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Thursday, July 15, 2010 04:03 am

Birth records opened, but not enough

Adoptees criticize new law for protecting anonymity of birth parents

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Ann Wilmer reunited with members of her extended birth family. Wilmer had to painstakingly research her past to come in contact with her family.

Michelle Edmunds knows the problems that adoptees can face gaining access to their birth certificates. She was born in Illinois and currently lives in Toronto and wanted to retrieve her birth certificate after her mother died. When she attempted to access the document, she was told that she would need to prove her mother’s death with a death certificate in order to receive her birth certificate. However, she was unable to gain access to the death certificate without proving that she was her mother’s daughter, something she could only do with her own birth certificate.

“It’s validation of my existence on earth,” said Edmunds, a member of the Adoptee Rights Coalition. “It entitles me to learn about my ancestry, my ethnicity and my family.”

On May 21, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that guarantees a birth certificate to adoptees, who have long been denied this document. However, some adoption rights groups believe the bill does not go far enough in giving adoptees access to desired information.

The law allows people born before Jan. 1, 1946, to access their birth certificates immediately and people born after that date will have to wait until Nov. 15, 2011. Edmunds doesn’t think the law goes far enough. She says it should be repealed in favor of legislation that would give adoptees unconditional access to their birth records.

“It means I’m not segregated from the rest of the population,” Edmunds said. “Everyone in the world gets to know their identity except adopted people.”

The law has drawn attention from some adoptee rights groups for a clause that allows the adoptees’ birth parents to file for anonymity, showing a wish not to be contacted. The provision allows no access to their personal information. The birth parent can be petitioned every five years to reconsider their anonymity, but if they refuse, the only way to gain access to a complete birth certificate is after the parent’s death, if the adoptee can present a death certificate.

Ann Wilmer, a member of the Green Ribbon Campaign for Open Records, thinks that the law does not do enough to give adoptees the truth about their identities.

“If you’ve got a birth certificate with everything blacked out but your name, what do you have?” Wilmer said.

Wilmer believes that the law unfairly defends the anonymity of birth parents and shouldn’t have passed. She thinks that many of the problems with the law have to do with the politics and believes that the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, was trying to pass the bill quickly.

“The governor should have vetoed it,” Wilmer said. “Our best hope is in a shift in power. The sponsor seemed to be desperate to pass it.”

For Edmunds, the decision to allow parents to effectively remove their identity on their children’s birth certificate equates to the government denying people access to their own past.

“You can’t legalize secrets,” Edmunds said. “When is secrecy a good thing? We want to know the truth of our lives. These questions are unanswered.”

Contact Jackson Adams at jadams@illinoistimes.com.

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