Discovering Truth in Ohio
Ohio has a lot to be proud of. Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Neil Armstrong was from Wapakoneta, Ohio. Seven U.S. Presidents were born in Ohio. In 1852, they became the first state to enact laws protecting working women.
There is indeed ‘much to discover’ in Ohio, a tagline that has added meaning for the 400,000 adopted adults born there between 1964 and 1996 who may well discover much thanks to the passage of legislation allowing them access to their own vital records. Beginning on March 20th, 2015, these adopted persons will now enjoy equality with adoptees born before and after this time frame in Ohio who are already allowed almost unrestricted access to their original birth document. Ohio becomes the ninth state to open birth certificates to adopted adults from a previously closed period.
Birth certificates are a vital record, yet they have been denied to countless persons who are adopted in the majority of US states for many years. Advocates in Ohio, undaunted by a context making reform efforts challenging, pressed on for more than 25 years until their efforts became successful in 2013 when Governor John Kasich signed Substitute Senate Bill 23 into law.
The magnitude of this event must not be underestimated, yet it often is by those who are unaware of the challenges facing adopted persons throughout the United States. The need for access to a true document of one’s birth runs the spectrum from the practical to the personal. With this access comes knowledge of one’s biological origins. It allows adopted persons to gain cultural, ethnic and genetic information that has the potential to be life saving. In 2004, the United States Surgeon General initiated the Family Health History campaign based on the fact that knowing a family health history can save your life. Every person that goes to a new doctor’s appointment is confronted with a form asking them to fill out their medical history, a form that those who are adopted often leave blank.
Some adopted persons may seek their original information for more personal reasons. They may have hope of making contact with original family members who have been lost to them. They may wish to engage in genealogical research. They may simply want to hold in their possession the document that attests to the profound event of their own birth. Regardless of their reasons, they shouldn’t have to defend the basic need for their own vital information.
The fight for access to original birth certificates surpasses both the personal and the practical. This is an issue that speaks to the very core of human rights. For what else is it to be human than to have your own birth acknowledged? All of us are born first…it’s the only way we get here. Yet some of us are told that the facts of our birth must be kept secret, locked away in a dusty file cabinet in the offices of the state registrar, only to be seen if enough people come together and fight for a right that every other citizen takes for granted.
Beginning with the adoption reform movement in the 1970’s, advocates in many states have been working hard to communicate to legislatures that adopted persons have the right to possess their own birth document. This advocacy reflects best practices in adoption that highlight the need for openness. The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) has conducted research demonstrating that the vast majority of adoptions that occur today are created with adoptive and birth families knowing each other’s identity and staying in touch over time as this honesty is considered in everyone’s best interest, most especially the adopted person.
We must always remember that the ‘best interest of the child’ has long since been the standard of adoption proceedings. And in considering the best interest of the child, we need to do so in a way that reflects their development over time. Denying adopted persons access to their own vital information negates the spirit and intent of laws that guide adoption placements.
There are those who predict catastrophic results should states allow adopted person’s access to their actual birth document. Yet these predictions have not borne out in reality. Data from states that give this right to adopted persons demonstrate that these laws have benefited those connected to adoption. The majority of birth parents welcome contact from the child they gave birth to and adopted persons have shown that, like any other adult; they are capable of managing their own personal information. And there is no research to suggest that promises of anonymity impact whether a person will choose abortion versus adoption, another offensive speculation that is not grounded in any fact.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once stated that “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”. The journey to this third stage is often long and arduous. But through diligence and persistence, advocates in Ohio have ensured that a fundamental truth is now accepted: all human beings have a right to their actual birth document.
Congratulations, Ohio. DAI applauds you.