I testified before the Ohio House Health Committee yesterday morning on HB 7. Below is my testimony. I had to keep it sort so much of what I wanted to say has been left out I included a legislative packet with my presentation which I hope the leggies read.
A few comments first:
This was the second hearing for HB7 [pdf] (analysis here. The first hearing, last week, was the sponsor hearing where Rep. Brinkman spoke on behalf of his bill. Yesterday’s hearing was rather short notice. Six proponents spoke and others sat in support.
Betsie Norris, director of Adoption Network Cleveland presented the case for unrestricted access and answered several questions about veto “protection” and reunion registeries. She was great! First mother, Jean Hood, also from Cleveland, spoke of her experience as first mom and reunion. Jake Teschler, longtime Columbus adoptee rights advocate also spoke on behalf of the bill. Amom in a very open adoption and This Woman’s Work blogger Dawn Friedman (Columbus) addressed the importance of maintaining links between biological and adoptive families and that sealed records have no place in healty adoption practice. John Adams addressed medical issues. Chris Ryan had to leave for work before he could testify, but he left testimony on both the absolute right of adoptees to their records and the importance of medical histories using his own experience. As a pre-1964 adoptee he enjoys certain rights and privledges that his 5 adopted siblings do not. Among supporters who didn’t speak, were Andria Karshner who drove all the way from Indiana. Much to her surprirse, sitting behind her in the hearing room was a birth aunt she’d never met, so there was a mini-family reunion as a bonus.
The main concern at the hearing yesterday was (surprise!) vetoes. records are sealed and cannot be accessed except by court order. 1996 and beyond permit a first parent to file a disclosure veto with the state (which can be revoked or placed at any time). These vetoes CANNOT be overturned by a judge “for good cause.” The current version of HB7 abolishes those vetoes already in place and writes them out of future law. Leggies are very concerned about this lost of “protection.”
And of course no matter how much “rights” are stressed” it’s always about reunion,
In the next few days I’m going to try (operative word here “try” since I’ve never done a webpage before, only MySpace and Blogger) to set up a webpage so Ohio-connected people can be informed and involved. I’ll also do a MySpace page.
It is absolutely essential for the committee to hear from Buckeyes that that any kind of compromise–any restriction to access that differs from the current version of the bill, is not acceptable.
More on that later.
In the meantime here’s my testimony:
Honorable Members of the Health Committee:
My name is Marley Elizabeth Greiner and I’m the co-founder and Executive Chair of Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization, the largest adoptee civil rights organization in North America.
Bastard Nation advocates for the full human and civil rights of adult adoptees. We believe people everywhere have a right to their unaltered and unfalsifed birth records. This means opening government documents pertaining to the adoptee’s historical, genetic, and legal identity, including the unaltered original birth certificate and adoption decree. Our membership includes adopted adults and first and adoptive parents. BN was behind the 1998 Oregon Ballot Measure 58 which restored the right of the state’s adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates. In 2000 Bastard Nation sponsored legislation in Alabama which restored access there. In 2004 we worked in a coalition of adoptee rights advocates in New Hampshire where adoptee civil rights were restored on January 1, 2005. Bastard Nation leaves no one behind. We do not support legislation that restricts even one adopted person from receiving his or her own information.
I am a pre-1964 Ohio adoptee, born and adopted in Toledo and reared in Canton. I have lived in Columbus since 1979. My records were never sealed from me. I received my original birth certificate and adoption decree in 1980—just like the non-adopted. Nobody asked me whyI wanted it. I had a right to it.
Today I will testify in support of the “Adoption Records Access” section of HB 7. I will make over-all comments on why we support HB 7 with an emphasis on why the current tiered access system is unethical and degrading to adoptees and must be abolished.
HB 7 is about rights not reunion. It is about the relation of adoptees to the state. It is about the absolute natural right of identity and the civil right to a true unfalsified birth certificate for all Ohio adoptees. The not-adopted need not justify why they want their vital records nor are they forced to ask their parents permission, appear before a judge, join a government-run registry, seek mental health counseling, or spend years getting a bill, such as HB 7, passed to get them. The not-adopted have a presumed right to their own birth certificates and can do with them what they please. All arguments for passage of HB 7 as written must then flow from the presumed right of all adults to unrestricted access and ownership of their true birth certificates, not just some. If adoptees are not equal legally to the not-adopted in terms of identity, then the right of anyone to possess their own birth certificate is not a right but a state favor. The real question, then, is who owns your identity? You or the state? Unfortunately, in Ohio today, the identities of thousands of its citizen adoptees are owned by the state and locked up in a vault over on Spring & Neilston.
HB 7 is inclusive. It acknowledges a legally, morally, and ethically correct one-size fits all standard of identity and records rights for adopted persons. It restores the right, legislatively rescinded in 1964, of all Ohio adoptees to access and own, upon request and without restriction, the public record of their own births.
The Ohio Legislature needs to abolish the 3-tired access system. This plan, established legislatively in 1964 and expanded by the legislature in 1996, grossly discriminates against adoptees with a state-constructed blacklist of worthy and unworthy adoptees based on date of birth or date of adoption availability. In some cases (1996 and beyond) access is dependent on first parent permission, giving people whose parental rights were terminated years ago, a special right that no other parent or adult has over another adult—the special right to block access to and ownership of a person’s vital and court records.
Due to this pernicious 3-tiered, system more than a generation of Ohio’s citizen adoptees are stigmatized, angered, shamed, and forced to seek court orders (rarely granted) or other remedies to get what the not-adopted and older adoptees have for the asking.
HB 7 does not change adoption procedures. Adoption records are sealed upon finalization, not relinquishment. If the court denies an adoption petition or the petition is withdrawn, the birth record remains unsealed. If an adoption is overturned or disrupted, the birth record is unsealed. In Ohio, if adoptive parents so request, the birth record remains unsealed. Most significantly, if a child is never adopted the birth record is never sealed. Thus, if sealing birth records was meant to hide parental identities absolutely, records would be sealed upon relinquishment, not finalization. Even in traditional closed adoptions first parent identities are often recorded on court documents given to adoptive parents without first parent consent. Similarly, legal advertisements with identifying information are often published, and courts may open adoption records for “good cause” without first parent consent.
HB 7 does not open original birth certificates to the public. Original birth certificates are unsealed only to the adoptees to which they pertain, their lineal descendants and their adoptive parents.
HB 7 reflects best practice adoption standards. I know of no adoption reform organization in the United States today that does not support unrestricted access. The Evan. B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, The Child Welfare League of America (which sets best practice standards), The National Association of Social Workers, The North American Council on Adoptable Children, the National Adoption Center, and Ethica: A Voice for Ethical Adoption all support unrestricted access. In November 2007, the Donaldson Institute, the premiere adoption research organization in the country. released a report: For the Records: Restoring a Right to Adult Adoptees, in which it calls for the unsealing of all birth and adoption records to adult adoptees. In December I attended a meeting in New York sponsored by the Donaldson. Attendees came from as far away as Tennessee, Florida and Texas. They all agreed that the day of compromise is over. Records for all.
On page 18 of the legislative analysis, the specter of litigation over records access is raised. It is true that suits were brought in 1996 in Tennessee when that state passed a substantive revision to its access law and in 1998 in Oregon after passage of Ballot Measure 58. Opponent claims of contractual impairment and reproductive privacy were dismissed on the state and appellate levels and the US Supreme Court denied cert in both cases. No suits were filed in Alabama, New Hampshire, and Maine after passage of their bills, and there is little chance that any suits will be filed in the future. A summary of these cases and others, with citations, is included in your legislative packet.
Rights are for all citizens, not favors or privileges for some US law does not privilege rights by race, religion, ethnicity, age, or gender. I cannot think of any other judicial procedure where records are sealed from those to whom the procedure pertains. But in Ohio, adopted adults are discriminated against daily by a bizarre system of Yes, No, or Maybe: sealed records for us and unsealed records for everyone else. HB 7 eliminates this triple standard and gives all Ohio citizens the right to personal identity. HB 7 will not harm anyone, but will restore equality, dignity, and fairness to adopted persons and their biological and adopted families.
At least a dozen states this year will debate birth record access. HB 7 is model legislation. If passed it will be a beacon for other states to follow. If not, Ohio’s citizen adoptees will remain dirty little state secrets.
The Health Committee should support this important legislation and move it to final passage. Please vote DO PASS.
Photo by Jamie Miracle: Bastardette, Dawn Friedman, Andria Karshner