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Government and Politics

Ohio lawmakers push for open adoption records
Two bills working their way through the Ohio Legislature would allow adoptees equal access to their original birth certificates.

Amy Cooknick
In The Region:

The adoption measures, House Bill 61 and its companion Senate Bill 23, attempt to undo legislation from 1964 that closed birth records for adoptees nationwide.

Under current Ohio law, individuals adopted between 1964 and 1996 still do not have access to their original birth certificates. But adults adopted before 1964 or after 1996, have open access.

Adoption Network Cleveland launched a campaign earlier this year to help pass laws opening up the records.  Director Betsie Norris says this is the sixth attempt in 24 years to help people gain access in Ohio.

Betsie Norris, Adoption Network Cleveland

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Contact Preference protects parents anonymity
Norris says, “this secrecy that has kind of hung over adoption has not been positive for the reputation of adoption."

She says people once worried that open access would make birth mothers less likely to place a child up for adoption. But "that has not turned out to be the case in any of the states that have opened up that period," Norris says. "So basically, people’s fears didn’t come true, so people who had previously opposed the bill are now actually supporting it.”

Norris says the proposed legislation includes a contact preference that allows birth parents to decide whether they would like to be contacted by their child in the future. She says this addresses concerns that releasing birth records to adoptees would violate birth parent rights.

Proposals allay fears of birth and adoptive parents
In the House, two state representatives are jointly sponsoring the adoptee rights bill. Lakewood Democrat Nickie Antonio and Marysville Republican Dorothy Pelanda call it a civil rights case and say it is time to give adoptees and birth parents the same rights as everyone else.

Pelanda says part of the past opposition to the bill came from a lack of understanding of the adoption process. She says there was a fear in the past that birth parents would choose abortion over adoption to try to keep their pregnancies secret. Pelanda says, “a study of the documents of adoptions between 1964 and 1996 just simply proved that that was not true.” 

Antonio adds that the bill focuses on equity rather than any attempt by adoptees to contact birth parents.

With the rise of social media and the amount of information available online, Antonio says privacy is no longer the driving issue it once was for opposition groups. "It’s really about just giving them equity along with everyone else who’s been adopted in Ohio.” Antonio says the legislation takes away “an inequity for a group of people who should have access to an original birth certificate.”  

The House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 61 unanimously last week.  The full House and Senate will take up the bills when lawmakers return from spring recess next month.

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