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Adoption advocates plead for birth certificate access

February 3, 2016 at 4:25 a.m. | Updated January 1, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

An adopted teenager from Owensville has been able to access her original birth certificate her entire life - what she calls a luxury that other adoptees in Missouri don't have.

Danika Donatti, 18, unfolded her original birth certificate, which lists her biological parents' names, and showed it to the House Children and Families Committee during a Tuesday hearing. She testified the access to the document allowed her to contact her father, who was in hospice, nearly a year ago before he died. They developed a positive relationship, she said, one for which she is thankful.

"I strongly believe that every adopted person should have access to their original birth certificate because it gives them a chance to have a relationship with their birth parents, like I did, or at least know who they are," Donatti said.

She spoke in favor of the Adoptee Rights Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, which would allow adoptees easier access to their original birth certificates.

Currently, adoptees must file a court order to obtain these documents. The process can be costly and the results are inconsistent, said Heather Dodd with the Missouri Adoptee Rights Movement. In Missouri, there are an estimated 500,000 sealed birth certificates, she said, adding adopted adults are often denied access to their information due to "unclear and biased laws."

The legislation gives an adopted person, his or her attorney, or descendants the right to apply for original birth certificates if the applicant is at least 18 years old, born in Missouri and has proper identification proof with the state registrar.

The state can set a waiting period and fee that are the same as those for applicants of non-adopted birth certificates.

Original birth certificates have been sealed - no longer qualifying those documents as public record - to protect the privacy of the adoptive parents so birth parents do not try to reclaim the adopted children and prevent public scrutiny of single mothers and fatherless children, Todd said. The measure has been inhibitive to adoptees learning about their medical history, she added.

Marge Wiederholt, a supporter of the bill from Farmington, was 18 when she put her newborn daughter up for adoption. At the time, she said she was never promised privacy, nor were the many other birth mothers she's spoken with on the subject.

She testified in favor of the legislation last year, and since then, Wiederholt's daughter found her after becoming ill with heart problems and needing to learn her medical history. However, finding each other was a struggle, Wiederholt said.

When she signed adoption forms years ago, Wiederholt said she didn't realize how it could affect her daughter.

"I had no idea I was giving up my daughter's rights, too," she said.

Privacy of the birth parents remains a concern of Laura Long, an adoption search specialist from Pleasant Hill who connects adoptees with their biological parents. Of the birth mothers she has contacted annually over the past two years, about half do not want to re-connect with their biological children. That amounts to about 20 birth mothers, typically ranging in age from 50-90 years old.

Those who are adamant about not being contacted have not recovered from trauma or stigma experienced when carrying and birthing the child, said Long, who is an adoptee herself.

"You have a lot of birth moms who never allowed themselves or the people around the birth mothers never allowed them to mentally process this traumatic event that's happened to them," she said. "If somebody has a trauma, are we going to make them deal with it? That would be the trade-off. ... They still feel that guilt and shame whether we agree with them or not."

Tyler McClay, general counsel with the Missouri Catholic Conference, said Catholic Charities, which is associated with the Foster Care and Adoption Coalition, feels the bill is "retrospective in application" because birth mothers were ensured confidentiality.

Many adoptees hire private investigators to find their birth parents, Deanna Alonso, executive director of the Jefferson City-based Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association, told the News Tribune in an email. They also turn to social media, posting pictures of themselves and information such as birthdays, birth hospitals, suspected birth names and physical characteristics.

"We live in a day and age that adoptees have a right to know where they came from," Alonso said.

Phillips said he's heard concern the legislation would make the state susceptible to breach of contract lawsuits from birth mothers, but that's not where his worries remain.

"I'm going to tell you, there will be lawsuits coming, but I don't think it will be the birth mothers, whoever they are, who are secretly hiding out there," he said. "I think it will be the people who've become subordinate and in nature second-class citizens called adoptees. I think one day if we don't get this corrected legislatively while we can, we will see an uprising and this state will get sued - rightfully so."


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