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Birth Certificate Access for Adopted Adults

March 21, 2002
By: Sonia Valero
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 830, HB 2017, HB 1195 and HB 847.

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri legislators proposed three bills that would allow adopted adults over a certain age to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate.

According to the Child Welfare League of America statistics, approximately 2 percent of all U.S. children are adopted. The largest numbers of children are adopted from China, Russia and South Korea.

One of the sponsors, Rep. Glenda Kelly, D-St.Joseph, has unsuccessfully tried for the last four years to get access for all adult adoptees to their original unaltered birth certificate.

After encountering persistent opposition, Kelly has tried a compromise approach -- to restrict access to those age of 50 or older. That, she said she thought, would not really harm anybody.

"It seems to be a sense -and it has been common in many other states- that birth parents did not want that information released," Kelly said. "I do not agree because even if they may have been implied secrecy, there was not legal secrecy and nobody has the right to make that arrangement."

Kelly emphasizes that this bill is not for searching the birth parents, but to obtain the original birth certificate.

"An adult adoptee should have the same right as everybody else to get a copy of his or her own unaltered birth certificate to validate that he or she is that person that is on that certificate," Kelly said. "It is not for search for the parents -thing that can already be done now."

Jayna Rust, Journalism junior at the University of Missouri, supports open records for adoptees. Adopted when she was six months old, Rust said she always knew she was adopted because her parents are white and she is a native Korean.

"From being an adopted child something like that would be really important to have because adopted children we all wonder to some degree about our past," Rust said.

The House Civil and Administrative Law Committee agreed. It has approved legislation that would allow any person age 18 or older to have access to their birth records. The bill now is waiting to be reported to the full House for debate.

Under Missouri law, people who are not adoptees can get a copy of their original birth certificates by just paying the state $10. Adoptees do get a birth certificate, but it has been ammended to show the names of the adoptive parents.

Jana Gray, clerk at the Birth Certificate Office, said the differences between an original certificate and an alterated one are not obvious.

Proponents of giving the same access to adoptees argue that most of the adoptive parents do not object. But opponents say objections do come from many natural parents who give their children up for adoption.

Diane Balogh, a representation of Lutheran Family Services of Missouri, said they are against the bill as it is currently written.

"At the time we have guarantee the birth parents anonymity and privacy and we feel that we owe that to the birth parents," Balogh said. "We want to maintain that privacy and not to go back and open those records. But if they will change the bill and make it active on the state forward, we will have a chance to prepare birth mothers and let them know that the child might contact them in the future."

Balogh said her organization does not think that is fair or ethical to make this bill retroactive at this time. She said that even if she does not know if this bill would discourage people to give their children to adoption, she said it could affect them in some way.

Similar to providing access to the original birth certificate is a proposal that had been sponsored in prior years by Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County.

Her approach would allow adopted 21 years of age or older adults to contact with their birth parents without having to petition a court.

The Family Services Division maintains a registry by which birth parents and adopted adults may indicate their desire to be contacted by each other.

"Our system in the states makes it very difficult for an adult to find her or his sibling because the organizations that iniciate adoptions made this information anonymous; even if it is not that way in law," Fraser said.

Fraser said that adult adoptees that want to contact their birth families should be able to.

This year, however, Fraser chose did not file her bill because, she said, "it created so much havoc last year."

"People who have adoptive children are very worried sometimes for their children finding their real parents," Fraser said. "The issue is that they are not children anymore and that also they might need to find them for medical reasons, such as finding bone marrow donors for leukemia victims," she said.

Some adoptee parents agree with Fraser's arguments.

Janine Musick, magazine freelancer resident in Columbia, adopted her daughter aged of five days in April 1999 through a private attorney.

"My daughter has her original certificate because we had an open adoption," Musick said. "Even though if it would not have been like this, I would like that the child could know her medical history, but I believe that birth parents who placed their child for adoption and want to be left alone, should be left alone," Musick said.