Two bills were introduced in Columbus on Tuesday which would allow people who are adopted to gain access to their original birth records.
According to the Ohio Department of Health's Office of Vital Statistics, if you were adopted before 1964, you have the right to see your original birth records. If you were born between 1964 and September 18th of 1996, however, your records are sealed and can only be opened by a court order. Records after that date are accessible to the adoptee with certain restrictions once they turn 21.
Supporters of the proposed changes argue sealing birth certificates results in unequal treatment of people who are adopted and can create the potential for lifelong identity issues and avoidable medical risks.
On the other hand, similar bills have not gone through in the past because of concerns about the birth parents' privacy rights and concerns that open records could lead to more abortions. There were also concerns about promises that may have been made to birth parents surrounding anonymity.
The proposed law would allow birth parents to sign a preference form that states what type of contact, if any, they would like to have. Birth parents would also have the chance to share their family's medical history.
For one Tri-State woman, the fight to open records to adoptees hits home.
"There's a void because you know that there's a piece of you out there missing," Julia Kaeser explained.
Kaeser was born in 1969, five years after birth records were sealed by the state.
"Every person whether they're adopted or not has the right to know where they come from," she argued. "Somebody has the adoptee's information in a file and knows everything about you but you can't know it."
As a teen, Kaeser felt she was missing a critical piece of her identity and at 18, she began her search.
"How can you have a future if you have no past," she questioned.
Without help from the state, Kaeser reunited with her birth mother in 2001.
"I got to look in her face, and I got to see somebody who looked like me," she shared. "I understand that a birth parent might want privacy, but I think that there's ways around it."
Kaeser believes adoptees should at least have access to a family medical history. Her birth mother was also adopted, and Julia found out through her grandmother's family, colon cancer runs in the family.
"At the age of 50, my birth mother went to go get screened and she had stage three colon cancer," she recounted.
At 35, Kaeser learned she had four pre-cancerous polyps.
"I could be on my death bed right now," Kaeser told FOX19, "Because I never would have thought of having that procedure done."
She wonders how many others might not be so lucky.
To this day, even with her birth mother's permission, Julia still hasn't been able to get her original birth certificate.
"That little piece of paper means everything to you because you do get your past and you do get your identity," she said.
Even if you don't get a happy ending, Kaeser argues everyone should at least have the option to turn that final page.
"It's still an ending, and I got my answers, and I wouldn't have changed it for the world no matter how much hurt and pain I've been through," she said.
This is the sixth attempt by supporters to change the legislation. Betsie Norris with the Adoption Network Cleveland says they are confident the time for passage has come, in part because of Ohio Right to Life.
While that group has historically opposed any efforts to open adoption records, they tell FOX19 they have re-examined their position and are now willing to look at ways to provide access to adoptees while still being sensitive to the rights of birth parents.
Now that the bills have been introduced in the State House and Senate, the matter will go before committees in both chambers. Legislators will then conduct hearings and consider public comments.
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