Adoption Records Bill Clears Senate

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The state Senate gave final legislative approval to a landmark bill giving adult adoptees access to their birth records.The measure is limited in scope: it only applies to those adopted after Oct. 1, 1983. But advocates who have been pressing for years for greater access to sealed adoption records cheered the bill’s passage as an important first step to a more open adoption process.Adoptees say the legislation will help them learn important medical history, such as whether they have a genetic predisposition to certain diseases. But equally important, they say, is the sense of identity the measure will help foster.

“Right now, we’re being treated like second-class citizens, like perpetual minors,” said Karen Caffrey, president of Access Connecticut Now,  grassroots advocacy group which lobbied in support of the bill.

Caffrey and Carol Goodyear, vice president of the group, watched the debate from the Senate gallery. The legislation won’t apply to Goodyear, who was born in 1956. But, she said, “I’m fine with that because I’m looking at the bigger picture…this is a small window that’s going to open a bigger window.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives last week after an impassioned plea by Rep. David Alexander, an Enfield Democrat who is adopted. It now goes to Gov. Malloy for consideration.

Advocates framed the issue as a civil rights matter, comparing their movement that of gay rights activists seeking the right to marry.Several states have taken steps in recent years to open the adoption process, including New Hampshire and Maine. Oregon has released about 11,000 original birth certificates since 2001.Adoptees in Connecticut had access to birth records prior to 1975, but that year, state lawmakers ended the practice. There have been sporadic attempts to change that, but each time, the effort fell short. In 2006, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill that would have given adoptees born after 2006 access to their birth records.

The bill that cleared the Senate by a vote of 31 to 5 enables qualified adoptees to obtain their birth certificates from the state Department of Public Health. If their biological parents signed a health history form or a contact form, the adoptee would also be permitted to get that too. Advocates estimate that about 24,000 people adopted after 1983 will benefit from the bill.

Critics in the state Senate said they sympathize with an adoptees quest to obtain their medical histories and find out more about their identity.

But they said those concerns must be balanced with the rights of both the biological and adoptive parents.

“I’m very concerned about the impact this decision will have on adoption in the state of Connecticut,” said Sen. Michael McLachlan, a Danbury Republican who described himself as a reluctant opponent. “Ideally the medical records should be made available but those medical records must be made available anonymously.”

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, also voted no, even though he understands why adoptees would be driven to resolve “the huge question mark” surrounding their birth.

But Kissel said he has to balance that a desire not to discourage pregnant women from considering adoption. “I wouldn’t want anything going against bringing a child to term and offering it to adoption,” he said.

But, Caffrey said, it’s a civil rights issue. “It’s a human rights issue,” she said.

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