- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Dozens of adult Oregon adoptees will be getting their original birth certificates in the mail next week, now that a bitterly fought adoption law is in effect.

Yesterday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor rejected an emergency request to maintain a stay on the law, which was approved by voters in 1998 and has since been tied up in court.

Justice O'Connor's ruling allowed the law to go into effect at 5:01 p.m. yesterday.

Oregon state officials will begin processing the 2,272 pre-adoption applications this morning, said Dr. Mel Kohn, spokesman for the state Health Division.

The applications have to be carefully checked against sealed records from the state archives, said Dr. Kohn. The "first batch" of birth certificates should go out to adoptees on Friday or Monday, he said.

At least 58 birth certificates will be accompanied by a "contact preference form," added Dr. Kohn. According to these forms, 40 birth parents have indicated they would like adoptees to contact them directly, two want adoptees to contact them through intermediaries and 16 birth parents do not wish to be contacted. These requests are not legally binding, said Dr. Kohn.

Geena Stonum, 41, of Portland is one of the adoptees expecting a birth certificate.

"I have a wonderful family, but there's still that piece that's missing," Ms. Stonum, who has been searching for her birth parents for 20 years, told the Associated Press.

Thomas McDermott, a Portland lawyer who represents adoptees in the lawsuit, praised the high-court ruling, saying: "It's a new day and a new era in Oregon for openness and honesty in adoptions, as opposed to secrecy and shame."

Jane Nast, president of the American Adoption Congress, which pushes for open adoption records, said her allies are "turning cartwheels" over the ruling.

Oregon now joins Kansas, Alaska, Delaware, Tennessee and Alabama as states where adult adoptees can get original birth documents, said Mrs. Nast. Once enough adoptees have gotten their birth records with "nothing terrible happening," she said, other states should be willing to unseal their records.

Lawyer Frank Hunsaker, who represents the anonymous birth mothers who challenged the law, told a local radio station yesterday that his clients "are extremely disappointed and scared and even angry that their rights have been ignored by Oregon's voters and Oregon's courts."

Bill Pierce, a consultant to the National Council for Adoption, said the Oregon law sets "a terrible precedent" for invasions of privacy.

"It's a bad deal," said Sharon Knowles, a birth mother from Kansas who said she was tracked down and hounded by the daughter she gave up for adoption.

Most adoptees can only obtain copies of amended birth certificates, which name their adoptive parents. However, many adoptees want their original birth certificates because they provide the names, ages and addresses of birth parents and birth information, such as the time or place of birth.

The Oregon law was put on hold soon after its 1998 passage while it was challenged in court as unconstitutional. In December, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected the birth mothers' challenge. Later, the Oregon Supreme Court refused to review that ruling.

Last week, the Oregon Court of Appeals refused to extend the stay on the law, prompting the emergency appeal to Justice O'Connor.

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