THE PENNSYLVANIA SENATE HEARINGS ON HB 162:
OPEN ADOPTION RECORDS FOR ADULT ADOPTEES
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Through the years I’ve seen how adoption has affected all members of the adoption triad—the adoptee, the birth mother, and the adoptive parent.
Adoptees struggle with belonging issues, with identification issues. They lack a biological tie to their cultural and medical histories. They struggle involves, for some, feeling worthless because “someone didn’t want them, someone threw them away.”
The birth mother struggles with her inability to raise her birth child, for whatever reason. I’ve seen birth mothers sob soul deep at releasing their newborns. Statistics are overwhelmingly high for these women, who wonder what happened to their child, if they made the right decision, and hold a desire to find them.
The adoptive parents struggle with helping their child understand, with not knowing their child’s cultural and medical histories, with others who consider the adoptive child as a second choice.
I was fortunate when my husband Monte and I adopted our daughter. I landed a job doing adoption home studies in a neighboring county. I didn’t know anyone else going through the adoption process, but I could make appointments and interview prospective adoptive parents.
The job ended after nine months, when Catholic Charities placed our daughter with us.
In later years my husband and I became foster parents for women planning on releasing their infants for adoption. We also provided support for adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents.
ASSURANCES OF CONFIDENTIALITY
During our adoption process the Catholic Charities caseworker assured us of confidentiality—that is, we would not know the birth mother, nor would she know us. That’s the way it was done in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s—it was something one didn’t question.
While doing home studies, I too assured the potential adoptive parents of confidentiality, as well as the occasional birth mother I had contact with. Again, that’s the way it was done at the time.
Neither agency informed me that, at that time, and what would become a period of 60 years, Pennsylvania born adult adoptees could access their original birth certificate (OBC). It wasn’t until 1984 that adult adoptees were blocked from accessing their OBCs. Thus, confidentiality promises made to the members of the adoption triad during this time were…seemingly…a misrepresentation.
PENNSYLVANIA HOUSE BILL 162
In October, 2013, the Pennsylvania House unanimously passed HB162. If this bill is passed by the Senate, where it is under consideration, it will reinstate adult adoptees’ rights of access to their OBC. On March 18, 2014, the Senate held a hearing on HB 162.
OPPOSITION TESTIMONY AT THE SENATE HEARING ON HB 162
Opposition testimony was offered by Francis J. Viglietta, Director, Social Concerns Department, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, who stated that the Catholic Charities adoption program opposes HB 162 for several reasons:
- their adoption program has historically assured confidentiality to persons involved in adoptions
- the adoptee would receive an OBC with the names of the birth parents whether or not the birth parents consent.
- the common sense belief that without this confidentiality abortion rates will increase because the birth mother would choose abortion over life
Viglietta stated thatUnder the current law, a birth parent can file a consent to release this information with the Department of Health, Vital Records Division. House Bill 162 would eliminate this carefully crafted safeguard and unilaterally release the identity of the birth parents.
Catholic Charities believes it is very important that an intermediary serve to help all parties involved in adoption work through the issues and strong feelings that arise during a search. Although many birth parents are not opposed to being located, there are some who may not be ready, and. For example,
- a birth parent may not have prepared her current family for revelation of a long kept secret.
- a birth parent may be mentally or emotionally unprepared to deal with the issues.
- some birth parents simply are not ready to meet their surrendered child when the adoptee is ready to search – for these birth parents, the timing is just not right. They may never be ready, to deal again with the pain and grief they experienced at the time they placed their child for adoption Thus, when confronted without warning or preparatory counseling, the relationship may get off to such a bad start that it has no chance of flourishing.
FAVORABOE TESTIMONY AT THE SENATE HEARING ON HB 162
Carolyn Hoard, member of the Legislation Committee of the American Adoption Congress, testified for HB 162: …nothing in the relinquishment papers signed by mothers…promised us confidentiality from our own sons and daughters…the PA Code requires that the consent signed by a birth mother contain this statement: I understand that by signing this consent, I indicate my intent to permanently give up all rights to this child…Nowhere is a birth mother legally promised confidentiality in writing.
MY RESPONSE TO THE TESTIMONY
Catholic Charities expressed concern about breaking the confidentiality promises they made to pre-1984 birth mothers to whom they promised confidentiality. Where was that concern when they made this misrepresentation?
Viglietta stated that Respecting the wishes of those involved is key to a successful and productive adoption process…(Making OBCs accessible to adult adoptees) would destroy the respect for privacy needed for adoptions procedures to be successful.
Did misrepresenting confidentiality respect the wishes of the adoption triad—birth mother, adoptive mother, and adoptee?
As an adoptive parent and an adoption caseworker I feel I should have been informed that adult adoptees could access their OBC (a moot point after 1984). I regret misrepresenting the confidentiality law to the persons I dealt with. Not intentionally—I wasn’t informed.
The Viglietta and Hoard testimonies differ. Viglietta based some of her statements on “what common sense tells us” while Hoard backed up her statements with solid research.
What I least appreciate is what appears to be a systemic collusion to misrepresent the facts.
MY POSITION ON HB 162
I favor the passage of HB 162 because
- it will ease adult adoptee’s ability to obtain medical history and cultural heritage.
- It will correct the misrepresentation of promised confidentiality. The Senate Hearing testimony on HB 162, both video and typed, can be viewed on state Senator Bob Mensch’s website.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You can also contact your representative on this committee, or all the committee members, listed below:
- Updated members of the Senate Committee on Aging & Youth, which is dealing with HB 162 (please contact them to express your opinion):
- Whether you oppose or favor HB 162 you can contact the Senate Committee on Aging & Youth chair, Sen. Vulakovich (717-787-6538) to express your opinion: http://www.senatormensch.com/2014/03/14/house-bill-162-adoptions-and-birth-records/
You can also contact your Pennsyvania State Senator and the Committee members:
- Senator Scott Wagner Vice Chair, 717-787-3817. He is new to the Committee and was not on it at the time of the March 18 hearing.
- Senator Bob Mensch: as of mid-April is not chair but remains on committee: 717-787-3110
- Senator Joseph Scarnati 717-787-7084
- Senator David Argall 717-787-2637
- Senator Lisa Baker 717-787-7428
- Senator Elder Vogel 717-787-3076
- Senator Judith Schwank 717-787-8925
- Senator Michael Stack 717-787-9608
- Senator John Yudichak 717-787-7105