National study backs open adoption records

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For years, it's been one of the most hotly debated, emotional issues in adoption circles: Should adult adoptees have the right to their original birth records?

A study released today by a Boston-based adoption research institute says open records for adoption do not result in increased abortion rates, decreased adoptions or fractured adoptive families.

"All of the arguments put forth by people who think adoption records should be sealed simply aren't born out by the facts," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which has long advocated for reforms in adoption laws, policies and practices, including open records.

The study reviewed past and current state laws; legislative histories; and the existing body of research on how sealed and open records impact affected parties.

"The reality is, in states with open records laws, there are fewer abortions, not more, and the number of adoptions increase," Mr. Pertman said. "This study gets at the core of the argument for adopted people and equal access to birth information."

For example, in Oregon -- one of six states that has re-established access to birth records for adopted people since 1996 -- abortions have declined since the law went into effect, at a rate similar to that in England and Wales when adoption records were opened, the study found. Adoption rates also increased in Oregon.

In Kansas and Alaska, which have always provided people with access to original birth certificates, the abortion rate is lower than the national rate, and the adoption rate is also higher than it is nationally, the study noted.

"Sealing records are a living symbol of the bad old days, when we hid unwed mothers, and stereotypes about them ruled the day," Mr. Pertman said. Such access not only is a civil rights issue, he added, but provides important information about an individual's mental and physical health history.

"Now we can reshape public policy in a way that genuinely helps the millions of people involved."

Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, which advocates a "mutual consent" policy rather than mandated open records, said he was skeptical about the Donaldson Institute study's findings.

"You can't draw that correlation from the data, since there are so many factors involved in abortions," he said.

"You simply can't argue openness has an effect on the numbers of abortions. Today, a woman can choose open adoption if she wants, so you're not increasing the number of women who are able to choose adoption, because they already have that option right now. But if you take away the confidentiality option, you are still depriving some women of their ability to choose adoption, because some women feel they have to have confidentiality in order to choose it."

"We believe one side should not be empowered by the law to force itself on the other side," he added. "It has to be by mutual consent."

Most states prohibit adoptees from obtaining birth certificates and other information from their court adoption files unless a judge approves their request.

In Pennsylvania, past legislative proposals to open records to adult adoptees have been faced with strong opposition from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and some adoption groups, which argued it would break a promise made to mothers who sought confidentiality when giving their children up for adoption.

Now, however, the Catholic Conference is supporting a new version which drops the mandated open records language. Senate Bill 702, introduced by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, would allow open records only if all of the parties involved give their consent.


Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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