House panel weighs giving equal access to adoption records

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Efforts to expand Indiana adoptees' access to more than 50 years of sealed records hit a snag Monday after an aide to Gov. Mike Pence raised concerns about how the plan could impact biological mothers.

Indiana sealed the records of children who were adopted between 1941 and 1994, preventing hundreds of thousands of adoptees from finding their biological parents. Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would make those records available.

Under the plan, biological mothers could file a no-contact form to keep their records sealed. But if a request isn't on file by July 2016 — one year after the law would take effect — the records would become available to the child who was relinquished for adoption.

The governor is a strong advocate of reconnecting families, but his administration doesn't believe one year is enough time for birth mothers to file the proper paperwork if they want to remain anonymous, said Pence's family policy director Lindsey Craig. She said there are likely many people opposed to the change who don't want to speak publicly.

"We believe that the state did make a promise to birth mothers that it would protect their identity and this bill kind of changes the rules in the middle of the game," Craig told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.

She also noted that the state health department doesn't have the contact information or the resources available to notify everyone the law would impact.

The Senate approved the bill 46-3 in January, but the House committee chose not to vote on the proposal until the governor's concerns are addressed.

Bill supporters argue that adoptees should have the right to know their medical histories and be able to prepare for illnesses or genetic diseases.

"Imagine for every doctor's appointment you have to answer every family question with, 'I don't know,'" said Jon Casebere, a 41-year-old Auburn man who spent 18 years trying to find his biological parents.

Casebere later learned that his father died of cancer at age 28, and his father's seven siblings died at an average age of 45.

Opponents, including adoption attorney Steven Kirsh, said there is already a route for adoptees to legally get access to their birth records as long as the mother gives consent.

"We believe adoptees are entitled to the information, but it's not greater than a birth parent's right to privacy," Kirsh said.

Sen. Brent Steele, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said he's not sure why the records were originally sealed but believes it was designed to protect women and children from the stigma attached to pregnancies out of wedlock.

"This bill takes a significant step toward healing the shame and secrecy that characterized adoption for decades," the Bedford Republican said.

More than a dozen states have restored access to most or all adoption records, including Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee and Alabama, and some courts have ruled there is no right to privacy for birth parents.

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