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Senate Makes No Decision On PA Adoption Bill

Two groups that are often in opposition are now working together to kill a bill making its way through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference are butting heads with legislators over House Bill 162, which would give adopted adults access to their original birth certificates, including the names of their birth parents.

For the ACLU and the Catholic Conference, it’s an issue of privacy, but for Sens. LeAnna Washington (D-Philadelphia) and Judy Schwank (D-Berks) it’s a matter of civil rights.

“It’s not like there’s an overwhelming number of adoptees coming forward and saying, ‘Listen, I want to know who my mother is. I want to talk to my mother,’” Washington said. “But for medical reasons, I think there should be a little gray area where people can get that information.”

Adoption rights activists support the bill, saying it would give adoptees the same basic identification rights as those who are not adopted.

Washington said issues like this shouldn’t exist in this day and age.

“It’s a sensitive issue in many forms, negative and positive, for both the adoptee and the adoptive parents, but this is 2014, things are different,” she said. “We must look at that as well.”

The bill’s 38 Republican sponsors say the push for open adoption records is driven by an increased interest by adoptees to learn more about their ancestral roots and family medical histories, but the ACLU and the Catholic Conference argue that open records would infringe on the privacy of the birth parents.

“HB 162 upends the respect for privacy in adoption procedures,” Andy Hoover, ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director, said in an open letter earlier this month. “Pennsylvania law already allows adoptee’s access to important medical and social information of their biological parents without disrupting the privacy of the birth parents’ identifying information.

The Senate Aging and Youth Committee heard arguments from both sides of the issue this week, but no action was taken.

Schwank said more information is needed before any decision can be made.

“People’s lives are in the balance on this issue and their medical history and their future children and grandchildren are impacted in some way by this,” she said. “So, we most certainly need to determine more information before this bill moves forward.”

The bill was passed unanimously by the House in October and moved to the Senate.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."