Bill would allow adoptees access to birth certificates

Republican state Rep. Charles Ferraro and his challenger for the seat come November, Democrat Cindy Wolfe Boynton, may have differences, but they share a similar story. That story has both of them advocating for passage of House Bill 5408, which aims to help individuals adopted prior to 1983, and their adult children or grandchildren, obtain an uncertified copy of an original birth certificate.

Ferraro, who is a co-sponsor of the bill along with state Rep. Kim Rose (D-118), expressed his support for the bill in written testimony recently before the House Judiciary Committee, telling a personal story about his own life. Ferraro explained that he grew up with his mother and stepfather, but his biological father was out of the picture.

“I know firsthand the frustrations of not knowing who I truly am, who my father was and who an entire half of my family ancestry was,” Ferraro stated in the testimony. “It wasn’t until I had graduated from college did I have the opportunity to meet my biological father.”

When his biological father died, Ferraro decided to go to his funeral. He thought it was time to meet the rest of his family.

“I was surprised how quickly they accepted me and told me about the stories that he would tell of how he, out of respect for my mother’s wishes, stayed away from me but that he would go to my high school basketball games to watch me without me knowing he was there,” Ferraro said. “I think how sad that we never had the opportunity to get to know each other. I also think back on all the times I answered medical questions on medical applications about family history and could not answer the questions for lack of knowing who my father was nor anything about his medical history.”

Changing laws
Until 1975, adults had unrestricted access to their original birth certificate. In 1975 Connecticut changed its law to seal birth records, preventing adult adoptees and birth parents from accessing information. In 2015 a bill went into effect granting birth certificate access to any Connecticut adult whose adoption was finalized after Oct. 1, 1983.

The 1983 compromise/first step legislation was chosen because effective Oct. 1, 1983, every biological parent who voluntarily relinquished a child in Connecticut had to sign an affidavit that put them on notice their adult offspring might learn their identity.

And so it has stood in Connecticut that only those born or adopted in Connecticut after Oct. 1, 1983, have access to their original birth certificates. House Bill 5408 aims to open records for adoptees of any age.

Marley Greiner, executive chair of Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization, also submitted testimony.

“The passage in 2015 of public Act 14-133 which restored the right of [original birth certificate] access to Connecticut adopted persons whose adoptions were finalized before Oct. 1, 1983, shows that the legislature understands the justice in [original birth certificate] access,” Greiner wrote. “Unfortunately, 30,000 of the state’s adoptees were left behind in that limited law — their records remaining sealed and available only through court order. HB 5408 finishes the job, making all Connecticut adoptees subject to the same right of access and due process.”

Three phases
The past century has seen three phases in Connecticut adoption policy, according to Karen Caffrey, an adoptee and president of Access Connecticut Now. Up to and including the early 1900s, the policy was to make public the identify of unmarried women who bore children and the identify of the children, Caffrey wrote in her testimony to the Judicial Committee.

The newborns’ birth certificates were stamped “illegitimate,” she wrote, pointing out that the reason was to ensure “that people of good breeding and social class would not unknowingly marry and reproduce with those deemed to have ‘bad blood.’”

The second phase, during the middle part of the 1900s, “is referred to by adoption reform advocates as the “Baby Scoop Era.” Once an adoption was finalized, and the child’s original birth certificate was sealed, the child was given an amended birth certificate “that allows him to pass as the biological child of his adoptive parents.”

“Women were encouraged (and often forced) to give birth in secret and to relinquish their children to better, morally superior, and economically advantaged adoptive families,” Caffrey stated.

In recent years, marking the third phase of adoption policy, the adoption reform movement has grown, with adoptees and experts realizing “that secrets and lies within families do not promote physical, mental or emotional well-being.”

Birth certificates a lie
Boynton, in her testimony, said she belongs to the “baby scoop era.”

“My birth certificate, shown here, is a legal lie,” she wrote to the Judiciary Committee.

She said the time, location and date on the certificate are factual, but other details are not.
“The names typed in all caps under “Full Name of the Child’s Mother and Father” are fabrications. Barbara and Edward Wolfe were the parents who raised me. However, they did not see me for the first time until Dec. 6, 1967, the day before they brought me home from the
adoption agency.”

She argued that a legal document should have factual information.

“Nowhere on this legal document — required by both the state of Connecticut and federal government to prove who I am — is there a stamp, handwritten note or any hint suggesting my birth certificate is actually an amended version created after my adoption was finalized in 1968.”

She argued that there are more than 38,000 adults like her who have, as legal proof of their identities, birth certificates that are essentially lies.

She said passing HB 5408 would make Connecticut the seventh state since 2000 to
unseal adoptees’ birth records, following the leads of Oregon, Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

“Opponents’ primary argument is that opening records would break the promise of anonymity made to the birth mother,” Boynton continued. “The truth, however, is that for the majority of unwed mothers, this ‘promise’ of confidentiality was more forced than desired.”

Boynton and others, including state Rep. Kim Rose, also argued that with DNA testing rising in popularity, and the help of the Internet, adopted children are finding out who their birth parents are.

“I have several friends who are adoptees who discovered their biological families this way,” Boynton said, “and all agree that open birth records would have helped prevent needless shock and drama, as well as ensured the privacy of those who desired it.”