Rep. David Alexander stood outside the House chamber Thursday morning and listened as his colleagues debated whether he should be permitted access to his original birth records.
Alexander, an Enfield Democrat in his first term, was adopted as a young child and adoptees in Connecticut and most other states are only allowed access to amended birth certificates which omit the names of their biological parents.
Town administrators in Middletown, where Alexander was born, keep his original birth certificate and it’s a source of frustration for the Marine Corps veteran that various government entities can view his personal records even as they are kept secret from him.
“I can’t get access to my birth certificate. Doctors, social workers, and government agencies can,” he said. “When I did my secret clearance for the Marine Corps, they had access to it but I didn’t, which I found — tough.”
Adoptees argue the redacted birth records create health risks for them. Without knowing their family medical histories, they cannot be screened for illnesses they are predisposed to based on family medical history and genetics. Even with symptoms of certain diseases, Alexander said many can’t get their insurance companies to cover screening because they can’t prove the condition runs in the family.
Lawmakers have drafted bills to change the law in Connecticut many time over the years but none have been signed into law. The legislature approved a bill to open up the records in 2006, but former Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the bill.
Alexander said he has worked with other supporters to craft a bill that various state agencies consider to be a workable policy. It would give adult adoptees the right to obtain their original certificates.
The Judiciary Committee was debating that bill Thursday morning before a House session. Although he’s not on the committee, Alexander stood outside the chamber and listened to the positions of other lawmakers.
The committee voted 19-11 to allow the bill to move forward in the legislative process with support and opposition coming from both sides of the aisle.
Opponents argued the bill impedes on the privacy rights of birth mothers who did not expect to have their information released when they made the choice. Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, opposed the bill and said adoptees currently have the option of petitioning the probate court that approved their adoption for their birth certificates.
“I’m trying to balance the interests of both parties,” she said. “I don’t know the lives of these mothers. I have know idea if they were the victims of rape or incest” or other circumstances.
Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, agreed with Rebimbas.
“I have some serious concerns about this bill . . . Birth parents are missing from this conversation. There’s no voice for them at the capitol,” she said.
The bill allows mothers to fill out a form indicating whether they are willing to be contacted by the child later in life. Either way, the form is not binding and the child would still be able to access the birth certificate.
Alexander said it’s a difficult topic for many people on both sides of the debate.
“It’s a tough, emotional issue. It’s not a political partisan issue, it’s an emotional issue,” he said. “For me, it is difficult when emotions come up because I have my own emotional feelings. It’s something where I need to obviously step aside. I respect everyone’s opinions.”
Although the committee approved the legislation as it was drafted, Alexander said it’s likely to be amended on the floor if it is called for a vote. The new bill will only reach back as far as 1983, when biological parents began signing a form acknowledging the child may, as an adult, be able to access documents that could identify them.
The change is a compromise, which Alexander hopes will make opponents more comfortable with the concept and perhaps willing to consider opening up all birth records in the future. If passed, Connecticut would be the fifth state to change their policies on adoption records. Alexander said he believes the change may catch on around the country.
Alexander said he feels lucky that he has been able to maintain contact with his family on his biological mother’s side.
If passed, the bill would also give Alexander access to information on his biological father for the first time. Asked how he felt about the prospect of accessing the information, he paused then said he believes the option should be a fundamental right.
“I don’t even know if I would look at it — I don’t even know. But the fact that I, under the law, could not have access to it is very alarming under the principles of natural rights and fairness,” he said. “I don’t think the state, or any government, should be in the business of hiding the identity of people from them.”