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  • Adoptees praise new law

    http://www.fosters.com/January2005/0..._01.09.05f.asp

    Adoptees praise new law
    Access to birth records renews woman’s search

    By ULRIKA G. GERTH

    Staff Writer

    Never have emotions run as high at the Bureau of Vital Records in Concord as
    this past week.

    Nearly 70 people adopted as children walked down the corridor to request or
    pick up original birth certificates that for decades have been sealed and
    attainable by court order only.

    One woman flew in from Toronto to recover the sought-after link to her past.
    Another, according to State Registrar William Bolton, broke down crying as she
    left the office with the document in hand and young daughter by her side,
    asking "What’s wrong mom?"

    "I saw people in tears, some were relieved, excited, nervous. It ran the whole
    gamut," said State Rep. Janet Allen, a Barnstead Republican and adoptee, who
    fought for three years in probate court to gain access to her own birth
    certificate.

    The scenes at Vital Records brought such happiness to her that she said only
    getting married and having children could compare.

    State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, the Manchester Democrat, who sponsored the bill
    that Gov. Craig Benson let become law without his signature in May, reveled in
    the decision, saying no bill during his 30 years as a legislator had been more
    important.

    "We put politics aside because this was the right thing to do," said
    D’Allesandro, who has followed his own adopted daughter’s heart-wrenching
    search for her past. "For once the stars lined up. I think it happens once
    every millennium."

    But Lee Allen, communications director at the National Council For Adoption,
    said the organization’s has consistently opposed the law because it "has
    always been a bad idea and now when it’s enacted it’s still a bad idea ...
    unwelcome contact will inevitably be the result."

    When the law took effect New Year’s Day, New Hampshire joined Alabama,
    Delaware, Tennessee and Oregon in opening its records retroactively to adult
    adoptees born in the state. Alaska and Kansas have always allowed adoptees
    unfettered access to the original birth certificates.

    A note added to the chapter on Confidentiality of Records in New Hampshire’s
    Reference Manual for Adoption for 2005 spells out the new reality.

    Although court files containing details of the adoption, including medical
    information, home studies — and birth certificates — are still
    confidential, adoptees who have turned 18 and their immediate family can now
    request a copy of the original birth certificate from the Bureau of Vital
    Records.

    Starting in 1973, all birth records in New Hampshire pertaining to adoption
    were sealed, including prior records.

    As of Friday morning, Kristin Lambert of Rochester was one of 180 adoptees who
    had filed a mail request to take advantage of the new law.

    "I’ve a feeling it could easily be overturned so I thought it was important
    to do it right away," she said.

    An appeal from a group of birth mothers put Oregon’s law on hold for more
    than two years after it was passed in 1998, and in Tennessee it took three
    years of litigation before the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the law, which
    gives adoptees access to everything from court files to sealed adoption
    records, does not violate the right to privacy under the state constitution.

    So far, the New Hampshire law has faced no legal challenges and Elizabeth
    Samuels, associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said
    lawsuits are unlikely to succeed.

    Critics argue the state promised birth parents full confidentiality and that is
    has now breached that contract, but, according to Samuels, they are
    misinformed.

    "Both federal and state courts have looked at laws like the one in New
    Hampshire and found there is no guarantee of lifelong secrecy. There is not
    even a reasonable expectation of it," said Samuels, who testified in support of
    the bill.

    Fears of increased abortion rates and fewer adoptions as a result of the new
    law also have proved unfounded in other states with open access, she said.

    Lambert filled out the request with a great deal of hesitancy. She is afraid of
    the emotional stress of bringing new people into her life, but would like the
    record to see if her biological parents submitted a medical history.

    "It seems like very hit-or-miss at this point. Most likely I’ll come up with
    just the birth certificate. But I hope for some updated medical history. I’ve
    thought about that since the birth of my daughter," she said. "Genetics is
    important."

    On the Web site of the Bureau of Vital Records, birth parents are encouraged to
    download and submit forms for their contact preference and medical history that
    will be attached to the birth certificate. If they choose "no contact" the law
    requires them to fill out their medical information.

    Bolton said the office has received only nine medical forms thus far, although
    the majority of the 19 contact preference forms sent in states the birth parent
    has no interest in a reunion. As there are 24,000 adoption records on file
    since 1973, many adoptees looking for their family’s medical history are
    bound to come up empty-handed.

    They can, however, petition the probate court to release nonidentifying medical
    information or ask the Department of Health and Human Services to act as an
    intermediary between them and their birth parents.

    In some cases, parents will anonymously hand over the information and in other
    cases the initial request will eventually lead to a reunion.

    "The inquiries number in the hundreds," said Nancy Rollins, director of
    Children, Youth and Families at DHHS.

    In Tennessee, the Department of Human Services has been swamped with requests
    for birth certificates and with a few years’ experience of the law, K.
    Danielle Edwards, public information officer, spoke of "highs and lows."

    "A common low point has been that the birth mother has not disclosed to her
    children they’ve a sibling, but we also get letters saying how pleased they
    were to be reunited or how happy they are to know they can access the records,"
    she said.

    In Tennessee, unlike in other states, birth parents can sign a "no-contact
    veto" and any violation by the adoptee is a misdemeanor charge. But nine out of
    10 birth parents are open to being contacted, Samuels said, citing only one
    case — in Texas — when an unwanted visit resulted in a lawsuit.

    "In our practice, 70 percent of the birth parents say yes and when their
    children turn 18, they can get the contact information," said Jack Lightfoot,
    attorney and executive director of the Children’s Lobby, an advocacy program
    of Child and Family Services in New Hampshire.

    The private nonprofit opposed the bill in favor of making it prospective, but
    Lightfoot said it has now moved on to other issues.

    Lori St. Laurent of Rochester found her birth family in 1992 and wants those
    who expect miracles from the new law to remember not all reunions are as
    glorious as they may appear on television. When she met her biological siblings
    at age 32, she felt like a stranger and realized she could not relate when they
    were talking about "her mother" (who was diseased).

    "The aunt in the family said ‘Oh, you should’ve been raised with us’ and
    I said ‘I’m 32, I’m up for grabs now!’" said St. Laurent. "They were
    nice people but I didn’t want to get involved. I never called them again and
    they haven’t kept in touch either. They just were not my family. I can meet
    somebody in the grocery store and be closer to them than to these people."

    Laurent said she also learned a lesson when she tried to contact a man who she
    felt, according to the grapevine, must be her father. Believing his wife was
    dead, she felt safe to make the call only to find herself on the line with —
    the wife.

    "It was he who was dead. She went off and said her husband never had an affair
    and began talking about lawyers. I probably ruined her view of her husband. I
    felt like two inches high. I decided to back out and leave the dead alone."

    Birth mother and former president of the New Hampshire Open Adoption Council,
    Donna Chagnon, also cautioned both birth parents and adopted adults against
    jumping headlong into the new relationship. She has reunited with her son and
    at his wedding she sat with his adoptive parents.

    "A lot of people don’t do the research. Make sure you understand the birth
    mother and prepare yourself," said Chagnon, who was one of the key advocates of
    the new law. "It’s a difficult relationship to foster and it’s often a new
    thing for the adoptee. You as a birth parent have to allow them to pull back
    when they want to."

    State Rep. Allen is relieved no New Hampshire adoptees will have to go through
    what she did, begging bureaucrats to extract her original birth certificate to
    find out the names of her biological parents.

    "When you stand in front of a clerk who very patronizingly says, ‘Sorry,
    honey, you can’t see it’ even though all clerks and the judge have seen the
    information, you feel treated like a child."


    -------------------------
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
    be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"
    -----Unknown
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