I’m not sure if there was some vital records conference recently but something coincidental or weird is happening. In the span of just a few weeks, I’ve come across two reports of state health departments denying the release of an original birth certificate for the most inane reason: the adoptee had already received one. That is, the adoptee had requested one already, got it, and then apparently had no further chits to get another one—like, for forever.
Take Illinois. Earlier in the month I received an email from an Illinois adoptee. She told me she had requested a copy of her original birth certificate from the department of health but, because she had already requested and received one a few years earlier, was told she could not have another copy. I was incredulous, and I thought maybe she was mistaken and that her OBC had been redacted or maybe it could not legally be released on account of Illinois’ ridiculously complex OBC law. She then forwarded the letter she had received:
A request for a non-certified copy of your original birth certificate has been received and was being researched when it was discovered this was a duplicate request.
Our records indicate that your first request was received and a copy of your original birth record was issued to you on July 20, 2012. We issue only one copy of these original birth records.
Since we identified this as a second request before the fee was submitted to the state comptroller we are returning all documentation along with the submitted fee. If there is a specific reason you need an additional copy feel free to contact the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange (IARMIE) at 877-323-5299 to discuss your request.
Wow. So, yes, the state is denying a second copy of the OBC for no reason other than it’s a second copy of the OBC. And, yes, the state of Illinois wants to know why an adoptee should even be given a second copy, asking for a “specific reason” before the adoptee can, just maybe, get another. This is nuts, and it was so far outside what was required by law that I had to check with other people to see if I too was a bit nuts. I wasn’t. There is nothing in Illinois law that prohibits an adoptee from requesting more than one copy of his or her OBC.
After realizing again that I was sane, I was then furious, as was the adoptee. With her permission I sent off two letters on crisp letterhead: one to the director of the Illinois registry—which handles OBC requests in the state—and one to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer responsible for the Illinois Department of Public Health’s public records. One was to make a formal complaint to the registry, and the other was to request all records that allegedly support the registry’s position that an adoptee may only have a once-in-a-lifetime copy of his or her OBC. You can read those letters here, but my go-to paragraph is this one:
I am not aware of any law or regulation in Illinois that limits an adult adoptee to a single copy of the original birth certificate, even if that copy is subject to Illinois’ version of birthparent redaction. I am also unaware of any law or regulation in Illinois that requires an adult adoptee, who otherwise qualifies for issuance of an original birth certificate, to provide any reason whatsoever for requesting a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate, whether it is the first copy, second copy, or thirty-fifth copy they desire.
I received a short and terse response within five days, from the FOIA officer, who told me that the Health Department “is unable to identify any records responsive to your request.” This was because the decision to deny the person a second copy of the OBC “was made in error.” I’m mulling over any further response for one primary reason: how many adoptees have been denied a second copy in the past because their first or only copy had been lost in a fire or flood or a plague of locusts? For now, though, I encourage Illinois advocates to follow up on this. If you are interested in doing that, give me a ring.
That was that. Until today. If you don’t know Shawna Hodgson, you should. She’s a fifth-generation Texan and one of the leaders of the Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition, along with other advocates. She’s a dyed in the wool adoptee activist—you don’t get anything past her. Like telling her she gets one chance, one copy, of her OBC. And her reason for requesting a second one this month? Just an inconvenient little 500-year flood in Houston that washed away hundreds of thousands of people’s homes and possessions, including much of Shawna’s and her family’s documents.
When she sent in the form to request a replacement copy of her OBC, she got this response by email:
Unfortunately, as the statute states, only one non-certified copy can be given.
Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, Subsection F, states ‘an adult adoptee who is applying for access to the person’s original birth certificate and who knows the identity of each parent named on the original birth certificate is entitled to a non-certified copy of the original birth certificate without obtaining a court order. The adult adoptee may obtain a copy of their original birth certificate without a court order, if they can identify the birth parent(s) that are listed.’
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything in the statute that says an adult adoptee is entitled to “one and only one” non-certified copy of the original birth certificate—until death do us part. Shawna didn’t see it either, though, like me, she was going a bit nuts trying to understand the response. She pulled regs and original legislative bill notes to keep a check on our collective sanity. Nope. Nothing there. We were sane.
She’s now drafting letters similar to my own letters to Illinois, asking a simple question: where in the law does it say an adult adoptee may only get one copy of the OBC—forever? And, by the way, hand over the copy that’s been requested. Ever heard of a fire or, God forbid, a 500-year flood? Or nice meaningful fish wrap?
When the Illinois adoptee called the department of public health official and asked about the alleged state policy, the official literally told her that “we don’t want too many of these floating around.” Huh. That’s nice. In response, I say whenever the state requests a reason for a second or fifth or eighty-fourth copy of an OBC we tell them to get lost. Then, if the state persists, we tell them it’s part of a collective interpretive project and that we are all slowly creating a flock of 35,000 paper airplanes, which we plan to toss from the roof of the Alamo. We will all watch them; we will all let those bastards float.
Richard D. Slaughter says
Great work Greg! Thank you.
Rudy Owens says
On behalf of all adoptees everywhere who have been provided all kinds of denials that are not legal or cited in law (or are intentional lies), thank you. These stories are disheartening. This is a systemic issue that has been around for decades regarding the treatment adoptees in a discriminatory fashion.
One option adoptees can consider is to demand legislative hearings and audits by sympathetic lawmakers of the officials and agencies that have authority over vital records. It can’t hurt. I wrote to half of the state lawmakers in Michigan in July 2016 after the state released my original birth certificate it wrongfully held for 27 years–and one rep’s office responded to my query. Some lawmakers do care.
Also, adoptees denied their legal rights and records can always try to expose and embarrass officials by name. That’s a proven strategy of a free press and a healthy democracy: to identify any officials who abuse their authority. Its called accountability. It works too and it has lead to reforms in the past. Good luck and keep up the great work here.
If a non-resident of Illinois can lobby against the continued adoptee-as-a-minor -forever treatment, count me in and advise how I can help.
What I am unable to wrap my head around is the summarizations sent to the requestors and the fact that copies of the actual OBC are not certified as authentic. Incroyable! If I were an adoptee from the Illini School of injustice, I would surely be tap-dancing on someone’s head for such disrespect given to adoptees!
As for Texas, what’s new? If one is neither a long horn or a barrel of oil, and worse and adoptee, one is ignored like a flea on a hound’s back.
But if you think Illinois or Texas or Michigan are difficult-or even New York State, come on over for a cuppa and I will introduce you to the State of Nebraska and its morass of refusal or fairness to any of its adoptees, not to mention its opacity in any communications with adoptees or concerning them. Not only do birth parents have the right to refuse access of the adoptee to his/her OBC and adoption file, so does the adoptive parent. And its so-called child protection laws concerning the abandoned child protects only the abandoning parent(s). DVR and DH can’t even be up front regarding the birth certificate not on file for an adoptee because said adoptee was not born in Nebraska. Nor can they simply tell one that they need to contact the court of adoption to secure any documentation, and that only if the judge agrees.
At any rate it is refreshing to have someone like Greg advocating for adoptees as he is sensitive to the issues at hand and is articulate and versed in the statutes of all sates, not just the one (MN) in which he holds a license to practice. The website is a gold mine of information and educational to boot. As a former colleague from NC used to say, Thanks for your good help!
I would love to include the URL of this website on my blog for adoptees to become acquainted with. Please advise if this is acceptable. Merci.