Guest Column: Standing up for the rights of the adoptedWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
By Kate Oatis
As the birth/first mother of an adult daughter adopted in Ohio after Jan. 1, 1964, I am grateful for the people who’ve worked hard to restore the right of adopted people to their original birth certificates. That right was restored Dec. 19, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the Adoptee Access to Records Bill.
The State of Ohio sealed — or closed — adoption records in 1964, which meant that anyone adopted after Jan. 1, 1964, had no legal access to his or her original birth certificate while all those adopted before that date simply had to request their birth certificates to receive them. The picture for those with no access started to change about 25 years ago when adoptee Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, began to advocate for adoption reform.
The bill affects people whose adoptions were finalized from Jan. 1, 1964, through Sept. 18, 1996 — at least 400,000 people in Ohio, Norris said, “the most in any state.” These individuals may begin to receive their records March 20, 2015. There had already been a law in place saying that people adopted after that date had access to their records, unless their birth/first parents stipulated otherwise. Fortunately, according to Norris, “the Ohio Department of Health says very few birthparents have said no.”
The Adoptee Access to Records Bill seems to have given adopted people the inner freedom to search for their birth/first families. Just as birth/first parents often feel searching for their surrendered children is wrong or selfish, it is usual for adopted people to consider it selfish to search for their birth/first parents. According to Norris, since the bill was signed in December, there’s been an increase in the number of people doing searches.
The State of Ohio’s Adoptee Access to Records Bill is good news for birth/first parents who, at the time they signed the papers, likely had no idea the state would, years later, prevent their children from finding them. Indeed, the papers that my daughter’s father and I signed included the promise that we would not interfere with her or try to find her. The papers that we signed included no language about preventing our child from finding us.
What reasonable person would disagree that adopted people deserve access to their birth certificates and to the people who brought them into the world? As birthparents’ lives unfolded and our understanding of the nature of things evolved, many of us realized, at the very least, how naïve we’d been to send our children to people we did not know.
Our babies were not property. They weren’t gifts to people who couldn’t have children. They were — and are — human beings with rights and needs. And, they grew up; they’re no longer adopted children. We can’t go back to change the decisions we made. We can, however, stand up for our adult children to ensure they have access to information and to us.
The decision to request an original birth certificate or to search for a birth/first family is a personal one. Having said that, those of us whose lives are forever touched by adoption are grateful to Gov. Kasich for his support in changing a law that should never have been passed.
A twist some might find interesting: Norris’ late adoptive father was an attorney and was instrumental in having the records closed in the State of Ohio back in 1964. Years later, having experienced an evolution in understanding of the nature of things, he supported Norris in her work to unmake the law he’d helped create.
For more information on the Ohio Bill and other news on adoption, please visit adoptionnetwork.org or find Adoption Network Cleveland on Facebook.
Kate Oatis lives in Maumee and is willing to speak with adoptees, birth/first parents and prospective adoptive parents from her perspective as a birth/first mother. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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