Proposed legislation attempts to return rights to Ohio’s adoptees

Amy Cooknick

The Ohio House Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved a bill that would allow adults adopted in Ohio equal access to their original birth certificates.

Combined, House Bill 61, approved March 13, and its companion Senate Bill 23 attempt to undo legislation from 1964 that closed birth records for adoptees nationwide. Under current Ohio law, the approximately 400,000 adopted individuals born in Ohio between 1964 and 1996 still do not have access to their original birth certificates. Adults adopted before Jan. 1, 1964, or after Sept. 18, 1996, have open access to their birth records once they turn 18.

Betsie Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, said this is the sixth attempt in 24 years to open birth records in Ohio.

“People worried that the birth mothers might have less options, they might be more likely to not place a child,” Norris said. “That has not turned out to be the case in any of the states that have opened up that period, and so basically people’s fears didn’t come true, so people who had previously opposed the bill are now actually supporting it.”

Adoption Network Cleveland launched a campaign earlier this year to help pass this legislation. Restore Ohio Adoption Rights addresses the issue of opening the closed records, but adds to it a contact preference option to protect the rights of both birth parents and adoptees. Contact preference would allow birth parents to denote in their child’s birth records whether they would like to be contacted by their child in the future.

Norris said this option addresses concerns that birth parents would not want to be contacted by adoptees, which has led some to argue in the past that releasing birth records to adoptees would be a violation of birth parent rights.

“Since the late nineties, the vast majority of adoptions are open adoptions where the birth parents and adopted parents know who each other are and have exchanged some information,” Norris said. “And they sometimes continue a relationship as the child is being raised, so it’s more of a moot point in those more current adoptions.”

In the House, two state representatives are jointly sponsoring the adoptee rights bill. Nickie Antonio and Dorothy Pelanda called the adoption debate a civil rights case and said it is time to give adoptees and birth parents the same rights as other citizens.

Pelanda said part of the past opposition to the bill came from a lack of understanding of the adoption process. There was fear that birth parents would choose abortion over adoption in an effort to maintain privacy. However, Pelanda said studies on the topic have since proven that this fear is unfounded.

Antonio added the bill focuses on equity rather than on attempts by adoptees to contact birth parents. With the rise of social media and the amount of information available online, Antonio said privacy is no longer the driving issue it once was for opposition groups.

“If someone really wants to seek out a birth parent, adoptees can do that now with the Internet,” Antonio said. “It’s really about just giving [adoptees] equity. People have been brought up to date and today they understand that this is just taking away an inequity for a group of people who should have access to an original birth certificate.”

The full Ohio House and Senate will address the bills when lawmakers return from spring recess in April.

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].