Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Connecting the Dots: Adoption, Religion, Money, and Birth Certificates in Pennsylvania

I was sitting in the gallery earlier this week as the Pennsylvania Senate Aging and Youth committee members voted on whether to pass a bill that would restore to adult adoptees born in the state access to their original birth certificates. The committee passed HB162 with an amendment added that would result in continued differential treatment under law for Pennsylvania-born adoptees. Because of the amendment language, Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights withdrew support of the bill--a decision that I agree with both personally and as a board member.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is the most politically influential opponent to this bill and the key reason that the amendment was added. The organization claims that its opposition is based on the beliefs that relinquishing parents were legally promised a right to confidentiality and that adult adoptees accessing their own birth certificates would somehow result in an increase of abortions. Both of these claims have been proven time and time again as having no reputable data or evidence to support them. For more information, read my post Refuted by the Facts: Catholic Claims About Restoring Birth Certificate Access to Adult Adoptees.

Regardless, many people, some of our senators included, seem to buy into these claims. Or at least, they buy into the idea that a religious special interest organization should have influence over the vital statistics function of a secular state government. A closer examination of the relationship between Catholic adoption agencies operating in Pennsylvania and the state's own adoption system reveals perhaps another claim that might be closer to the truth.

Who Really Cares?

In examining why a religious special interest organization would care so much about adult citizens accessing their own, factual birth certificates, it is important to first strip away emotions and red herrings. Let's ask ourselves if it really matters to the rest of society if adults who were adopted as children have access the accurate records of their births. I'll use myself as an example.

I'm a Connecticut-born adoptee who currently resides in Pennsylvania. If you visit my website, you will find information about my professional background. You will find links to my Amazon author page that promotes books about the adoptee experience. The fact that I am an adoptee is made quite clear. Now, I would challenge anyone reading this post to discern if I am in possession of my original birth certificate and consider if the answer is of personal relevance to them. For all of the supposed concern about confidentiality and abortions, does anyone know, or care, if I have my original birth certificate or not?

The truth is that I successfully petitioned the court in the city of my birth and was granted access to my original birth certificate 16 years ago. And what I have decided to to, or not do, with the information featured on it has been a personal, private matter. I have managed my own affairs as an adult citizen without the interference of the Connecticut state government or the agency that facilitated my adoption, Catholic Charities of Fairfield County. I also have yet to hear from anyone about how the accessing of my birth certificate has somehow impacted society-at-large. As far as I know, no woman has had an abortion over the past 16 years because I have my original birth certificate. I'm also unaware of how any relinquishing parents other than my own feel about the fact that I have my original birth certificate. Perhaps, this is because my personal life truly isn't of any concern to those not related to me or within my circle of confidants.

So why is my personal life, and those of other adult adoptees, of such interest to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference?

The Bottom Line

Currently, there are several Catholic adoption agencies providing post-adoption services in Pennsylvania. These agencies charge fees to adult adoptees in return for third-party intermediary services. The adoptee pays the fee and the Catholic agency reviews the adoption file, contacts the natural parents, and determines if contact between the the two parties can occur. Of course, if the natural parents do not want contact with their son or daughter, the Catholic agency keeps the fee paid by the adult adoptee--for services clearly not rendered to the paying individual's satisfaction. The interesting thing about this arrangement is that in some circumstances, these Catholic agencies are providing post-adoption services to adult adoptees whose adoptions were not facilitated through the agencies themsevles. I'll use Centre County as an example.

Centre County refers its adoptees to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for post-adoption services. This means that adults who were adopted through Centre County itself (as opposed to through a private agency such as Catholic Charities) are referred to a third-party religious agency that did not facilitate their adoptions. After receiving permission from the Centre County court, the authorized representative from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is then granted access to the adoption files of those adoptees. This means that a religiously affiliated party not involved in the adoptions has full access to all of the identifying information about the adoptees and the natural parents involved. So much for confidentiality.

I placed a call this week to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown to inquire about these services. The authorized representative was friendly, helpful, and more than happy to provide me with the fee structure. She also shared with me the fact that she currently has several Centre County cases ongoing and only one case in which the adult adoptee was actually adopted through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Each of these adoptees is being charged an initial $25 to start the process of possibly obtaining identifying information. An additional $100 will be charged upon completion, I am assuming regardless of whether the adoptee feels the outcome was satisfactory.

It is important to note here that these fees are not uniform across the state. York County, for example, charges adoptees $500 per parent for these same services. I know of one York County adoptee who paid $1,000 to have an Act 101 authorized representative named Sandra Bornman (only two days of training is required to serve in this capacity) access the adoptee's adoption file and provide the services. Let's just say that this particular adoptee paid $1,000 and received absolutely nothing in return. And Sandra Bornman has been very outspoken about how she does not support legislation such as HB162. Wonder why?

The bottom line isn't just about Catholic agencies, it is about our municipal bodies, and the Act 101 representatives as well.

Connecting the Dots

One could conclude that restoring the access Pennsylvania-born adoptees had to their original birth certificates prior to 1985 would remove the need for the post-adoption services offered by Catholic and municipal agencies. In accessing their original birth certificates, adult adoptees born in Pennsylvania would be able to make important decisions pertaining to their own lives--such as what to do with the information featured on their birth certificates--in a personal, private manner without third-party involvement. This is typically how most adult citizens born in Pennsylvania make decisions pertaining to their personal lives and the rest of society seems to be okay with that.

So, if we set aside red herrings about mythical confidentiality rights and the nonexistent rise in abortion numbers, what's left? What could possibly cause the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference to fight so hard to ensure that adult adoptees--many of whom were adopted through its own affiliated agencies--are treated differently under law to all non-adopted adults?

Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It’s written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks."

~ Matthew 21:12-13


Julie Stromberg
When the time came to think about college, I decided that my career path would encompass either child psychology or journalism. Fortunately for all the young people out there, I opted for journalism and earned a bachelor's degree in communications. Since that time, I have worked as a newspaper and magazine staff writer, public relations associate, and marketing copywriter. My professional creative efforts have been acknowledged with several industry awards.

I am also pleased to be involved in several writing and advocacy projects outside of the office. As an adoptee, my advocacy work is focused on changing the common, societal discourse on adoption practices and encouraging reform that would place the emotional needs and legal rights of the children involved first. www.juliegmstromberg.com

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