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Published 05/25/2010 at 12:14am  |  Views: 19197
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by Monique Garcia
Original Article

On May 20th, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a measure allowing people who were adopted as children to access their birth records to find out more about their past.

The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, who was adopted and has pushed to open adoption records for years.

The legislation allows anyone adopted before 1946 to get their full birth certificate information by filing a written request with the state adoption registry. Those born after Jan. 1, 1946, could learn the same information if they are over 21 and at least one birth parent has not requested anonymity.

"After Governor Quinn signs this legislation, I will be able to walk into the state's office of Vital Records, plunk down my $15 and get a copy of my original birth certificate. On it will be the name of the woman who gave birth to me 53 years ago. I can't wait to hold it in my hand," Feigenholtz said in a statement. "Today, we're opening a new chapter in adoption history in Illinois where we can finally say that all families are created equal."

Currently, birth records in adoption cases are closed unless a parent specifically requests they be open. Under the new law, birth parents would have until mid-November 2011 to request that their identifying information not be shared.

That provision sparked opposition among some lawmakers who said some mothers assumed their identities would never be known. The measure passed the House 74-39 and the Senate 36-16. You can read the legislation by clicking here.

Feigenholtz argues that it's a basic human right to be able to access one's birth records.

Also scheduled to attend the bill signing are Sen. AJ Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, and Howard Griffith, a former fullback for the Denver Broncos who played at the University of Illinois. Griffith was adopted.

Feigenholtz had tried to pass the legislation since at least 2008.

Here's a Chicago Tribune story from March 2008 on the topic:

Former Denver Broncos fullback and adoptee Howard Griffith has spent many holidays surrounded by his wife, children, parents and other family. But he's never been able to shake the feeling that something was missing.

"There's always still a sense of loneliness because you truly don't know who you are, even though you have this support system," Griffith said. On Monday morning, he stood in support of Democratic state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago, who is sponsoring a bill that would give many adoptees at least 21 years old access to their original birth certificates for the first time since Illinois sealed the records in the 1940s.

The bill, which has been assigned to the House Adoption Reform Committee, will be voted on Thursday, said Feigenholtz, herself an adoptee.

"We've been deprived of our history and our identity," she said. "Chapter 1 of everyone else's lives begins with a birth certificate, a document I and everyone behind me are prohibited from having."

The law would allow adoptees born before Jan. 1, 1946, to immediately get copies of their birth certificates. Those adoptees had access to their records until the state sealed them retroactively.

Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1946, will have to wait to retrieve the document until April 1, 2009, giving birth parents the opportunity to request anonymity through the state registry, Feigenholtz said. To have their names removed from the certificate, parents have to pay a $40 fee or fill out a medical questionnaire, said Melisha Mitchell, executive director of an organization called White Oak Foundation that provides post-adoption services.

Advocates of the bill are hoping the birth parents will opt to fill out their medical history, so their children can receive vital information, Mitchell said. If the parents do ask for anonymity, the adoptee can go to the courts five years from that date and initiate a search for updated medical information free of charge.

Of the about 2,000 birth parents registered in the state, only 17 have asked to remain confidential, Feigenholtz said.

Mitchell, a birth mother who chose adoption for her child, said many parents long to know that their child turned out all right.

"By the time our surrendered son and daughter reached adulthood, we just wanted peace of mind," she said.

Feigenholtz has spent a decade championing bills aimed at making it easier for birth parents to reconnect with the adult children for whom they chose adoption. In 1997, she proposed legislation that would have opened all Illinois adoption records if it had passed.

In 1999, she got a bill passed that expanded the state's adoption registry, which allows adoptees and birth parents to document their desire to reunite and helps them find one another.

More recently, Feigenholtz succeeded in revising a law that used to require adoptees have a medical reason to petition courts for information about their parents. Now they can seek the help of a confidential intermediary for any reason.

WGN Radio personality Steve Cochran said supplying birth certificates for adoptees like himself is an issue of fairness.

"It's something you ought to have because everyone else gets it," he said.