Unlocking secrets of adoption
Group urges disclosure of birth certificates to adoptees at age 18
By Paul Grondahl
February 14, 2012
ALBANY — Armed with the slogan "I Wonder Who My Mommy Is?" a group of advocates with the Unsealed Initiative lobbied Tuesday for a bill that would allow adoptees to receive a copy of their birth certificates when they turn 18.
The group met with state legislators and aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Currently, mutual consent is required for the release of adoption records. A birth mother and adoptee must register with the New York State Adoption Information Registry, a third-party clearinghouse. Officials with the registry then match birth mothers with adoptees.
Despite a relaxation of the law in 1992 that dropped consent by adoptive parents and lowered the age of adoptees from 21 to 18 years, participation in the registry remains low. A total of 32,522 adoptees and birth parents have signed up with the registry since its inception decades ago and only 1,368 matches have been made. More than 9,000 adoptions occur annually statewide,
"There's been too much secrecy and shame surrounding this issue for too long," said Joyce Bahr, president of the Unsealed Initiative. "The registry isn't working and other states are much more progressive than New York."
Bahr and other advocates cheered a 23-to-1 vote of the Assembly Health Committee in favor of the bill they support that would allow an adoptee access to records at 18. The bill now moves to the Codes Committee, where it has languished in past sessions. A Senate version has also died in committee. Some adoption agencies oppose the bill because of privacy concerns.
Rosanne DiGiulio lobbied on behalf of her 73-year-old mother, Joan DiGiulio, who did not learn she was adopted until she was 45. She has mounted an unsuccessful search for her birth mother.
"It's just been heartbreak after heartbreak for her," DiGilio said. "She can't get past the feeling that she was rejected at birth."
Bahr, 63, of New York City, got pregnant at 17 and her parents sent her to an aunt in Chicago to deliver the baby and give it up for adoption.
She felt pressured by a social worker to turn over the healthy 9-pound boy she gave birth to on May 22, 1966.
"Go home and forget about it. Pretend it never happened," the young Bahr was counseled.
After much searching, she was finally reunited with her son, Edward, after he turned 18. He is now 45 years old and they have maintained a strong relationship.
"It was such a big relief," Bahr said. "The burden of carrying the secret around is awful."
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