Senate passes adoptee birth-records bill

January 21, 2016

Advocates for granting Indiana adoptees access to their birth certificates appear on the way to victory this year after years of trying.

The Indiana Senate on Thursday voted 43-5 to approve Senate Bill 91, which would allow adoptees born between 1941 and 1993 to access birth records. Proponents have been asking lawmakers to ease those restrictions for eight years.

“This bill is so important to adult adoptees across Indiana,” Pam Kroskie, president of Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records, said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful to the Indiana State Senate for pushing Hoosier adoptees one step closer to equal access to records.”

A tearful Ryan Griffith told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 13 he was adopted in 1978 but was disheartened when he attempted to obtain his original birth certificate and was denied. He said he felt a piece of his identity was missing, and he rejected claims that the record blackout was meant to protect the confidentiality of birth mothers.

“We’re trying to protect someone from something, who knows if they even want to be protected from?” Griffith said.

Adoptees, mothers who placed children for adoption, and others testified on behalf of a bill that marks a compromise to legislation introduced in past sessions. The proposal provides for a contact preference form that would allow a birth parent to opt out of release of information or to choose to release information only through an intermediary.

The access to records would become effective July 1, 2018, providing the Department of Health adequate time to provide notice to people who would be affected by the bill.

Former House Speaker Paul Mannweiler spoke during the committee hearing in favor of the bill on behalf of Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records. He said the Indiana bill presented this year is based on similar legislation that took effect last year in Ohio. The Buckeye State, unlike Indiana’s proposed law, made its opt-out provision advisory.

Mannweiler said Ohio, a state with almost twice Indiana’s population, received only a handful of complaints after adoption records were opened.

Adam Pertman, president of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, urged the Senate panel to recommend the bill’s passage, which it did on a 10-0 vote. Pertman told senators they had a rare opportunity to pass a law with roughly 95 percent public support.

“What you’re contemplating is not an experiment,” he said. “It used to be.” The results have been positive, he said, for adoptees and birth parents.

Pertman said providing access to birth records helps adoptees fill in a gap in their lives, makes people heal and feel whole. He said adoptees without access to birth records feel they’re denied a basic right others enjoy.

Bill sponsor and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, cited a need for potentially life-saving medical records as a compelling reason that led him to change his stance on opening records over time. He apologized to advocates for killing bills in prior sessions that would have opened records. “I was wrong,” he said.

Steele Steele

Bloomington adoption attorney Don Francis testified it’s a misnomer that mothers who placed children for adoption in past generations were promised confidentiality. He and other experts testified that nature of documents birth mother signed in these times were meant to protect the adoption and the adoptive family, not extend confidentiality to birth mothers.

“We were not promised a lifetime of anonymity from our offspring,” said Marcie Keithley-Roth, who placed her child for adoption in 1978. She said young single mothers like herself who placed children for adoption at that time were told to move on with their lives as if they had never given birth.

“We were not given a choice … it was imposed upon us,” she said. She urged lawmakers, “pass this bill, so we can have a choice.”


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