Senate Bill 859
Whether you are searching, not searching, reunited, or just a citizen against discrimination, your help in amending this bill is greatly needed!

On Monday, Oct. 15th, 2001, a public hearing in Harrisburg for PA SB 859 by the Senate Judiciary Committee resulted in a long and positive day of testimony. Despite the testimony of three members of the Catholic conference in favor of keeping all adoption records sealed, five adoptees and birthparents testified to the contrary. In fact, the "OBCs for all adopted adults" testimony of Cyn Holub, Mari Steed, Sue Romberger, Kristi Blazi, and Judy Cotton led to many interested questions from the legislators, who seemed intrigued by how this might be accomplished in PA.

As a result, post-testimony support is critical at this time and letters are needed to show that the folks who testified are not a minority but are representative of the norm. PLEASE help now with letters and emails!

Essentially, SB 859 rewrites most of PA's adoption code, and a lot of it is good- BUT- there's bad here too that needs to be amended. If passed as written, SB 859 would divide adopted adults into two classes: those adopted before and after its passage. (This is all hinging on the assumption that before the bills' passage b-moms were promised "confidentiality" even though it is not in the law nor in relinquishment documents.) If you were adopted AFTER its passage, you can unconditionally get your OBC info, but if you were adopted BEFORE it, you do not have equal rights to this info.



Other Concerns about SB 859


•If adopted BEFORE this bill passes, you cannot get identifying info unless your b-parent has filed an "authorization of disclosure". If adopted AFTER, you can get it if your b-parent has not filed a veto.

•Time period for a birthparent to revoke a decision to place a child for adoption is extremely confusing, and may leave them unclear on whether they should or should not request a hearing. If a b-parent does not request a hearing, the option to revoke is lost in 20 days. If they DO request a hearing then the time period may be extended until the time the adoption becomes finalized, BUT at the hearing parental rights may get terminated on the spot. Revocation period needs to standardized, with or without a hearing and to more than 20 days- maybe 60-90.

•A prospective adopting family is not required to have a home study done within the standard 30-60 days before getting the child- in fact, a homestudy as old as one year is considered "current".

•Non-id is defined, but there is no mandate for collection of a standard minimum; a form needs to be developed, including health history exceeding two generations. A person must be made responsible for collection of non-id and health history so it may be accurately disseminated to adopting parents and later, adopted adults.

•Agencies going out of business or wishing to dispose of files MUST turn them over to the state, conversely, private adoption attorneys MAY send theirs to the county of finalization. This needs to be mandated, not a suggestion.

•The bill purports to create registries for social and medical purposes, but PA has them already and they do not work- unknown to people searching, useless for those who are dead, who do not know they are adopted, who cannot accurately recall a date of birth or whose information is incorrect. They make us feel better that something was offered, but they do not work, and are no substitute for rights.



Write Your Letter!


If you are comfortable working with these above points, including the section on OBC's, please feel free to write your own letter. If you prefer to paraphrase a sample letter, two are below.

Make the subject "Amend SB859". The salutation is "Dear Senator".

___________________

Sample #1-

Dear Senator:

I am writing to you to ask that you please amend SB 859 to support the right of adult adoptees to access unconditionally their original birth certificates.

While there are some good changes within it, this bill as currently written does not treat adopted adults as equal citizens entitled to their original birth certificates. It divides them into those adopted before this bill's passage and those adopted after it, by recognizing the access rights only of those in future adoptions. Those already adopted continue to be treated differently, given no OBC information, but a bigger search system instead, and one they have to pay for.

The right to one's own unaltered birth certificate is a fundamental one to which all citizens are entitled, regardless of the circumstances of their birth- circumstances over which they had no control in any case.

To those who suggest that birth mothers were promised confidentiality, it bears noting that this could never be rightly promised. First, who could be sure the laws would never change? Also, the process of relinquishment makes this promise untrue. If a relinquished child is never adopted, they maintain the right to their original birth certificates, while it is only the adopted person who loses this right. So could anyone guarantee a birth parent that a child would be adopted and not go to foster care?

Adoption is not a shameful process, and it's time to stop treating it as one.

I also suggest amendment of this bill to include a consisent revocation period for birthparents regardess of whether or not they request a hearing, a mandate for a final homestudy to be conducted 30-60 days prior to the arrival of an adopted child in a home, the development of a form for non-id and heath history to ensure it is uniform, collected, and able to be accurately disbursed to adoptive parents and adopted adults on request, and a mandate for adoption attorneys to turn adoptions records over to the county of finalization upon retirement or when desiring to dispose of files.

(IF YOU ARE A BIRTHPARENT) As a birthparent who relinquished a son/daughter in PA in 19xx, I never wanted or asked for confidentiality, nor was I told my child's birth certificate would be altered. While I may not have wanted my name in the local newspaper, my decision was to not to parent my child, not to condemn them to second-class citizenship or hide from them.

(IF YOU ARE AN ADOPTEE) As an adopted adult, I believe it is time to be treated as a full citizen, and not as a potential hazard to my birth parents. I have a right to obtain the original, government- held records of our births in the same manner as all other adult citizens. Birth is a shared event; whether I choose to search or not, these documents are mine.

(IF SIBLING, A-PARENT OR CONCERNED "OTHER") As a _____, I believe it is time to treat adopted adults as a full citizens, and not as potential hazards to birth parents. They have the right to obtain the original, government-held records of their births in the same manner as all other adult citizens. Whether they choose to search or not, these documents are theirs.

Please amend SB 859 to allow all adopted adults access to their own original birth certificates.

Sincerely, name address/phone number

___________________
Sample #2

Dear Senator:

As an adoptee rights activist and Pennsylvania resident, I urge you to amend SB 859 to support the right of adult adoptees to access unconditionally their original birth certificates. The bill as it stands grants this only to adoptees who are adopted after the passage of the Act, and condemns the rest of us to an increasingly convoluted and expanded confidential intermediary system (SB 859, Chapter 26). While there are a good many laudable improvements to current adoption statutes in this bill, its failure to restore the rights of an entire class of citizens to equal protection under the law cries out for amendment. We adoptees are tired of being treated like second class citizens, like children who cannot manage our own private affairs, or like potential criminals from whom our birth parents need protection. We have a right to obtain the original, government-held records of our births in the same manner as all other adult citizens.

I'd like to address some of the myths the opposition to open records likes to bring up against us. The myth that allowing adult adoptees to obtain copies of their own original birth certificates would lead to more abortions is patently false, as the states (Alaska and Kansas) and countries (most of what we used to call the Free World) which have allowed this access for decades have lower abortion rates than those states and countries with sealed records. Allowing this access has also not had a negative impact on the adoption rates in those places.

The most prevalent myth concerns birth parent privacy. There is a crucial distinction to be made between privacy and secrecy. The sealed records system has always cloaked itself in secrecy; its foundation was the culture of shame which stigmatized unmarried mothers and their bastard children. Things which are shameful are kept hidden and secret. As long as the sealed records system with its secrets and lies continues to exist, an aura of shame will cling to adoption. If there had been a real concern for birth parent privacy, records would be sealed at relinquishment, but they remain open until an adoption is finalized, which can take months or years. Indeed, if an adoption never takes place and a child lingers in foster care, the original birth certificate is *never* sealed. The original intention of sealing these records was not to protect the birth parent, but to shield the adoptive family from scrutiny by outsiders, and to protect the adoptee from the shame of illegitimacy.

Privacy is another matter. There is no explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution, so case law has been required to flesh it out. The federal Sixth Circuit Court has ruled in the Tennessee case of Doe v. Sundquist (Feb., 1997) that issuing original birth certificates to adult adoptees does not violate their birth parents' right to privacy, and the Oregon Court of Appeals concurred in a decision regarding that state's adoptee rights initiative, which passed in Nov. 1998.

While some agencies may have promised eternal anonymity to birth mothers, others were told that their children would be able to obtain their documents when they grew up (and indeed this was true in PA until 1985).

Which promises do we honor? How could anyone in all good conscience have made a promise which effectively denied another entire group of people their rights? How could anyone have made a promise that a law would never be changed? If such a pledge of secrecy was made by adoption practitioners, it was a bad promise and should not be upheld by the state. The law denying us access to our own records needs to be corrected retroactively as well as prospectively, as have other heinous laws in our nation's history.

Sincerely,

Cynthia Bertrand Holub
address & phone number



Contact Information for the Senate Judiciary Committee

Real snail-mail letters are always the most effective, so full addresses are below. There are only 13 people on the Senate Judiciary Committee. How much would YOU be willing to pay for decent adoption legislation in our state? Can you handle $4.42?

As an addition, or if you really can't do real letters, here's a group email you can use to send your letter to all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. If your default mail client is installed properly, you should be able to click on any part of the blue section below, and it will bring up an email for you with all the addresses filled in. If this doesn't work for you, just copy and paste the paragraph of addresses into an email and write your letter.

schwartz@dem.pasen.gov, opake@dem.pasen.gov, kukovich@dem.pasen.gov, boscola@dem.pasen.gov, costa@dem.pasen.gov, mwhite@pasen.gov, jpiccola@pasen.gov, jorie@pasen.gov, ehelfrick@pasen.gov, jgerlach@pasen.gov, jearll@pasen.gov, clemmond@pasen.gov, sgreenleaf@pasen.gov

schwartz@dem.pasen.gov, opake@dem.pasen.gov, kukovich@dem.pasen.gov, boscola@dem.pasen.gov, costa@dem.pasen.gov, mwhite@pasen.gov, jpiccola@pasen.gov, jorie@pasen.gov, ehelfrick@pasen.gov, jgerlach@pasen.gov, jearll@pasen.gov, clemmond@pasen.gov, sgreenleaf@pasen.gov

=============================
Contact Info:
PA Senate Judiciary Committee
==============================
Stewart J. Greenleaf (R) Chair
Senate District 12
Senate Box 203012
19 East Wing
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3012

(717) 787-6599

D.O. ADDRESS:

27 North York Road
Willow Grove, PA 19090-3419

sgreenleaf@pasen.gov

======================================
Charles D. Lemmond Jr. (R) Vice-Chair
Senate District 20
Senate Box 203020
172 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3020

(717) 787-7428

D.O. ADDRESS:

22 Dallas Shopping Ctr.
Memorial Hwy.
Dallas, PA 18612

clemmond@pasen.gov

=================
Jane M. Earll (R)
Senate District 49
Senate Box 203049
351 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, 17120-3049

(717) 787-8927

D.O. ADDRESS:

200 West 11th Street
Erie, PA 16501

jearll@pasen.gov

===============
Jim Gerlach (R)
Senate District 44
Senate Box 203044
177 Capitol Building
Harrisburg 17120-3044

(717) 787-1398

D.O. ADDRESS

1230 Pottstown Pike Suite #4
Glenmore, PA 19343

jgerlach@pasen.gov

======================
Edward W. Helfrick (R)
Senate District 27
Senate Box 203027
173 Capitol Bldg.
Harrisburg 17120-3027

(717) 787-8928

D.O. ADDRESS:

101 West State Route 61
Mt. Carmel, PA 17851

ehelfrick@pasen.gov

==================
Jane Clare Orie (R)
Senate District 40
Senate Box 203040
168 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3040

(717) 787-6538

D.O. ADDRESS:

9400 McKnight Road, Suite 105
Pittsburgh, PA 15237

jorie@pasen.gov

=====================
Jeffrey E. Piccola (R)
Senate District 15
Senate Box 203015
168 Capitol Bldg.
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3015

(717) 787-6801

D.O. ADDRESS:

27 South Market Street
Elizabethville, PA 17023

jpiccola@pasen.gov

=================
Mary Jo White (R)
Senate District 21
Senate Box 203021
168 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3021

(717) 787-9684

D.O. ADDRESS:

1256 Liberty Street
Suite B, P.O. Box 774
Franklin, PA 16323

mwhite@pasen.gov

================================
Jay Costa Jr. (D) Minority Chair
Senate District 43
Senate Box 203043
15 East Wing
Harrisburg, 17120-3043

(717) 787-7683

D.O. ADDRESS:

1501 Ardmore Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15221

costa@dem.pasen.gov

===================
Lisa M. Boscola (D)
Senate District 18
Senate Box 203018
183 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3018

717-787-4236

D.O. ADDRESS:

548 North New Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018

boscola@dem.pasen.gov

=====================
Allen G. Kukovich (D)
Senate District 39
Senate Box 203039
185 Capitol Building
Harrisburg 17120-3039

(717) 787-6063

D.O. ADDRESS:

10526 Old Trail Road
Hauger Professional Building
North Huntingdon, PA 15642

kukovich@dem.pasen.gov

=====================
Michael A. O'Pake (D)
Senate District 11
Senate Box 203011
11 East Wing
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3011

(717) 787-8925

D.O. ADDRESS:

1940 N. 13th Street
Suite 232
Reading, PA 19604

opake@dem.pasen.gov

======================
Allyson Y. Schwartz (D)
Senate District 4
Senate Box 203004
182 Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3004

(717) 787-1427

D.O. ADDRESS:

27 East Durham St.
Philadelphia, PA 19119

schwartz@dem.pasen.gov


If this bill passes it is likely Pennsylvania won't re-visit adoption issues for years, so let's get it amended.

Your support through letters and emails is important now.
We have the legislators' collective ears- speak now!



If you want to read the full text of this massive overhaul of PA adoption law, click here.
If you'd like to see what Bastard Nation has to say on this bill, go here.



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