You can vote it out of this committee to the floor with a recommendation of DO PASS… You can restore our rights. You can insure that Ohio adoptees are treated like everyone else. You can undelete us today, this month, this year.
Submitted by Chris Ryan and Marley Greiner for Buckeyes for Equal Access
1: Organizations and Groups that Support Adoptee Acccess
2: The Simplicity of Language: Oregon Ballot Measure 58; statistics
(1) US Department of State, TravelState.gov, Bureau of Counselor Affairs, “How to apply for a passport“ (http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html. Last visited April 29, 2008);
“Passport probs? Anyone else? City-Data.com, April 19, 2007, (http://22.214.171.124/search?q=cache:pBz8q4Ct7BEJ:www.city-data.com/forum/travel/57045-passport-probs-anyone-else-2.html+adoptee+passport+problems&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=20&gl=us&client=firefox-a. Last visited April 29, 2008)
(2) Sterner, Karen, “Passports denied to adoptees,” adoptionblogs.com , January 16, 2007 (http://birthfamily-search.adoptionblogs.com/weblogs/passports-denied-to-adoptees; http://groups.google.com/group/alt.adoption/msg/c1f501ed16d664a8. Last visited April 29, 2008)
(4) Recent professional and scholarly work on adoption practices, including “privacy” rights and treatment of birthmothers include, Baer, Janine, Growing Up in the Dark: Adoption and Secrecy, Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2004; Fessler, Ann, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Their Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v Wade.
(5) Drafter of Legislation closing
(6) Pertman, Adam. Adoption Nation: How the adoption revolution is transforming
well done, very well done.