Study panel recommends opening adoption records

October 21, 2015

A legislative study committee Tuesday recommended opening records to thousands of Hoosiers born before 1994 who cannot access their own birth certificates.

The Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary approved a draft statute that would open those records in 2017 to people born and placed for adoption between 1941 and 1993. Several advocates spoke in favor of the bill; none spoke against.

“Isn’t it time we stopped letting the fears of the few affect the needs of the many?” asked Pam Kroskie, president of Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records. “We will never grow out of needing to know who we are.”

Open records proponents said without access to their birth certificates, many adoptees sense a lack of identity and have no clue about their parents’ genetic medical history. They characterized the fight for proof of their identity as a matter of civil and human rights.

Opponents have argued that birth mothers during the time affected by the bill were given an implicit promise of confidentiality when they placed their child for adoption. Advocates, though, said extensive searching yielded no documents extending a legal grant of confidentiality to birth mothers.

A bill to open adoption records last year sailed through the Senate before Gov. Mike Pence registered opposition due to the privacy concerns of women who had placed a child for adoption.

The committee draft aims to address those concerns while still opening access to adoptees’ birth certificates. Under the draft, affected birth parents could sign a contact preference form with several options. Parents would be able to say:

  • they welcome contact and release information;
  • they prefer to be contacted through an intermediary;
  • they prefer no contact and do not authorize release of identifying information; or,
  • they prefer no contact but will provide the parent’s medical information through a third party.

Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Evansville, declined to block an otherwise 10-0 vote in favor of placing the committee’s blessing on the bill, but he said he was concerned about forcing birth parents to make an affirmative choice. He said many parents might not receive notice of the law, fail to fill out a form, and receive an unwanted, possibly traumatic visit from a past they tried to put behind them.   

“I really feel for that person in their 60s or 70s who has (a biological child) show up at the door,” Washburne said.

But Adam Pertman, president of the Massachusetts-based National Center on Adoption and Permanency, said such fears are unfounded based on the experience of other states where birth records were opened to adoptees.

“You know what happened? Nothing,” Pertman said. “Not a lawsuit, not a front-page story about a ruined life.”

Pertman said such arguments also mischaracterize the nature of relationships between birth parents and their biological children. While there may be some birth parents who refuse to provide identifying information to their now-grown children, he said the experience elsewhere shows most want to know their kids are well. This frequently provides a sense of healing for parents and closure for adoptees.

“It’s negligible, the number of women who say no” to contact from their adult children, he said.

Pertman also took issue with the narrative of implicit promises of confidentiality given long ago to birth mothers. Rather, he said, withholding birth records was often a coercive condition in which young women were given no choice, and these conditions were seen as protecting the adoption and the adoptive parents.

“We had an era where secrecy was the basic M.O. of adoption,” Pertman said. “We don’t live there anymore.”

Committee member Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, agreed. “I believe this is a statute that has run its course. … I believe times have changed.”



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