FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A new Indiana law is giving adoptees from the “closed records era” access to their birth records and many Hoosiers are calling it a huge relief. Senate Bill 91 passed on March 4, 2016.
Hoosiers adopted between 1941 and 1993 have had a hard time getting hold of their original birth certificate and adoption files. Accessing the files can often be a timely and expensive process and most of the time, adoptees are denied any information. People adopted after 1993 can learn about their biological parents and where and when they were born with relative ease.
The law states that starting in July 2018, the playing field will be equalized. Advocates for closed records say biological parents should have their own right to privacy. Open records advocates argue that adoptees need important birth information such as their medical histories.
Pamela Patterson, a Fort Wayne resident who was born in Columbia City, was only able to find out who her birth parents were through personal searching. Courts and hospitals denied her access to her original birth records.
Patterson believes the birth date on her adoption records may be incorrect. Her birth mother, who she said lived a life of self-destruction, doesn’t have her original birth certificate or know the whereabouts of her biological brothers. Her personal searches for her siblings are getting nowhere.
“It’s like they don’t exist,” she said. “Back in the 70’s, closed adoptions were huge. You went away and you have a new family.”
Patterson said this final piece will go a big way towards her understanding who she truly is.
“Closed records are terrible,” she said. “You understand that [the government is] trying to protect everybody involved and at the time and I think they did the best they could under the circumstances they had but when you are an adopted child, you have a story,” she said. “You came from some place. Everybody deserves to know where you come from.”
Jennifer Fahlsing, an active member of Hoosiers for Equal Access to Records (HEAR), was adopted at birth and also gave her first child away for adoption. Fahlsing was 16 years old.
“In 1980, small town Indiana was still a very, very bad thing to be single, young, and expecting a baby,” she said. “I embarrassed my family. I was sent away and I was told I was not keeping my child.”
She said it’s unfair that her son couldn’t access his birth certificate or medical history because of her decisions, but he was eventually able to find her.
After Fahlsing’s 2013 reunion with her birth mother, all of her children understand their health better.
“It’s really important to me so they get those answers not only for themselves as they get older but for their children and grandchildren.”
Fahlsing, said closed records made doctor visits a frustrating experience.
“Answering the question when you go to the doctor’s office, ‘give us your medical history?’ and you go ‘I don’t know, I’m adopted’ and they just put a big ‘X’ through that section wasn’t that big a deal until you start having children and then your child’s sick and they want your medical history and you feel very inadequate as a parent not being able to provide that information,” she said.
When Fahlsing found her birth mother on her own accord, she learned there is a history of hyperthyroidism in the family. She had her doctor test her for it and she tested positive for the disease.
She testified for Senate Bill 91 in front of the Indiana senate committee and house judiciary committee and said now that it has passed, adoptees across Indiana will have fuller pictures of who they really are.
HEAR has been pushing to make Indiana a more adoption-friendly state. Senate Bill 91 will make it the 14th state to give adult adoptees from the “closed records” period equal access.