ACCESS TO BIRTH CERTIFICATES FOR ADULT ADOPTEES
Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee
April 13, 2010
Bastard Nation: the adoptee rights organization is the largest adoptee rights advocacy organization in the United States. We support full, unrestricted access for all adopted persons, upon request, of their own true, unaltered original birth certificates (OBC). We oppose HB 5428 as we have opposed similar bills introduced in the Illinois legislature over the past 15 years.
HB 5428 is misleading. The bill’s stated purpose and its final product are diametrically opposed. The bill simply beefs up the current confidential intermediary/registry system that controls adoptee access to their own public records and adds penalties for so-called “misuse” of information from the registry. According to the bill’s introduction:
The General Assembly recognizes that it is the basic right of all persons to access their birth records, and, to this end, supports public policy that allows an adult adoptee to access his or her original birth certificate
Then, the second sentence immediately voids the “basic right” claim of the first, turning OBC access into a state-granted privilege:
The General Assembly further recognizes that there are circumstances under which a birth parent may have compelling reasons for wishing to remain anonymous to a child he or she surrendered for adoption.
The introduction ends with a mishmash of language that falsely equates “interests” with “rights. It then turns around and creates “special rights,” ungrounded in law, for biological parents based on the age of the adult adopted person, biological parent comfort, and a multi-level bureaucracy to control and restrict the outcome of what the bill claims is a “basic right.”
In an effort to balance these interests, the General Assembly supports public policy that releases a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate to an adult adopted person upon request unless a specific request for anonymity has been filed with the Registry by a birth parent upon request unless a specific request for anonymity has been filed with the Registry by a birth parent named on the original birth certificate.”
The bill’s introduction is followed by 80 pages (pdf) of convoluted, confusing definitions, rules, and regulations that only the politically astute and experienced I adoption legislation can understand. The bill offers a bureaucratic cornucopia of original OBC “permissions” “information exchanges” and controls reflecting the individual personal “preferences” and desires of “birthparents,” and collateral “birth family” members—all with appropriate state forms to fill out--and bureaucrats, geared to override the “basic right” the General Assembly claims adopted people have.
Parts of this bill have already been enacted into law; some are new sections. Although there is much to object to, we limit ourselves to a brief overview with comments on eight egregious points. The term “parent” throughout the testimony refers to the biological parent HB 5428:
1. conflates rights with reunion. It confuses OBC access with contact with a parent. It retains the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Exchange (IARME), and currently outsources the registry process to the privately owned Midwest Adoption Center as the OBC gateway; thus, keeping the vital records of the state’s adoptees at the mercy and whim of “confidential intermediaries” and paid “searchers” in an inherently arbitrary system accountable to no one.
2. vacates, though parental disclosure veto power (see #4) 750 ILCS 50/10) (from Ch. 40, par. 1512) FINAL AND IRREVOCABLE CONSENT TO ADOPTION which states in part:
That I do hereby consent and agree to the adoption of such child. That I wish to and understand that by signing this consent I do irrevocably and permanently give up all custody and other parental rights I have to such child. That I understand such child will be placed for adoption and that I cannot under any circumstances, after signing this document, change my mind and revoke or cancel this consent or obtain or recover custody or any other rights over such child.
It also contradicts its own language:
“Surrendered person” means a person whose parents’ rights have been surrendered or terminated but who has not been adopted.” (p 11)
3. divides Illinois’ adopted citizens into two arbitrary classes based solely on date of birth: worthy and unworthy. Worthies are born before January 1, 1946. Their OBC is released upon request--like the not-adopted. Unworthies are born after that date. Their OBC release is subject to a lengthy menu of regulations, restrictions and other people’s decisions about access, none of which are under the adult adoptee’s control.
4. subjects Unworthies to five subcategories of parental permission. These categories are not based in a public or civil rights /equal protection and treatment paradigmn. but on state-granted privilege. The bill predicates release on a “special right” for parents whose rights were terminated decades ago, which no other parent or adult has: a special right to deny another adult his or her own birth certificate.
5. Parents (referred to as “birthparents in the bill) are given five “preferences” to choose from:
a. Agree to full release; parent prefers direct contact
b. Agree to full release; parent prefers contact through a personally designated third party
c. Agree to full release; parent prefers contact through IARME
d. Agree to full release; parent prefers no contact
e. Prohibit release of the OBC or certain designated information on the OBC. Depending on the parent’s “preference” the prohibited adoptee may receive the OBC with specific information deleted. In other words, the State of Illinois will deliberately mutilate its own public record at the request of a private individual—in most cases a virtual stranger to the requester--to abrogate the right the “basic right” state says the adoptee has.
6. forces adopted persons who have been denied their birth certificates, to wait FIVE years before they can appeal the decision. At that time, IARME, upon petition, can search for the parent to request an updated medical history and/or confirm the continuance of the prohibition.
7. levies a minimum $10,000 punitive damage claim, payable to the “sought-after relative” against any individual—a CI, state employee, even the adopted person-- who uses information allegedly received from the IARME to identify the relative who has requested “anonymity.” How the source of information is to be determined is anybody’s guess.
8. includes a provision for a massive taxpayer funded public information campaign including a website, press releases, and printed notices about the law enclosed with drivers license and vehicle renewal applications. This cost does not include the cost of retention of separate birth, adoption and registry records, general maintenance of IARME, and outsourced searches which the state has no legal or fiscal responsibility to pursue. We have seen no fiscal note at this time, but under the current state government budget slashes, such expenditures are irresponsible and wasteful.
For nearly three decades, we have heard the claim that biological parents have been promised anonymity from their own offspring who were placed for adoption, yet not one document has ever been presented to show that promise. In fact, some parents say they were promised reunions when their surrendered child became an adult—reunions that never materialized. If anything, courts have found that parents do not have any legal expectation of anonymity. (Doe v Sundquist, 943 F. Supp. 886, 893-94 (M.D. Tenn. 1996)) (06 F.3d 703, 705 (6th Cir. 1997)) (Does v Oregon, Summary Judgment Oregon State Court of Appeals) (Does v. State of Oregon, 164 Or.App. 543, 993 P.2d 833, 834 (1999)).
Under normal circumstances, competitive rights and their balancing is a problem only when there is a conflict of rights. Since there is also a presumed right to own one’s birth certificate, and no “right” to anonymity from one’s own offspring, there is nothing that needs balanced. HB 5428 is pointless. It needs to die in committee now.
Kansas and Alaska have never sealed birth certificates. In the last 10 years, Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire and Maine have restored the right of all its adopted adults—without restriction-- to access their own original birth certificates. Those bills were short and sweet. Approximately 17,000 birth certificates have been unsealed, with no “social unrest” that opponents claimed. Other states are moving in the same direction. Yet, here we are in Springfield arguing an 80 page monstrosity that does nothing but create an even thicker—and more expensive--bureaucracy than already exists. We’ve been at this for 15 years now, and I doubt if anybody here wants to do it another 15 years or 20 years, or 50 years. But if that’s what it takes, we will.
The Illinois legislature needs to put its money where its mouth is: The General Assembly recognizes that it is the basic right of all persons to access their birth records, and, to this end, supports public policy that allows an adult adoptee to access his or her original birth certificate.
Please make that public policy a reality and come back with a real OBC access bill that treats all of Illinois’ adopted equal to its not-adopted. Please vote DO NOT PASS.
Marley E. Greiner
Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization