On Wednesday, July 17, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Children & Youth Committee held a hearing in consideration of HB162, a bill that would restore the rights of all Pennsylvania-born adult adoptees to obtain their original, factual birth certificates. This bill was introduced by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre County, 171st Legislative District) and is co-sponsored by several of his colleagues.
“I think we all, inherently, would like to know where we came from and where we were born,” stated Benninghoff during his opening remarks. “Not having an original birth certificate, for a lot of people, becomes a blockade to that simple information. This is not about invading other people’s privacy. This is about allowing all Pennsylvanians to have the same right — in the issue of fairness — to the same certificate that the majority of our citizens have. I personally don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
Later in his remarks, Benninghoff put a face to the issue by expressing to his colleagues that he is a Pennsylvania-born adult adoptee. Passing this bill, he explained, would allow for him to receive equal treatment under law to non-adopted persons.
When a child is adopted in the state of Pennsylvania, the adoptee’s original, factual birth certificate is altered–or amended–to make it appear as though the adoptive parents actually gave birth to the adoptee. There is no indication on the amended birth certificate that an adoption place. The original, factual birth certificate is sealed away and not legally recognized. Currently, Pennsylvania-born adult adoptees aged 18-years and over are not allowed to access their original birth certificate. In contrast, all non-adopted adults born in Pennsylvania can obtain a copy of their factual birth certificates by request.
Prior to 1984, adult adoptees born in Pennsylvania were able to access their original birth certificates just as all non-adopted adults who were born in Pennsylvania. This equality under law changed upon the enactment of Act 195, The Adoption Act of 1984, which took away the right for adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.
Verbal testimony in support of HB162, and the restoring of rights removed in 1984, was presented to the committee by Robert Allan Hafetz, an adult adoptee and therapist; Amanda Woolston, BSW, an adult adoptee and social worker; Carolyn Hoard, a mother who relinquished a child for adoption and member of the American Adoption Congress; Mary O’Leary Wiley, an adult adoptee and psychologist; and Ann Williams, a Pennsylvania-born adoptee and state representative in the Illinois General Assembly. Several pieces of written testimony were also submitted in support of the bill. No opposing testimony was offered.
In response to a question asked regarding what opposition there might to this sort of legislation, Hoard stated that some are under the impression that birth parents were promised confidentiality from their own children.
“This is not true,” she replied. “There is nothing in the relinquishment papers signed by mothers that promised us confidentiality from our own sons and daughters. A few years ago, the attorney for the American Adoption Congress contacted the National Council for Adoption and requested copies of any relinquishment papers singed by birth mothers that contained promises of confidentiality. None were produced.”
Other questions asked by committee members touched on the psychological impact of adoption on adoptees and a request for clarification that this legislation would apply to adoptees who have reached the age of majority.
“We are adding Section D to the current law, back from 1953, which at that time required that this be done at the age of 18-years or older,” clarified Benninghoff.
The committee will now vote on whether HB162 will move forward in the legislative process. This is expected to occur within the next few weeks. If the committee does decide the bill is viable, the House of Representatives will then have the opportunity to vote on it.
“Years ago there was a trend toward secrecy because as a society our perception was different of adoptees and unmarried birth parents,” said Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (D-Philadelphia County, 192nd Legislative District). “We are in the year 2013 now. And this has changed. All has changed. The progression of closing records arose from the idea that families formed through adoption should be more secretive than those formed by a birth. I believe that the right to know of one’s history should not be revoked because of a person’s birth date or how a person was adopted.”