Adoption reform activists buoyed by Ohio’s new birth certificate access law

Adoption reform activists are hoping a newly enacted Ohio law giving adult adoptees access to their original birth records will inspire other states to follow suit.

“Adoption isn’t a bad thing, but the secrecy around adoption is a bad thing unless there’s a safety issue or something,” said Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland and a leader in Adopt Equity Ohio.

“So why are we doing this to people?” she said, referring to the host of states that virtually block adult adoptees from obtaining their records without a court order.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, signed a bill permitting anyone in Ohio adopted from 1964 to 1996 to get access to their original birth certificates.

The change is expected to affect about 400,000 adoptees. People adopted before or after those years were already able to obtain their documents when they turned 18.

Ohio activists tried for decades to get a bill passed to open records in those “closed adoption” years.

But each year, pro-life activists rose in opposition. A common argument in Ohio and elsewhere is that if birth mothers cannot be guaranteed permanent privacy about the placement of their children, they might choose abortion instead.

New momentum

This year, however, the Ohio Right to Life saw the issue “in a whole new light” and ended its opposition to the bill, Ms. Norris said.

Senate Bill 23 passed unanimously in the Ohio Senate and by a 91-2 vote in the Ohio House.

Mr. Kasich signed it without hesitation. “He told me, ‘We should’ve done this 20 years ago,’” said Ms. Norris, who attended the Dec. 19 signing ceremony.

Other open-records bills haven’t had gubernatorial support: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, conditionally vetoed a bill in 2011, bitterly disappointing adoption advocates who struggled to get it passed in the state Legislature.

In vetoing the bill, Mr. Christie said he weighed the issues carefully. “I believe that additional safeguards are needed to best balance the needs of adoptees with the expectations of birth parents who may wish for their identities to remain private,” Mr. Christie wrote.

Ms. Norris said Mr. Kasich’s enthusiastic signing of the Ohio legislation might inspire Mr. Christie and others about opening the records. “I’m sure the governors talk. I hope this will set a positive precedent,” she said.

Under the new Ohio law, birth parents will have one year to file a “contact-preference” form saying whether and how they welcome contact from a child they have relinquished. They also will have a chance to redact their names from the original birth certificates, although they must file their medical histories. After March 2015, adult adoptees will be able to get their documents.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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