August 17, 2014

The PA Senate Hearing on HB 162: Open Records for Adult Adoptees







Carolyn’s Online Magazine (COMe) in January 2015.

I invite you to visit the new site and encourage you to Follow it.

New and updated articles on adoption will be posted on COMe



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.


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 (more…)

January 26, 2014

Open Birth Record Legislation Now (1/25/2014) in PA Senate





HB 162 Passed PA House, 1/25/2014

Now in PA Senate

UPDATE: HB 162 Senate Hearing

held by the 

Senate Committee on Aging & Youth

on March 18 at 10:00 a.m. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Continue to support HB162 by contacting

  • Bob Mernsch, chair of the PA Senate, Aging and Youth , 717-787-3110 or 215-541-2388
  • LeeAnna Washington, minority chair: , 717-787-1427 or 215-242-0472
  • Kim Ward, Westmoreland County, vice chair
  • Your PA state Senator


Adult adoptees are everywhere.

They stand in line behind you in the grocery store, sit beside you at conferences, celebrate with you at concerts. It’s likely they are in your family. Perhaps you know this, and wonder about these hidden persons. Perhaps they are a family secret.

Adoptees are in my family—I have an adopted daughter and nephew. Two sisters my mother released for adoption discovered me in 2010 and 2011. They were able to make connection with me because New Hampshire and Massachusetts have open birth record laws for adult adoptees.

They lacked medical/genetic and social/cultural history for more than 60 years. The first thing I said to each of them on our first phone contact was If we never speak again, I want to provide you with your medical history.

On October 23, 2013, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed HB 162 (Benninghoff), which allows Pennsylvania-born adopted adults to obtain their original, factual, birth certificate. There were no “no” votes. It is currently currently in the PA Senate, Aging and Youth Committee.

I encourage you to support HB 162 by contacting your state senator.

If the Senate passes HB 162 it will allow Pennsylvania adult adoptees the same access to their original birth certificates as non adoptees have, and as my sisters had in New England.


Adoptees are the only people in the U.S. that are, as a class, denied the right to view their own birth certificate. This denial of “adult adopted persons access to information related to their births and adoptions has potentially serious, negative consequences with regard to their physical and mental health, according to a 2007 study written by Madelyn Freundlich, the former general counsel for the Child Welfare League of America,

Prior to 1984 things were different. Adult adoptees born in Pennsylvania could access their original birth certificates just as all non-adopted adults who were born in Pennsylvania. In 1984 this equality under law changed upon the enactment of the Adoption Act 195, which took away the right for adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.

As a result Pennsylvania adoptees hold false birth certificates that state they were born to their adoptive parents. Their biological parents’ names are a state secret.


Sealed adoption records are a relic of outmoded depression-era laws created

  • to protect the adoptee, for which there was an underlying fear and stigma that the illegitimate child would be ostracized because of the mother’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
  • to   maintain the prerogative of adoptive parents who didn’t tell the child about the adoption and to protect the adoptive family from exposure to embarrassment due to the illegitimacy.
  • to prevent pregnant women from choosing abortion over adoption for fear their relinquished children would be able to discover their birth mothers’ names in eighteen years’ time.
  • to create an adoptive family that are indistinguishable from those formed by birth

Overriding these factors is the need for many adoptees to discover their heritage—medically and socially, and the need of many birthmothers to confirm their child’s status.


I maintain that adult adoptees have a right

  • to information needed to understand of their identities – including the identities of their birthparents and information about their births and adoption. There’s a great solace in even knowing a [birthparent’s] name.
  • to information that can provide them with family, genealogical, and medical (more…)

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