HARTFORD (AP) — Hundreds of people from around the U.S. who were adopted are pressing Connecticut lawmakers to allow all adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates, arguing access to such records is a fundamental human right.
The General Assembly’s Planning and Development Committee, which held a hearing Friday, has been inundated with close to 300 pieces of written testimony from as far away as Oregon. Adoptees and birth parents alike have relayed stories about successful reunions; their struggles to be reunited with a lost parent or child; or just not knowing their personal history and medical backgrounds.
“As an adult adoptee, I beg you to relieve me of my pain, by returning to me the birth-identity knowledge that the state has held secret, through no fault of my own, against my will, and without any reasonable recourse,” John Bowman, 68, of Fairfield, Connecticut wrote to the committee. “For adult adoptees my age, time in life is running short to be granted these mercies by the state. But it is not yet too late. The time is now.”
But Republican Rep. Noreen Kokoruda of Madison said she worries the voices of birth mothers who gave up their children for adoption years ago, expecting their decision would be kept secret, are not being heard in the emotional debate over whether to fully open access to the records.
In 2014, a state law was enacted that allowed access to original birth certificates finalized on or after Oct. 1, 1983, a move that affected an estimated 26,000 adoptees. The 1983 date was chosen because birth parents that year began receiving warnings their identities could eventually be revealed.
If the law is expanded to include adoptions dating back to 1919, it’s been estimated an additional 60,000 adoptees in the state could gain access to their original birth certificate.
“I remind the young women in this building that these women are now in their 70s and 80s,” Kokoruda said of the birth mothers who could potentially be affected by the law change. “It’s not like it is today. You’re talking about a woman who most likely had to quit school or quit her job. Quite often, the family threw her out.”
Nadine Behmke has been a social worker for more than 26 years at the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford, an organization that opposes the legislation. She works daily trying to match adoptees and birth parents. Five years ago, she began keeping track of the outcomes of her searches. Of the more than 160 searches, there were 60 reunions. Fifty-one of the parents were deceased, and 49 refused to be contacted.
“I send them letters and they don’t even call me back,” she said, adding how some birth parents are “terrified to be found” or “angry to be located” by a child they gave up for adoption.
“I don’t think people really understand how things were kept secret back then,” Behmke said, adding how “you have a lot of birth parents that may not have told their children. They were in a different place and in a different time.”
Catholic Charities submitted testimony from anonymous birth father who, as a teenager, relinquished his rights to a child who was adopted more than 35 years ago. He said the legislation is “an invasion of thousands of families’ privacy” and how it “would effectively invade their homes and very likely cause some level of harm to their loved ones.”
But Karen Caffrey, president Access Connecticut Now Inc., a group representing the adoptees who want the law change, said the “purpose for the birth certificate is to document the birth” and therefore the adoptee should have access to it.
“I see it as our birth certificate, our birth,” said Caffrey, who was adopted.
Cindy Wolfe Boynton, president of the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women, considers Connecticut’s adoption record law to be the last vestige of “women-protective legislation” written by men, such as deeming women to be too “fragile” from serving on juries, for example.
“Rather than protecting women, it was put in place as part of an oppressive system that denied women choice over their right to parent, and to control their sexuality and their bodies,” Boynton said in written testimony. “Like many other types of women-protective legislation, the claims of ‘privacy’ created by this law are thinly veiled efforts to silence and marginalize women.”
Numerous birth mothers have submitted testimony to the committee supporting the latest legislation, saying they never expected their identities to be kept private when they gave up their children for adoption.
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