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Adoptees Would Get Birth Records Under Proposed Bill

February 13, 2002
By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - More than a dozen adoptees and birth parents came before the House Civil and Administrative Law Committee Wednesday to urge that the law be made easier for adoptees to get their birth records.

While adoptees long have argued for access to the records, the committee heard that the natural parents also wanted secrecy restrictions eased.

"I was never told my son would not be able to find me nor did I sign a secrecy agreement," said birth Mother Gayle Etnire who told the committee she wanted her son to be able to find her.. "I was a pawn in the adoption game."

Adoption-agency representatives, however, were just as firm in their opposition to the bill.

The two main issues debated were the rights of adoptees and the confidentiality of birth parents.

Under current law, children adopted before Aug. 13, 1986 must obtain consent from both their adopted parents and their birth parents in order to obtain any identifying records. Those adopted after that date are not required to have their adopted parents' consent.

Some committee members said they were concerned about birth parents' confidentiality rights.

Kathy Bourgeois, who represented the Adoption Foster Care Coalition of Missouri, said that adoption agencies promised birth parents that their records would be sealed.

"It could potentially be devastating to change to rules on people who were promised anonymity," she said.

But when grilled by committee member Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis, Bourgeois admitted that agencies had no legal right to give these promises.

Bill sponsor Rep. Harold Selby, D-Cedar Hill, said the purpose behind his proposal is not to aid adoptees in finding their birth parents, adding that if adoptees want to locate their birth parents they "can do it now anyway."

"This bill would allow an adopted person 18 years or older to receive their birth certificate," said the bill's sponsor Rep. Harold Selby, D-Cedar Hill. "That's all it does."

Adoptee Lindsay Woodside said she did not want to find her birth parents, but was forced to search for them to get consent to obtain her birth certificate.

Carol Kurtz, a 35-year-old adoptee, said she thinks this is an issue of personal rights.

"For most people it never occurs that having your birth certificate is a kind of freedom," Kurtz said. "It's a kind of right enjoyed by the majority. Consider that any other person in the state can go to the records' office, pay their $10 and get their original birth certificate," she said. "But if you were adopted it automatically means you cannot."

Adopted children's birth certificates are not the same as original birth certificates. They do not list the child's length, weight, birth parents, original name, or the hospital in which he or she was born, she said.

"The appearance being different has made it difficult for myself and other adoptees to use it for identification purposes, as many government agencies look at it and think that it is unusual," she said.

"In my own situation, I tried to get a passport when my husband was serving over seas and it took me an extra three weeks to convince them that it was a legitimate document."

Bourgeois said organizations represented by the coalition would support the availability of open records to all people adopted after this legislation were enacted. But the coalition does not support retroactive application, she said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.