Celebrate Ohio’s Success with Activism

Mar 17, 2015 by

It's not 1964 anymoreOn a warm summer day in 1982, I took a day off work. Not to enjoy a day in the sun, but to make the drive to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Columbus, Ohio to get a copy of my birth certificate. My ORIGINAL birth certificate.

Thanks to an article in the local paper, I had learned just days before that I had a right to get a copy of the birth certificate that was issued at the time of my birth. As an adoptee, the only birth certificate I had ever laid eyes on contained the name of my adoptive parents.

Until I read that article, I had no idea that all I had to do was make a request and that important piece of paper was mine. Because of that article, I also learned that if my adoption had been finalized just three weeks later, that simple piece of paper would have been sealed away in that same office. I would NOT have had the right to see that document that was a crucial piece of my identity.

I walked out of that office in Columbus with that simple piece of paper in my hand.   Then I went back to my life. I was frustrated about the law kept that document from many Ohio adoptees who were different from me only because of their birth date. Until 2012, I buried my head in the sand. I wrote no letters, I did not speak up about this important issue.

Betsie Norris was another Ohio adoptee, born in 1960, who only had to make a request to get her original birth certificate. She didn’t just collect her original birth certificate and go back to her life.

Instead, she made it her mission to change the laws that prevented adoptees from seeing that simple piece of paper. She founded Adoption Network Cleveland in 1988 and has worked tirelessly to change Ohio’s laws ever since. And more. The organization she founded offers services for everyone who has a connection to adoption.

Bills were introduced and failed, but the work continued. In 1996, the movement that was so important to Betsie Norris experienced some success when the law changed to allow Ohio adoptees born after September 18, 1996 to access their adoption file when they become adults.   Adoption Network Cleveland’s efforts did not stop because the records of 400,000 Ohio adoptees, born between 1964 and 1996, remained sealed by law.

On December 19, 2013, after 25 years of effort, the work Betsie Norris began after she learned about sealed records laws finally saw success when Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 23 into law, finally giving all Ohio adoptees the right to their original birth record.

This effort couldn’t have happened with the efforts of just one person. It was the efforts of many people. Adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents and family members testified to change the laws. Ohio General Assembly representatives learned about closed record laws and championed bills to change those laws. Adoption professionals learned about the issues and recommended opening the records. Journalists covered the issue. And many, many volunteers donated time and money to make this change happen.

This Friday, March 20, 2015, Ohio joins Kansas, Alaska, Oregon, Tennessee, Alabama, Delaware, New Hampshire, Maine, Illinois, and Rhode Island by opening adoption records to adoptees.   Other states including Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York and Missouri have active bills to change their state adoption records laws. Records in other states remain sealed.

I’m ready to celebrate Ohio’s success. It is an important day in Ohio history. And I’m so honored to be a part of this day. This day would have never arrived in Ohio without Betsie Norris and the army of workers and volunteers she has gathered over the past 25 years.   Every single person who spoke up and fought the uphill battle for change has my congratulations and respect.

I’ve learned a great deal in the past few years about how the records came to be closed. And about the forces that oppose transparency and open records for all adoptions. I realize that there is much work yet to be done. Adoptees in every state deserve access to their records. There is no place for secrecy in adoption.

Don’t do what I did 30-some years ago, don’t just request your original birth certificate and go back to your life. Do something to pay it forward. If every Ohio adoptee who has access to their original birth certificate writes a letter, posts to social media and makes calls to General Assembly representatives in states currently considering bills to open adoption records, we can make a difference. #ohadopteesroar

Original Birth Certificate

My Original Birth Certificate

Here are some important links about Ohio’s new adoption records access law:

Adoption Network Cleveland, for a comprehensive overview of the new law and for support services

The Ohio Department of Health, for the official forms and procedures

More about Betsie Norris’ role in changing Ohio’s law

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *