Senate passes house bill to allow adult adoptees to acquire their original birth certificate

MILFORD — For 20 years, Cindy Wolfe Boynton has been searching for her truth. Now, she may be just weeks away from finding it.

Boynton is one of about 38,000 adult adoptees in Connecticut who are barred from accessing their original birth certificates. This year, the General Assembly passed legislation giving people like Boynton the right to see their birth documents.

The bill goes before Gov. Ned Lamont next month.

Boynton said the bill is an attempt to right a long-time wrong and create a new beginning.

“This bill is saying, ‘You know what, I’m sorry. Let’s right the wrong,’” she said. “And every time you say you’re sorry, you get an opportunity for a fresh start.”

State Sen. James Maroney, D-14, one of the bill’s most vocal supporters, said the legislation aims to end decades of denial of important — sometimes life-impacting — access to adoptees’ own information. It would amend state statutes to allow all adopted individuals and their children and grandchildren to obtain their original birth certificates. Currently, Maroney said, state law only allows individuals born or adopted after Oct. 1, 1983, to access their original birth certificates.

Numerous organizations submitted testimony in favor of the bill, including the North American Council on Adoptable Children, which endorsed the legislation under the statement that every adopted person has the right to receive personal information about their birth, foster and adoption history, including medical information, educational and social history.

Boynton’s birth certificate has her place of birth, when she was born, how much she weighed and the doctor who was in the delivery room. But the parent information on the document contains falsehoods, she said.

“All this part in the middle is 100 percent untrue,” she said. “These are my parents, the people that raised me, but they are not the people that conceived me, and it’s not the mother who gave birth to me.”

In addition to advocates like Boynton, and legislative backers like Maroney, the bill has its opponents. Eight senators and 28 state representatives voted against it. And Catholic Charities, which facilitated adoptions in Connecticut from the 1960s into the 1980s, has consistently been opposed to such legislation.

The organization’s position is that women who gave their children up for adoption should have their privacy respected.

“We are not in favor of breaking promises to birth parents who were promised anonymity,” said John Noonan, director of development and communications for Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Hartford. “These promises were made when birth parents came to our agency during the most vulnerable and difficult time of their lives.”

State Sen. Eric Berthel, R-32, who voted against the legislation, said mothers who gave up their children did so for many reasons, but they did so under a promise of anonymity. He said he had heard arguments for and against the bill from these women during public testimony.

“Some of these mothers inevitably chose to disclose their identity to their child,” he said. “This decision is their choice, based on these protections put in place years ago. It is wrong to undo these protections and create another mandate from Hartford.”

Boynton said the promises of anonymity were made in a different time, under conditions that no longer exist.

“It was the time in our society where being unmarried and pregnant was just about the worst thing that you could do,” she said. “For the woman to keep the child, she had to have the support of her family. At that time, there was tremendous shame cast upon the woman and her child.”

Boynton said a woman couldn’t get a credit card or rent an apartment without her father or husband’s signature, and support for single mothers was scarce.

“The majority of families didn’t support their daughters to keep the babies because, again, it was scorn on the family,” she said. “When women were allegedly ‘sent to live with their aunts’ for several months or ‘sent away to school,’ they were really sent to maternity homes. There were maternity homes all around the country.”

In Connecticut, adult adoptees could get their original birth certificate until 1975, when a change in the law closed adoptees’ original birth documents. Those wishing to see their original birth certificates had to petition the court and provide a compelling reason. Boynton herself started the legal process in 2000. She eventually found her birth parents, but said she still had not received her original birth certificate, which is on file with the state Department of Children and Families.

The state receives about 20 inquiries each month from adoptees looking for their birth parents or records. For those born before Oct. 1, 1983, those requests usually go unfilled.

For Boynton, the first step was to reach out to a representative from the adoption agency. She also had to send a notarized letter to the state saying she wouldn’t sue if she received traumatizing information. For a $250 filing fee, she received non-identifying information.

“I got one sentence ... that said ‘your parents met in college, your birth father didn’t want to get married, your birth mother didn’t want to give you up,’ and that’s all I knew,” she said.

After she received the non-identifying information, Boynton paid another $250 and sent another notarized letter to conduct a records search.

“The search allows a few hours of searching time,” she said. “I was fortunate that my biological mothers’ mother still lived in the exact house in Berlin. So my social worker contacted my biological grandmother, who then contacted my biological mother, and a date and time were set up for my biological mother to call me.”

Boynton found her biological father 10 years later after extensive searching.

“My biological mom was in New Hampshire, and my biological dad was living in California,” she said. “I’m very fortunate that I have a wonderful extended family now, and I went from being the only child to being the oldest of seven.”

With the advent of in-home genetic testing, Boynton said the promise of secrecy was essentially obsolete.

“We have all this genetic testing that’s available out there. You spit in a tube, you send it in, and all of a sudden online, you get matched with anyone that has your DNA,” she said.

Such a search would be far less private than simply giving adults access to their birth records, she argued.

“When you have access to the birth records, you see the name, you can find that person yourself, and you can go straight to them. It’s very private,” said Boynton.

But Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-21, took the opposite approach, saying that technology made it easy enough for people to find their own genetic information so there was no reason to renege on a promise of privacy.

“I think what we should be looking at here is a process that would look and balance these interests, which I think is what we have under current law,” said Sen. Kelly. “Rather than deciding that one interest, one of a child, is more important than that of a mother.”

For Sen. Heather Somers, R-18, the situation boiled down to the rights of adopted children being in direct conflict with the rights of their birth parents.

“Who is the one who wins here? Who is the one that has the right to either secrecy or the right to information?” she said. “I feel for both sides.”

She said she understands the adoptees who want to reach out and want to know who they are and what their family history is. Sometimes, a reunion between a birth mother and child can be a joyful event. But it should be a decision left up to the birth mother, she said.

“They have a right to be able to consent to that and have a right to say, yes, things have changed and I’m OK with giving that information out. I do want to meet the child I gave away,” Somers said. “I also feel they have the right to say no.”

Somers said she was swayed by a story from one constituent who wanted the details of her decision to give her child up for adoption to remain private.

“Her husband and her children do not know, and the last thing she wants is to have somebody knock on her door or call her or have this information exposed,” she said. “She went into it with a guarantee she wouldn’t have to face this situation and not be exposed. I do believe in many cases the birth mother has already paid a huge price that she will carry for her entire life.”

Boynton said she and her fellow adoptees considered Maroney a hero for his efforts to advance the bill.

“When James Maroney gave his testimony, every one of us was crying in (a group text) saying how great he was, how much passion he spoke with, and how he was bringing it home,” she said. “He was really incredible, and all the legislatures were incredible who spoke for the bill.”

Should Lamont sign the bill, the new law would go into effect July 1. Boynton said she, and many others, would be ready.

“I will be at Norwalk City Hall on July 1,” she said. “I will be first in line. I will sleep out if I have to. I know adoptees all over the state who will be doing the exact same thing.”