Paul Schibbelhute woke up at 4:30 Friday morning and drove from New Hampshire to a Hartford street corner, where he hoped to raise awareness of legislation that gives adoptees access to their original birth certificates.
Schibbelhute describes himself as a birth father. In 1977, when he was in college, he and a friend had a child in Hartford whom they gave up for adoption. Years later, he decided he wanted to make contact with his son, Josh.
However, in Connecticut and most other states, adoptees only have access to amended birth certificates that omit the names of the biological parents. Meaning, even if Josh wanted to get in touch with his father, he would not be able to do so.
In 1998, Schibbelhute hired a private investigator to help him track down his son, who was living in New Jersey. The two now keep in touch, he said.
But the reason he was waving signs Friday outside Turning Point Park was to garner support for a bill that would allow people like his son the option of learning about their biological parents. Schibbelhute, who serves as the regional legislative director for the American Adoption Congress, said he has been trying to get his message to the public and lawmakers.
“[The current law] denies a whole group of people a basic human right,” he said.
The bill has become an annual effort for Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, who proposed it. A version of it passed the legislature in 2006 only to be vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. But this year he said he expects broad support.
To Meyer, it’s not just a question of fairness, it’s also a health concern. He said he met with a group of adoptees who have no way of knowing what illnesses may run in their families. The bill would allow them to access their original birth certificate and their biological parents’ medical records once they turn 21.
“Genetics have gotten to be so significant today. The ability to know the health of their parents is important for people who have been adopted,” Meyer said.
The bill also allows mothers to fill out a form indicating whether they are willing to be contacted by the child later in life. Either way, the child would still be able to access the birth certificate. In other states with the same process, more than 90 percent of mothers have said they wouldn’t be opposed to someday hearing from the child, Meyer said.
Meyer said he expects the Judiciary Committee to vote on the legislation when they meet on Monday, the last day the committee can pass bills.
Last year the committee voted the bill down 27-16. Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said that was because as a whole, members of the committee just weren’t that supportive of the concept. Given that the composition of the committee has changed little since last year, he said he expects the same result this year.
That’s if the committee takes it up at all. Kissel said they have dozens of complicated bills to act upon before their 5 p.m. deadline. He said he doubted the Judiciary Committee co-chairs would raise a bill that’s sure to generate a lot of debate when it’s unlikely there’s enough support or time to pass it.
Apprehension around the bill stems from concern that it will reduce the number of parents who choose to give their kids up for adoption, he said. Currently mothers and fathers count of the anonymity the law provides when they choose adoption, Kissel said.
“I don’t want to create an environment where mothers and fathers are dissuaded from giving their children up for adoption,” he said.
Schibbelhute said, for him at least, that is not a concern.
“My son’s right to know who his birth parents are outweigh my right to any sort of privacy,” he said.