Sunday, March 4, 2012

OBC: More Than a Piece of Paper

In the wake of Illinois' new law allowing adoptees to access their original birth certificates, the Courier-News (Chicago) has two interesting pieces -- first, More Than a Piece of Paper, explores a bit of the history of secrecy and the new legislation:
A birth certificate — a proclamation of who you are and where you came from — is something most people take for granted.

But for the more than 200,000 estimated adult adoptees in Illinois, it’s a fundamental right they has been denied — until now.

An Illinois law signed into effect in May 2010 allows adult adoptees to obtain a copy of their original birth certificates without receiving written consent from birth parents. Birth parents who oppose the new law can file a request to have their names redacted from the document.

For state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor, it wasn’t only about changing public policy; it was personal. Adopted in 1956, she championed the effort for nearly 15 years.

* * *

“Think about the evolution of adoption and how much better this institution is now,” she said. “Files used to be stamped ‘illegitimate,’ and there was a significant need to protect a pregnant, unmarried woman and the child she gave up. The fault in the law — as I see it — was that those two parties never needed protection from each other. They needed protection from society.

“We are trying our best to remedy that particular issue: permit, yet continue to protect those that want it. It’s a very emotional issue, and I can attest to that because I have been working on it for many, many years.”

Since the new law took effect, more than 6,600 Illinois-born adult adoptees have requested a copy of their original birth certificate, according to the Illinois Department of Public Aid. Less than 1 percent of birth parents have requested anonymity.
Second, a piece written by the journalist for the first story, From the Storyteller,  revealing her personal interest in the topic:
“Are you adopted?”

That was the first question state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz asked me when I called her about this story. An adoptee and champion of the new law that allows adults to request a copy of their original birth certificate, Feigenholtz said it’s a question she typically asks when being interviewed about the topic. She wanted to know “if I had skin in the game.”

I am not adopted. My husband is, and for that reason, I followed the birth certificate debate and ultimate change to the law with great interest. In fact, once I learned it had passed, I printed off the application to request a copy of his original birth certificate, filled it out, and left it for him to sign.

He didn’t sign it.

* * *

I have learned while working on this story that each person’s adoption journey is as individual as their DNA. But thanks to the change in Illinois law, adoptees have the option to get that information if and when they are ready for it.

The application no longer sits on my husband’s desk in our den. After more than two months, he decided to sign it and mail it to Springfield with his $15 check. He doesn’t have plans to do anything with it, except file it along with mine and those of our three kids. But at least he will have an original birth certificate — unique — but just like everyone else.

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