Momentum builds for adoptees’ rights bill
An assemblyman is calling for action on an adoptees-rights bill as bi-partisan support and momentum builds in the Senate and Assembly.
Assemblyman David Weprin, D-Queens, notes that his bill (A.0909/S.2490) has more than 80 supporters in the Assembly, both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Andrew Lanza, R- Staten Island, sponsors the Senate version of the bill, which has 22 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans. The number of co-sponsors signed on to the bill is at its highest level ever.
The bill would allow adoptees who are at least 18-years-old to request from the state Department of Health a non-certified copy of their birth certificate and medical history form.
“The passage of this bill is long overdue and will set up much needed parameters for biological parents and adoptees to gain access to vital information of importance,” Weprin said. “We all know there are many, many reasons to have access to your original birth certificate. It is a piece of your identity; it is a missing puzzle for many adoptees.”
Reasons for wanting an original birth certificate, outlined during the press conference through personal stories, include legal and other certification needs, health needs and a basic desire to know one’s own family history.
Jill Auerbach had a son when she was 15-years-old and had to put him up for adoption. She said his birth father died at age 41 of a heart attack, noting his family has a long history of heart attacks and heart disease. “So when [her son] was approaching 40, it dawned on me that he had a ticking time-bomb in his body as well and had no clue whatsoever,” Auerbach said.
Auerbach went to authorities to have them pass on the information to the adoptive parents, but the authorities said due to confidentiality agreements, they could not pass on the potentially life-saving information. After paying a lot of money for a private investigator, Auerbach found her son.
“I can tell you that we may well have saved his life,” Auerbach said. “Our families, his birth family and his adoptive family, are both friends, which is the way it should be. The weight of the world was taken off my shoulders and I can finally die in peace.”
Some legislators know first-hand the frustration involved in learning one’s family history.
“I am an adoptee myself. I am proud of who I am and where I came from, but I have the feeling that there is this puzzle to my own existence, to my own identity, that, unfortunately, the state denies me the opportunity to figure out,” said Assemblyman Joe Borelli, R- Staten Island.
Borelli said for a long time he believed he was of Irish American descent because of what his adoptive records told him. “I went years of my life identifying with a cultural group that I actually, thanks to the wonders of DNA, have no connection to,” Borelli said. “Cultural identity is something you take for granted until you find out it’s not true.”
Borelli also joked that since his records were wrong about his ethnicity, he also had some doubts about the medical records he was provided.
“Really the only thing I know about my genetic history is that I have male pattern baldness. I know every time I’m in the barber’s chair and he shows me the back,” Borelli said. “But on a serious note this is a question of equal rights for people who are adopted. There was never a contract. I did not consent at any point in my 32 years of life to not have access to my birth record. When this deal was made I was not represented, I was not party to it, and I should have the same rights as any other citizen in the state.”
Another reason adults may want to obtain their birth records is for legal purposes. Jeff Hancock said he fits into a “different category” of adoptees. “I am what you call a late discovery adoptee. I learned I was adopted just two days short of my 42nd birthday,” Hancock said.
Hancock said he found out when he applied for a passport and his application failed due to his amended birth certificate, which had his adoptive parents listed as his only parents and excluded what hospital he was born in or the time of his birth. He said it did not provide enough information for his application to be accepted.
“I think one of the things that happens when people hear we want access to our birth certificates they think reunions, but that’s just one choice,” Hancock said. “What we’re asking for is the choice to use our birth certificate for what we need. Some people may choose to do a search; they have that right, but they must have that birth certificate first. Some people would like to know their health background. Some people just want to have that piece of paper.”
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said when he was 17 years old, he had a child who he gave up for adoption. “It is a funny situation where it is the flip-side of the coin. Luckily, with the tech-savvy young people of today, my birth daughter found me many years ago and she has been a part of our family since,” Ryan said.
Ryan said it is time for the state’s attitudes toward adoption, such as shame and privacy, to catch up with modern times. “To all the men and women who are adults, they deserve to know who they are,” Ryan said. “There are holes in people’s lives that we can easily fill.”
Ryan added some people do not want to search for their parents, but the goal of the bill is to just give adults the option. “I think it is up to the adults of today to make the decision and not have that decision taken away from them during their infancy.”
Adam Pertman, president of the Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute, a think tank that conducts research in all areas related to adoption, said about a dozen other states have similar legislation to Weprin’s bill.
“Alex Haley said everyone wants to know who they are and where they come from, but we put an asterisk on this idea in law and policy and practice, and say not for adopted people. It is time to take the asterisk away and say adopted people are like everyone else,” Pertman said. “I don’t say this because I am passionate about this issue, I am not a birth father, and I am not an adoptee. I say this because the research and the experience are unequivocal on this: everyone needs to have their information from the ‘get go.’”
Pertman said the most prominent argument keeping adoptees from their original birth certificates is the safety and privacy of the birth parents if they have no desire to see the adoptee. But Pertman said this argument is no longer relevant.
“They don’t want to be protected,” Pertman said. “They want to know what happened to the lives they created and the single greatest healing factor for them is that knowledge.”
Weprin also addressed that argument and said adoptees can find their parents through other means and often do.
The bill also would allow birth parents to sign a consent form, which would give them the option of denying contact from their child, if later the child requests his or her birth certificate.