This is the testimony in support of PA HB 162 I submitted for the March 18, hearing before the Senate Committee on Aging and Youth. I am re-submitting it for the hearing scheduled for September 16, 2014 with an addenda regarding arguments about abortion brought forward by Catholic Charities.
Adoptee access to their own original birth certificates
Pennsylvania Senate Committee on Aging and Youth
March 18, 2014
Submitted Testimony in Support
Leave No One Behind!
Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony in support of HB 162, a bill already passed unanimously by the House, that would restore the right of all Pennsylvania adoptees to access, upon request, a copy of their original birth certificate (OBC) without conditions or restrictions.
I was adopted in Ohio. My birth and adoptive families have deep roots in Pennsylvania, both coming to the state in the early 18th century, many in Quaker settlements in and around Exeter Twn, Berks County; others in Allegheny County; and still others in Philadelphia. My original birth certificate (OBC was never sealed, and I have had it since 1980. I have been an adoptee rights activist for decades, presented testimony in various states, and submitted testimony in others. My advocacy has been covered by local, state, and international media, and I have spoken at adoption and law conferences.
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. Some of those disenfranchised in 1985 may be at this hearing today.
(1) 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 right struggle, 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. Birth parents have no say or special privilege in any of these procedures or decisions and at no time are anonymous.
(2) Abortion and Reproductive Justice
During the March 18, 2014 hearing, some witnesses claimed that OBC access would cause abortion since women would feel the need to hide their unmarried births. There is absolutely no evidence that this is true. Here in Ohio the Catholic Conference and Ohio Right to Life, both of which had opposed OBC access for decades, turned around in 2012-1913 and supported a successful bill that restored the right of unrestricted access to those adopted here between 1964-1996. Here are two brief excerpts from their testimony of support:
Catholic Conference: of Ohio: We acknowledge and affirm that providing adopted adults access to their original birth certificates is not only god practice, but also more importantly, the right and just thing to do.
Ohio Right to Life: Some of you may know that for decades, Ohio Right to opposed opening adoption records to adoptees born/adopted between 1964 and 1996. The concerns of privacy and the repercussions for adoptive families, however, are fading with time as cultural perceptions about adoption have changed. Historically, arguments to keep the records closed were based on the idea that it would protect adoptees from potential embarrassment about the circumstances of their birth, or to protect adoptees from unwanted contact from birth parents. Frankly, these are outdated concerns, but it is this rationale that keeps 1964 – 1996 adoptees from being able to access their original birth certificate.
(3) Some things that might not occur to you
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. The Internet has made adoption secrecy virtually impossible. Those minuscule parents who believe that restricted access or no access will keep them “anonymous” 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. In the wake of the Obama “birther” movement, about a dozen state legislatures in the last few years, have seen bills that would require anyone running for president (and in some cases other offices) to present an original birth certificate to prove his/her place of birth and identity. The amended birth certificate of an adoptee would not suffice.
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. Recent proposed passport changes are even more stringent and absurd, and actually include a requirement for those with problematic birth documents to list every residence in which they have ever lived, and a list of their mother’s pre-natal doctor’s appointments! http://papersplease.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ds5513-proposed.pdf )
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 and adoptions by same sex couples.
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.
There is no state interest in keeping original birth certificates sealed from the adoptees to whom they pertain. Nor does it have a right 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 privilege created by statute
I support HB 162 insofar as it restores OBC access, without conditions or restrictions; that is, as it has passed the Pennsylvania House and is presented before you at this hearing. Anything less in unacceptable and should be rejected.
All adoptees deserve to be treated the same as the not adopted. Pennsylvania was one of the last states to seal OBCs from adoptees. Alabama, the last, sealed them in 1991. In 2000 those documents were unsealed by 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.
Let’s get this over with now. Otherwise, we’ll be back here, next year or the year after or 10 years from now. I was in fact, involved in an OBC access campaign in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s. Don’t let the civil rights of Pennsylvania adoptees turn into Ground Hog Day.
Please vote DO Pass for for HB 162, and unrestricted OBC access. It’s the right thing to do
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