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Feb 26, 2019 3:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Considers Opening Birth Records For Adoptees

Lorraine Dusky.   PRESS FILE
Mar 4, 2019 10:29 AM

Adoptive parents, natural parents and people who are adopted—no side in an adoption is allowed to access birth records, including original birth certificates, in New York State.

But that could change this year. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who has been in favor of opening birth records for decades, recently attended a conference in Albany in support of changing the vital records access law to allow adopted people to access their original birth certificates.

“I’ve been working with Lorraine Dusky on this legislation for years,” Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday afternoon. “She was one of the first natural mothers to go public on this back in the ’70s,” he said.

Mr. Thiele said he’s a proponent of opening records so adoptees can access medical information about their family. “Every individual has the right to know their history,” he added. “It’s a civil and human rights issue. Every person has the right to know where they came from and the circumstances of their birth.”

However, Mr. Thiele said he understands the opposition. Natural or birth parents, adoptive parents, and children all may want to retain their privacy. If birth records are open, a child can search for his or her natural parents, even if they do not wish to be contacted, and vice versa.

“The current law is one-sided and doesn’t take into account the right to know for the child,” Mr. Thiele said. “From my perspective, we need to address that balance.”

Ms. Dusky, a Sag Harbor resident and author of “Hole In My Heart,” which tells the story of giving up her daughter, Jane, for adoption, has lobbied for the unsealing of birth certificates. “Fred Thiele has had different bills pending for years, and he’s always been a sponsor. He was one of the first people to sign on to this brand-new bill,” she said on Friday.

Ms. Dusky moved to Rochester, New York, to work as a journalist for The Democrat & Chronicle after attending Wayne State University from 1960 to 1964. She was 22 and unmarried when she discovered she was pregnant after an affair with a married man she met through work. In 1965, she quit her job and hid her pregnancy from everyone, including her family, because it was an unforgiving era for children born out of wedlock, she said.

After later finding an article about adoption in The New York Times, Ms. Dusky joined the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association, ALMA, and launched a nine-year search for her daughter while lobbying for changes to adoption laws across the country.

Unknown to Ms. Dusky, Jane Ann Rhymer had epilepsy, and her adoptive parents were searching for Ms. Dusky to understand Jane’s medical history.

“I assumed that when she got to be an adult, she’d be able to find out who I was,” Ms. Dusky said. “It just seems cruel. How can you take away the identity of an adult person?”

Ms. Dusky explained that sealing birth records protects the anonymity of the natural parents, and is intended to protect the integrity of the adopted family. “However, none of this should be a secret,” she said.

New York Adoptee Equality is one of the largest adoptee rights organizations in New York State. According to Cathi Swett, an adoptee whose natural mother lives in East Hampton, and an attorney and downstate coordinator of NYAE, New York has long been the most draconian state in the nation for adoptee access since 1935.

“I think a lot of the legislators have a difficult time being able to put themselves in the shoes of a person who can’t have this information,” Ms. Swett said.

Adoption records were sealed by New York State Governor Herbert Lehman, himself an adoptive father, in 1935. His family had adopted a child from a “black market” agency in Memphis, Tennessee, called the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, which was run for decades by a woman named Georgia Tann. She was known for using pressure, including threats of legal action, to take children from their natural parents, mostly poor single mothers, so she could sell them to wealthy patrons.

A state investigation into adoption fraud caused her facility to close in the 1950s, but she died of cancer in 1950, before the investigation made its findings public.

Gov. Lehman signed the law, which is still in place today, sealing birth certificates from New York adoptees and forbidding governmental agencies, courts and adoption agencies from releasing copies of original birth certificates to the adoptive parents, natural parents, and people who were adopted.

“At the time, it was deemed a good idea,” Ms. Swett said.

Although there has been an effort for decades to open records, Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the State Assembly from 1994 to 2015, was able to block legislation. After Mr. Silver left office, a hearing was held, and the majority of people opposed to the legislation were adoption lawyers, according to Ms. Swett.

Mr. Thiele participated in an Albany hearing held on January 28 by Assemblyman Michael R. Benedetto and Senator Alessandra Biaggi on a proposed law that would establish the right of adoptees to receive a certified copy of their birth certificate upon reaching the age of 18. The new law would also allow descendants of an adopted person to access those birth records.

Adoptee Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, and New York Adoption Equality volunteers, answered legislators’ questions at the public hearing and expressed gratitude for Mr. Thiele’s consistent support.

“Nowadays, even movie stars publicly say, ‘This is my adopted child,’” Ms. Swett said. “We want to let adopted people see their birth certificates and know where they come from.”

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Bad idea. Release medical info through a judge and keep identities secret unless all parties agree to disclosure. How many abortions will this result in if a woman/girl knows she will be revealed if she carries to term and puts her child up for adoption?
By Taz (554), East Quogue on Mar 1, 19 10:25 AM
How many abortions will this result in? My guess is ZERO.
By adoption search angel (2), Squamish on Mar 1, 19 10:33 PM
Actually, adoptions do not go down with records open. Kansas has never sealed its adoption records and in fact have a better record--fewer abortions than surrounding states.

This is about giving adopted people the same right as the rest of us not adopted have: the right to know who we are at birth.

It does not open any records to natural mothers.
By Lorraine Dusky (7), SAG HARBOR on Mar 1, 19 12:38 PM
A2691 S2492 provides access to the adoptee and adoptive parents during the adoptee's minority.

Openness and transparency are the norm in adoption practice today. Adoption Secrecy needs to be removed from NYS law.
By @NYAdoptEquality (2), Albany on Mar 1, 19 7:15 PM
NY needs to open records with a 'clean' bill - no chance for a veto on releasing the information. Birth parents also need to be able to receive the post adoptive name.
By adoption search angel (2), Squamish on Mar 1, 19 10:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
We're happy to say Assemblyman Thiele is already a cosponsor of the Weprin/Montgomery bill, A5494/S3419, which currently has 82 sponsors and cosponsors in the Assembly. Assemblymember Weprin, pictured above at a New York Adoptee Rights press conference last year, is the prime sponsor in the Assembly. The bill is clean and provides unrestricted access to the OBC. We appreciate, as always, Assemblyman Thiele's support.
By NYARC (1), Central Valley on Mar 2, 19 10:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
As an adoptive parent of two I am firmly in favor of opening birth records to adult adoptees. My children are not second class citizens They should have the same access as anyone else to learn about their roots. While I am proud of my Irish and Italian ancestors and have researched them on Ancestry.com, my children would not have the same opportunities. If we had not searched for their birth parents they would not know who they were or where they came from. Not knowing who and where they came ...more
By Adoptive father (1), Southold on Mar 2, 19 4:18 PM
#BenedettoBiaggi Bill A2691 S2492 would give adoptive parents access during the adoptee's minority years. Please call your legislators and ask them to coSponsor or pledge to vote yes on this bill.

Secrecy in adoption practice is uniformly condemned; NYS law mandating secret birth records needs to change. Only the #BenedettoBiaggi Bill changes state policy. Other pending bills only seek to carve out an exception to secrecy for adult adoptees.
By @NYAdoptEquality (2), Albany on Mar 7, 19 10:52 AM
What about children of rape? Abortion was illegal and women brought to term children that resulted from rape. I don't think someone has a right to traumatize someone who was already traumatized in the past.
By btdt (435), water mill on Mar 10, 19 11:54 PM