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Norwalkers give adoption records access law a mixed recepetion

HARTFORD, Conn. – A new law that takes effect in July will allow some Connecticut residents who were adopted the right to obtain their original birth certificates.

Gov. Dannel Malloy said Monday he had signed the bill, which will apply to citizens 18 years and older whose adoptions were finalized on or since Oct. 1, 1983.

Since 1975, when legislation passed permitting adoptees access only to amended birth certificates, Connecticut residents have been unable to obtain the original records with the names of their birth parents.

The bill will open those records for people adopted after Oct. 1, 1983, when biological parents began signing a form acknowledging the child may, as an adult, access documents that could identify them. The bill was negotiated to ease the concerns of lawmakers who feel the change violates the trust of birth mothers who expected the state to respect their privacy.

“That bill was drafted appropriately because it was cognizant of the fact that from 1983 . . . and moving forward, people who put a child up for adoption were given notice that that information might be shared,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said. “I think it’s an appropriate compromise piece of legislation that’s been reached.”

Adoptees argue that the redacted birth records create health risks for them. Without knowing their family medical histories, they cannot be screened for illnesses to which they are predisposed based on family medical history and genetics.

Local reaction to the bill was mixed, as Nancy on Norwalk readers debated it online in the comments section.

“Good news!” commenter EveT said upon learning Malloy would sign the bill. “And very wise of the adoption authorities back in 1983 to begin informing birth parents that their anonymity may not be guaranteed. Adoptees have a right to know their roots.”

“There are state and private online registries where adoptees can register and, if the birth mother has also registered, they can be connected,” commenter John Frank Sr. said before the bill was signed. “It is also possible now, in Connecticut, to contact the agency that handled the adoption and ask for information. They will not give you anything, but will, depending on the circumstances, contact the birth mother and/or other adoptee children of the same mother and ask if they want to meet. The answer is not always positive, and any adoptee seeking to meet needs to be prepared for that result. I met my birth mother and her other adult children and that was a real joy. My biological father had already passed away and his family, with one exception, had no interest in meeting. ‘If it ain’t broke…’”

Another commenter agreed.

“I am a sibling of a sister who gave up her child for adoption at infancy many years ago. To my knowledge, the privacy of that act has been retained,” Suzanne wrote. “I miss knowing who that person is. I actually have never read anything about the impact of such a decision to the relations of the birth mother or to the child who is placed up for adoption. I know that privacy in the matter is inviolate to the participants and for my sibling’s sake and, perhaps, the child’s sake, it needs to remain that way. Even though it is painful, I do not believe this is a matter for legislation and that the voluntary agencies that exist, as mentioned by John Frank Sr., should remain in place. This would not be out of public shame or private difficulty but out of respect for the very private and painful decision that no doubt led to the adoption in the first place.”

An earlier version of the bill was vetoed by then-governor Jodi Rell in 2006, who spoke about a concern for the privacy of the biological mother in announcing her decision. But though it had its opponents, the present version of the bill passed both chambers of the legislature by wide margins.

Karen Caffrey, president of Access Connecticut, a grassroots organization that pushed for the legislation, said 24,000 Connecticut adoptees were born after Oct. 1, 1983, and will benefit from the new law. All told, there have been about 65,000 people adopted in Connecticut since 1919, she said. It’s unclear how many of them are still living.

Many of the 24,000 people who will be helped by the bill are currently children and will not gain access to their original birth certificates until they reach adulthood.

Caffrey said she was grateful Malloy intended to sign the legislation and hoped it will be a precursor to Connecticut opening access to the birth records of all adoptees, including people who had access prior to 1975 then lost it when Connecticut changed its law.

But Frank said the legislation could push some women toward an alternative to adoption.

“As an adult adoptee, now a senior citizen, I was able to identify and find my birth mother 50 years after being adopted,” he wrote. “I think passing this bill was a mistake and will have all kinds of bad results. In my case, I was fortunate to find a birth mother who was both glad to meet me as an adult and terrified her other adult children would find out she had given up a child for adoption and kept a secret from them all their lives. Just having access to a birth certificate will not supply any medical history information, and taking away the promise of anonymity will cause too many frightened young women to make terrible decisions.”

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