' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Opening birth records: States of fame (OR, OH) and shame (WA)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Opening birth records: States of fame (OR, OH) and shame (WA)

Bills in three states, Oregon, Ohio and Washington, open the door to greater adoptee--and in Oregon, first parent--access to adoption records. 

Oregon is leading the way with a bill that will allow adult adoptees to see their entire court file, other than the home study. The Senate passed the bill, SB 623, unanimously on Tuesday, April 23. If this becomes law, adoptees will no longer need a
judge to order access. The practical effect will be to allow adopted individual to learn details about their
adoption. Additionally, first mothers, and first fathers if their consent for adoption was required, will have an easier time gaining access to court files to learn their child's adoptive name and the names of the adoptive parents. (For details on the bill, click the link below, "Opening court records to adoptees and first parents.") Oregon--of which I am a proud resident--led the way on opening records that had been sealed by passing a 1998 ballot measure allowing adult adoptees to have copies of their original birth certificates. 

In Ohio, it's a big hello, Columbus! HB 61 which passed the House on April 10 is poised to undo most of the state's bizarre scheme of access to original birth certificates. If passed by the Senate, and signed by the Governor,  approximately 400,000 adult adoptees will be able to obtain copies of their original birth certificates. Under current law, original birth certificates (OBC) of adoptions finalized before 1964 are available to adoptees without restriction;  those adopted between 1964 to 1996 group now get nothing. Adoptees after 1996 get their OBCs subject to a first parent veto. HB 61 allows adult adoptees whose adoption occurred between 1964 and 1996 to obtain copies of their original birth certificates without restrictions.  A companion bill, SB 23, contains the same provisions.   

What's truly amazing in the Ohio situation is who has come out in support of these bills: the Ohio Catholic Conference of Bishops; the Ohio Right-to-Life and the Cleveland Clinic. And that, my friends, is history. Right to Life and Catholic organizations elsewhere have been staunch opponents. Even as recent as a few years ago, the National Council for Adoption was pushing the false idea that opening the records would increase abortions. In that sense, we've come a long way.

Betsie Norris of the Adoption Network Cleveland who has worked long and hard for access to original birth certificates is optimistic that this is the year. A majority of legislators have signed on to the bills. As for post 1996 adoptees, they're still subject to a first-parent veto. Although no one is keeping track, it appears that only a small number of vetoes have been filed, according to Betsie. Legislation in the future is needed to fix that anomaly, and give post 1996 adoptees the same rights as other Ohio adoptees.

Meanwhile, the Washington Legislature is slithering down from Olympia to some sink hole populated by 1950's era moralists and privacy fanatics. It passed HB 1525 that allows adult adoptees to receive a copy of their of original birth certificate unless a first parent files a "contact preference" stating she or he does not want a "copy of the original birth certificate released to the adoptee." This "preference" expires upon the death of the birth parent (a truly macabre provision), and is, in fact, a veto. Adoptees can request that the Department of Health check records each year to determine if the objecting first parent is deceased. ("Oh goody, mom's dead so now I can learn her name.") What's particularly galling about the Washington bill is that the perpetrator of this absurdity is not the Catholic Bishops, Right to Life, the adoption industry or adoptive parents, but First Mother Sen. Ann Rivers, spurred on by the Washington American Civil Liberties Union. (Them again! They seem to only care about first mothers, not adoptees!)

HB 1525 was originally introduced by Rep. Tina Orwall, an adoptee, as a clean bill, without a until-death veto. Sen. Rivers muscled Rep. Orwall into agreeing to the amendment. Apparently, Sen. Rivers thinks she needs to protect mothers from their shame. We say, what's shameful is the Washington Legislature.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has until April 29 to sign the bill. It's likely he will since it passed both houses with few dissenters.--jane

For more on bills 
Oregon SB 623
Ohio HB 61
Ohio SB 23
Washington HB 1525

Opening court records to adoptees and first parents
Adoptee legislator supports birth-parent veto in Washington
OBC-access bill with 'birth mother' veto may become law 
Reunion: A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn't Keep After decades of separation, 26-year-old adoptee Katie Hern writes to her birthmother, Ellen McGarry Carlson. Written over a course of one year, this book follows the women's progress - from elation to understanding to accepting - and efforts to create an honest relationship. After several months, mother and daughter finally meet face-to-face in an emotional and exhilarating reunion.--Amazon  For mothers and sons and daughters who cannot meet face to face initially, this is a helpful guide of how others handled the situation.

Its sweet, heartbreaking story is told on pages of vibrant colors and uneven widths, pages with cut-outs and strip-ins, pages with peepholes—pages of all shapes and colorful varieties. This story is a simple one about a little girl. She has parents, naturally, but they went away when she was nine. And as she has no relatives to care for her, she is taken in by an orphanage. Lonely and a bit unusual, she stares at people with her big eyes. She often does things that aren't very nice, and people aren't very nice to her. In fact, they want to send her away. Until, one day...
Lorraine here: I found this book in an unusual book store in Saginaw, Michigan, a year before I met my daughter's father. I treasure it dearly, and have given copies to close friends, lovers, daughter. If you appreciate art, Love is a treasure.


  1. I have just about, but not quite, given up on the legislative process when it comes to this issue. (Ohio does give me hope that change may be possible, even here in New Jersey.) It is so distressing that just one person can derail an adoptee rights bill, and it is beyond belief that adopted adults continue to be treated with such disrespect in most states. What can we do but keep putting the facts out there? A great post!

  2. Not only will a denied Washington adoptee have to continually file to confirm death of the birth parent, that adoptee will also have to PAY for the government search each time that they request the document.

    Tina Orwall insists that, had we pushed for the clean bill, it would have been killed so we have to take incremental steps. I say that the Washington state legislature missed an opportunity to do the right thing.

    Well keep fighting...


  3. Well, a parent veto doesn't sound that bad, provided the adopted person gets the addy of the veto-ing person.

    About Right-to-Life, aggressive support for adoption hurts the pro-life case. Showing that they do care for people after they have been born is the obvious thing to do.

  4. I lived in Ohio for 35 years as a transplanted Pennsylvanian. I am so proud of Ohio. Adoption Network Cleveland has been out in front with its services to all members of the Triad. It's helped in reunions of even those born out of state.



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