In the News

Giving Adult Adoptees Access To Their Birth Certificates, Medical Records

Barbara Montgomery, a birth mother with Access CT

The Public Health Committee will hear testimony Friday on a bill that would give adult adoptees access to their original birth certificate.

It’s a concept that’s been raised in the past, but has not made it very far in the legislative process. The one time it did make it through both legislative chambers in 2006 it was vetoed by former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

The bill raised for Friday’s public hearing would give adoptees access to their birth certificates and creates a voluntary procedure for biological parents to complete a form indicating whether they want to be contacted by their adopted children. The department also must attach to the certificate any completed health history form from a biological parent, according to this research report on the legislation.

In the past, the Public Health Department has opposed the bill due to the logistics of its record keeping operation and the Department of Children and Families testified that it would support a prospective bill.

In testimony last year, DCF also pointed out that if an adoptee wants access to the original birth certificate it can petition the probate court that finalized the adoption. There is a fee involved in petitioning the court and the determination to release the birth certificate is at the judge’s discretion.

Rep. Joe Diminico, D-Manchester, who supports access, said he thinks there’s a good chance a compromise can be reached this year.

There are some who fear giving adoptees access to their birth certificate violates the privacy of the birth mother, who made what was likely a difficult decision to give them up for adoption. But Diminico said there should be a way for the state to ask the birth mother if she wants the information to be shared.

“In many cases, the mothers just haven’t been asked,” Diminico said.

The legislative compromise Diminico foresees would essentially give the birth parents the right to veto a request for access to the birth certificate.

Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said he’s in favor of a prospective proposal because many of these mothers gave up their children with the expectation of privacy.

However, that’s not to say he’s opposed to figuring out a way to give them an option to disclose the birth certificate itself, or just the family’s medical history.

Adoptees often don’t have any family medical history, so aside from a desire to know where they came from there’s also a need to get access to the medical history of the biological parents.

Diminico and Godfrey said there should be a way to get the adult adoptees the information about the medical history, even if that means not getting access to the original birth certificate.

“Research consistently shows that sealed birth certificates are an anachronism from a time when unwed mothers were severely stigmatized and their children denigrated as bastards,” Adam Perlman, executive director of Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute, testified last year on a similar bill. “Time has changed that. Nearly all available evidence indicates these women desire some level of contact with or knowledge about their children.”

Perlman said a number of states have enacted similar laws in recent years with none of the negative consequences critics predicted.

At Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s town hall meeting in Norwalk last week, Barbara Montgomery of Access CT, a grassroots organization of adoptees and birth parents that supports the legislation, said Connecticut adoptees had access to their original birth certificate until 1975.

“What we propose is simply a restoration of what was taken away in 1975,” Montgomery said. “Several states including Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have passed legislation virtually identical to what we are proposing.”

She asked Malloy for his support of the legislation. Malloy said he’s aware of the issue, but is not an expert on it at all and would be happy to meet with the group to learn more about it.

Montgomery, who is a birth mother, said it was extremely important for her son to be aware of diseases critical to his health, particularly a disease which killed his birth grandfather at the young age of 37.

Opponents often worry giving adult adoptees access to their records would discourage parents from choosing adoption, but Perlman argues that recent research has found that’s not the case.

This year there is already three times the amount of written testimony submitted on the bill than in previous year.

The Public Health Committee hearing Friday will be held at 10:30 a.m. in Room 1D of the Legislative Office Building.