An estimated 400,000 adopted Ohioans could learn the identities of their birthparents in 2015 under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. John Kasich.
The law allows people adopted in Ohio between 1964 and 1996 to request birth certificates from the Ohio Department of Health, just like those outside the 32-year window have been able to do for years.
The bill becomes law in March 2014, but birth parents have one year to tell the department to remove their names from the birth certificates. Parents who redact their names are asked to provide a detailed medical history that can be passed on to the adoptee.
“There is a strong desire amongst some adoptees to know about their birth parents and where they came from,” said Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, one of the bill’s sponsors. “But we also heard from people who are running into genetic medical issues and doctors turn to these folks and want to know their medical history and they don’t know the first thing about [their parents.]”
Beagle’s siblings were adopted from New York, where adoptions are still closed, but he hopes Ohio’s new law will inspire other states to open birth records to adoptees.
Adoption Network Cleveland, a nonprofit that provides support for families touched by adoption, has tried to get lawmakers to open the records for more than two decades. This time, there was no opposition to the bill.
Betsie Norris, the organization’s founder and executive director, said she’s received many calls from adoptees since the bill passed.
“They want proof they were born and feel that validation just like everybody else,” Norris, also an adoptee, said.
Adoption records in Ohio were public records until state lawmakers closed them in 1964. Adoptee advocates lobbied to change the law in the 1990s. In 1996, lawmakers changed the law to allow adoptive parents to obtain birth records once their child turned 18 and adoptees to get the records themselves once they reached 21. The law was not retroactive and created a gap in who could access their records.
Norris said her adoptive father was one of the attorneys pushing to close the records and it was intended to protect adoptees, not their birth mothers. Norris said times have changed.
“Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a certain stigma around unwanted pregnancy that is not there today,” Norris said. “Adoption was not something you’d talk about. Now it’s celebrated. A vast majority of adoptions are open. The birth parents and adoptive parents have opportunities to share information and have an ongoing relationship.”
Ohio Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, opposed the bill in the past but supported it this time, with an amendment to give birth parents one year to choose to redact their names.
“Times have changed. This isn’t the 1980s anymore,” said Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis, who adopted two children. “There’s a thing called the Internet and Google and they can do this on their own.”