Bill to give adoptees closure

By Paolo Cisneros

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, has never seen her birth certificate. She wants to, but for adopted individuals like Feigenholtz, obtaining a copy of one’s birth certificate is prohibited by Illinois state law.

Now, dozens of years after she was adopted, Feigenholtz has introduced a bill that would allow adult adoptees in Illinois to obtain their birth certificates on the condition that their biological parents do not object.

“I believe it’s the first chapter in my life, and it’s something I should have,” she said.

The House Adoption Reform Committee recently passed the bill by a vote of eight to one and is currently awaiting a vote by the General Assembly. Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, is also co-sponsoring the bill.

Feigenholtz said the bill aims to provide adoptees with the closure of finally knowing who they are and not at facilitating an adoptee’s search for his or her biological parents.

“The bill that I’m proposing is not about search and reunion,” she said. “It’s a piece of legislation about obtaining a document.”

A separate, state-sponsored program exists for adoptees interested in searching for their biological parents, she said.

For Feigenholtz, obtaining a copy of her birth certificate is about learning her original name so that she knows her complete life story. For others, a birth certificate represents more than a name.

David Goat, 52, of North Pomfret, Vt., thinks he was born in Springfield, Ill., but has no way of being certain since he cannot obtain a copy of his birth certificate.

“There are developmental stages in children, and one of those stages is when the child’s mind can abstract enough to say, ‘Where do I come from?'” said Estrella Berosini, Goat’s girlfriend. “By not allowing these people access to their birth certificates, we’re interfering with their development which, in any other scenario, would be considered abuse.”

Despite support from individuals like Feigenholtz and Goat, the bill faced opposition from Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton., during its time in committee.

Sommer said the current adoption laws protect the anonymity of parents who make the decision to put their children up for adoption. The bill proposed by Feigenholtz does not allow biological parents who put their children up for adoption prior to Jan. 1, 1946, the right to keep the birth certificates sealed, he said.

“For those who have given up children, we would be taking away this right of anonymity that was given to them,” he said. “I don’t see how we can go back on our word of confidentiality.”

Feigenholtz, though, said that the provision Sommer referred to stems from the fact that, prior to 1946, biological parents in Illinois did not have the right to request anonymity.

He also said the state currently does not have the resources necessary to contact every parent that has elected to give up their child for adoption and inform them of the change in legislation.

Back in Vermont, Goat said that the ability to obtain his birth certificate might have helped him learn more about his biological family’s medical history and avoid a heart attack that left him legally dead for more than a minute last year.

“If I knew what kind of medical problems my parents ran into, then I at least know what I might possibly be coming up against,” he said.

Opponents of the bill said instead of making birth certificates available to adoptees, more efforts should be made to encourage biological parents to register for the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange, a system that allows birth parents to leave a detailed medical record for their biological children.

“We need to (increase) our efforts to encourage people to come forward and provide that information,” Sommer said. “My point is, yes, let’s try to have this sharing of information, but let’s not deny that promise of confidentiality that was given to the individual.”

Feigenholtz said that the bill does protect anonymity for people who request it, and moreover, medical information isn’t enough.

“Everybody else in the world has the first chapter of their life,” she said. “Adopted people’s lives start at chapter two, even though they always know there’s a chapter one.”