Advocates hope all adoption records will be opened

Chris Christie, Joseph F. Vitale, Pam Hasegawa, Peter Franklin

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A new law signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will allow thousands of adoptees to obtain copies of their original birth certificates, bringing the state in line with more than a dozen others that have opened access to such records.

The law applies only to adults whose adoptions were finalized after Oct. 1, 1983, but advocates are hoping state officials will eventually go further and allow thousands more adopted children to get the same information.

“It’s a matter of when,” said Carol Goodyear, vice president of the adoptee rights group Access Connecticut. “It’s going to all be open eventually.”

States across the country sealed birth certificates of adoptees from the 1940s through the 1980s, often with the intent of protecting adoptive families or the privacy of unwed mothers. But in recent years, a growing number of states have changed course. According to the American Adoptee Congress, about 15 states now allow adoptees full or partial access to birth certificates. Pam Kroskie, the organization’s president and an adoptee, said opinions are changing on keeping such information secret from adoptees.

“I think the general public realizes the earth is not going to explode if we allow adoptees and birth parents to reunite,” Kroskie said.

Connecticut’s new law, which takes effect July 1, 2015, will affect about 26,000 adoptees, according to Goodyear. 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, an additional 60,000 adoptees in the state could gain access to their original birth certificates.

That’s what Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch hopes will happen. As an adoptee and a former state senator who has worked on the issue, he sees it as a “deep-seated wrong” to deny adoptees information about their birth.

“It’s an inalienable right that people who were adopted were denied. It’s for no good public policy purpose,” Finch said.

Besides having the ability to contact their birth parents, adoptees want the information for practical purposes, such as obtaining a passport or learning about their birth family’s medical history.

During this year’s debate in the Connecticut General Assembly, some lawmakers questioned the fairness of changing the rules after many older birth mothers were assured their identities would always be kept private. State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, called it “morally wrong” to put birth parents in the position of potentially being contacted by a child given up for adoption.

Holly Harlow of Newington disagrees. Now 58, Harlow got pregnant at 18 and gave up her baby for adoption in 1974, meaning she wouldn’t be affected by the new law. She recalls telling her social worker she didn’t want to remain anonymous, but the information was not provided to her daughter or her daughter’s adoptive parents.

Harlow eventually tracked down her daughter and sent a letter on her 18th birthday. The two later met and have become close.

While some older mothers might fear being discovered, Harlow said she’s not convinced every woman feels that way.

“When the child you surrender for adoption 30, 40, 50 years ago calls you on the phone, sends you a letter, there’s no anticipating what the reaction is going to be,” she said. “You cannot underestimate the impact of your child becoming real to you again.”

 

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