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Thursday, December 19th, 2013

New law opens door for thousands of adoptees

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - A bill giving a majority of Ohio adoptees access to their adoption records is expected to be signed into law today by Gov. John Kasich.
The Ohio Adoptee Bill will give an estimated 400,000 adults adopted between 1964 and 1996 access to official records including their birth certificates. Currently, the information is only released to that population through a court order.
The adoption bill was approved Dec. 4 by the Senate and Dec. 11 by the House.
Ohioans - adopted or not - born before Jan. 1, 1964, or after Sept. 18, 1996, can obtain their adoption files and birth certificates from the Ohio Department of Health. However, legislation enacted in 1964 and 1996 left the 32-year gap.
Carol Kremer, formerly of Montezuma, is one of the adoptees who was denied access to her past. The 1984 Celina High School graduate feels everyone deserves the right to know his or her background.
"I think it's important to have a sense of yourself and know where you came from," said Kremer, who now lives in Columbus. "I felt it was important to know a lot of things such as genetics and whether I looked like my birth parents."
Senator Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, who sponsored the legislation, said he supported the proposed law for many reasons but particularly felt it was important to give adoptees access to their medical history.
"Not only is the current system inherently unfair to adoptees who fall in this unfortunate time frame, but it also denies people access to essential health information related to their family history," he said.
The bill won't become effective until March 2015 to give birth parents time to request their name and contact information be redacted from the birth certificate and file.
Betsy Norris, executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, will be at Kasich's side this afternoon when he signs the bill. She has worked for years on the legislation, she said.
"There was no opposition this time around," she said. "I believe attitudes have changed over the years."
In the past, groups such as Right to Life have opposed opening up records to adoptees to protect the rights of birth parents, Norris said.
"There was this whole social stigma that was so powerful," she said. "A lot of it was about unwed mothers (who gave up their babies for adoption) and it was considered shameful."
Society has a whole different attitude today, and the Internet and social media already opened a lot of doors, she explained.
"Frankly, there's no birth mothers ... who know they couldn't be found if someone wanted to go looking," Norris said.
She likes the idea that birth parents have the right to redact information given to adoptees, but doubts many will. Based on laws in other states, Ohio expects less than 1 percent to make the request, she added.
If a birth parents' personal data is omitted, the adoptee still is granted his or her birth certificate and medical history, she explained.
Kremer, who was adopted by Stanley and Ruth Kremer, won't have to wait for the new law to become effective to contact her birth parents. She and her birth mother, coincidentally, began looking for each other in January with the help of private investigators.
"We met for the first time in April. She's a lovely person and we're building a wonderful new relationship," Kremer said.
Although her birth mother lives out of state, the pair have visited several times this year and connect regularly by phone, email and text, she said.
"We even spent my birthday together for the first time in 47 years," she added.
Kremer - who also met her birth father this year - said her desire to find her mother was mainly out of curiosity.
"I though about her throughout my life and especially on my birthday. I knew that whatever the circumstance, it couldn't have been easy for her to give up a child," she said.
She often wondered if her mother thought about her, she said. She wanted to let her know she was OK and that she had wonderful parents and a good life, Kremer added.
"I didn't want her to worry about what had become of me," she said.
Kremer's story is full of ironies and coincidences. One truly stands out: Her adoptive parents had chosen a name for her before they drove to Columbus to pick up the 6-day-old infant. But on the way to the hospital they changed their mind and dubbed her Carol Ann.
She was speechless to learn earlier this year that her birth mother's name also is Carol Ann.
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