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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: January 22, 2015 09:37 AM
From: Representative Kerry A. Benninghoff
To: All House members
Subject: Adoption Records - former HB 162
In the near future, I will be reintroducing legislation to allow Pennsylvania adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates. This was HB 162 last session and the number will remain the same for this session. Last session, this bill was passed unanimously in the House. The bill was also approved by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, but the legislative session expired before the legislation was taken up by the full Senate.

It is reported that in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, most states had sealed adoption court records, typically, sealed original birth certificates from all individuals except adult adoptees. While the 1950’s and 1960’s saw an increase in those that advocated for original birth certificates to be sealed from all persons, including adult adoptees as well as an increase in the number of states that altered laws to reflect those sentiments, it was between 1960 and 1990 that all but a handful of states closed adult adoptee access to birth records. Pennsylvania sealed birth records in 1985.

Despite evidence that most people with adoption experience support legislation that would allow access to birth records, legislation across the country has been repeatedly stymied. Reasons for this vary from some who state that many do not understand why records were sealed in the first place to an unfounded, yet prevalent, belief that parents were ensured confidentiality forever. Keep in mind that there isn’t any legal document or statute that grants this confidentiality. This was often verbally promised by a private organization.

The push to open adoption records is driven in part by the increased interest among adoptees to understand their ancestral roots; some want to establish relationships while others are more interested in their family medical histories. Although the legislative battle often pits an adoptee’s right to his or her birth certificate against a birth parent’s right to privacy, the movement toward access is growing with a number of legislative initiatives across the country.

I have been in contact with legislators from those states who have opened records and they have notified me that the outcome has been positive and they haven’t had any issues. This is about fairness to a group of individuals who are treated differently due to their birth story. No person or entity should be permitted to deny an individual their right to their own personal history!

Keep in mind that the sealed adoption record applies to anyone who is adopted in Pennsylvania. A birth parent(s) name will be wiped from birth certificates and replaced with an adoptive parent(s). For example: A woman’s husband dies (whether in war or by car accident) and she remarries. Should the new husband adopt her children from her deceased spouse, the deceased spouse’s name will be wiped from the birth certificate and replaced with her new husband’s name. Those children will no longer be able to see their deceased parent’s name on their birth certificate because the original will now be sealed!

I ask that you join me in providing adoptees the opportunity to discover their identity, if they so choose. We do not restrict this information from any other human being, including children in foster care; we should not restrict access to their existence either. Please contact Amy anoel@pahousegop.com or 717-783-1918 if you have any questions.

Introduced as HB162