Bill may allow Ohio adoptees to obtain birth certificatesWritten by Dave Willinger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
An entire generation of adoptees in Ohio could finally be granted what some proponents of a bill — now in committee hearings in the state House of Representatives — say is a basic human right.
House Bill 61 and its counterpart Senate Bill 23 address what is referred to in Ohio adoption law as the “closed record period,” the years from 1964 to 1996, because adoptees born and adopted during those years are banned by law from accessing their original birth certificate.
That legal quirk resulted from the state’s closing such records in 1964, reflective of a trend at the time toward confidentiality. When a 1996 state law once again granted birth certificate access to adoptees there remained enough opposition to the change to prevent lawmakers from making those rights retroactive to 1964. Thus, a historical “doughnut hole” was created.
In today’s information society, driven by an ever-expanding Internet, preventing select adult adoptees from seeing their original birth certificates no longer seems the right thing to do in the view of many who advocate for adoption. Apparently, numerous state lawmakers agree. Besides the two sponsors for each bill, the Senate version has 10 co-sponsors while 25 co-sponsors signed the House bill.
If the new proposals become law, adoptees born in Ohio between 1964 and 1996 will have the right, upon their 18th birthday, to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate.
Proponent testimony is scheduled for March 6. The House Judiciary Committee will also schedule a hearing for testimony from anyone who opposes the bill, according to Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, who together with Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, sponsored House Bill 61. Pelanda told Toledo Free Press she is as yet not aware of anyone opposing the legislation.
“No group, no individual has come forward to say ‘I’m opposing it,’” Pelanda said.
Pelanda views the new law as “giving adoptees a piece of their history.” In practical terms, that piece is the name of the adoptee’s birth mother. Pelanda, an adoption attorney for 30 years, noted that unmarried women who give birth are not allowed by law to provide information about the father for the birth certificate.
Pelanda is also an adoptive parent.
“My daughter’s original birth certificate is precious to her,” Pelanda said, because it “answers in part who she is.”
According to a fact sheet advocating for restoring Ohio adoptees’ rights, provided by Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, the intent of the 1964 state law sealing adoptees’ documents “was to erase any tie between the baby and the birth mother or birth family” and “was considered, at the time, the best way to ensure a successful adoption.”
The new legislation would not impact adoptees born after 1996. Its provisions would simply extend to adoptees born between 1964 and 1996 the same right to access birth records.
Norris, herself an adoptee, said the amended birth certificates are sometimes scrubbed of more than the birth parents’ information. In some cases, even the birth weight and time of birth are redacted.
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life (ORTL), told Toledo Free Press his group supports House Bill 61 and its Senate counterpart.
Explaining the evolving thought process on this issue, Gonidakis said ORTL in 1996 opposed opening birth records to adoptees. Back then, Gonidakis was focused on law school at the University of Akron, but speaking historically, he said ORTL’s opposition at that time was based on “the fear” that “birth mothers might choose abortion over adoption” if they believed their confidentiality was not guaranteed.
Gonidakis said people today are being reunited thanks to information and records obtained through Internet searches by adoptees. The new law would streamline the process for those born from 1964 to 1996, said Gonidakis, who noted that birth parent information potentially can be important because of the medical history component.
Lucas County Probate Court Judge Jack Puffenberger told Toledo Free Press he finalizes about 220 to 250 adoptions each year. Puffenberger in February briefed a committee of the Ohio Probate Court Judge Association on the pending legislation during a conference in the capital.
Currently, adult adoptees born between 1964 and 1996 who want to obtain their original birth certificate must pay a $50 fee to file a petition with the Probate Court, which then determines if a release from the birth mother is on file, in which case the birth certificate is made available. In cases where no release is on file, Puffenberger said the petition can languish indefinitely.
“A lot of adoptees are confused about what rules apply to them,” Puffenberger said. The new law would allow adoptees to go directly to the Bureau of Vital Statistics to obtain their birth certificate. Judge Puffenberger said the new law “does not significantly impact the operation of our courts” but maintained it “will clarify the process” of adoptees obtaining their original birth certificates.
No opposition to the new legislation has materialized from birth parents who might oppose having their identities revealed, according to Pelanda.
One birth mother in Lucas County, Kate Oatis of Maumee, told Toledo Free Press she supports the new law.
As a single coed in 1980, Oatis got pregnant while away at college. “We were in love and had a relationship,” she explained. But personal circumstances ultimately led Oatis to give her daughter up for adoption at birth.
“The emotional toll is quite huge when you give away a child,” Oatis said. About five years ago she made contact with her daughter, a teacher in New York. But Oatis has regrets. “I wish I’d never done it now,” she said about giving up her baby for adoption. “It’s a trauma.”
Oatis, for whom “abortion was never an option,” recalls being counseled during her pregnancy by an anti-abortion group near her college. Today, she believes every pregnant woman who is considering adoption should hire her own counsel instead of relying on advice from someone representing a group that might have vested interests in placing babies with adoptive parents.
As for how other birth parents may view the new legislation, Oatis said, “I can’t imagine anybody standing up and saying, ‘Don’t give them the right to their birth certificate.’
“It’s always better to live in reality,” she said.