After the painful loss of a premature daughter and three miscarriages, Amy Gregorcyk carried guilt for 20 years thinking it might have been her fault.
Gregorcyk, 42, who lives in the Houston area, did not have access to her family medical history because she was adopted and the records were sealed. When she finally got her birth certificate after extensive research, she learned that her losses were due to genetic disorders.
“When you’re 18, you can vote. When you’re 21, you can drink. When you’re 16, you’re able to drive. I was 42 years old before I got my original birth certificate,” she said.
Not being able to get a birth certificate can make it harder for an adoptee to get a passport and to find out about family medical history, including possibly life-threatening genetic disorders, such as Gregorcyk discovered.
State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, is hoping to make access easier with his Senate Bill 329, which has bipartisan support. The bill would provide biological parents who chose adoption a form to fill out that would indicate whether the parent wants to be contacted by the child, either personally or through an intermediary. The parent could chose not to be contacted at all. The form would be attached to the child’s birth certificate so that when an adoptee seeks to access his or her birth records as an adult, the form would make the biological parents’ wishes clear.
Under current Texas law, adult adoptees from closed adoptions can get access to sealed birth certificates if they get a court order, but advocacy groups say thousands of adoptees have difficulty doing that. The order must come from the same court that granted the adoption and the judge can ask the adoptee to appear in person, which could mean traveling long distances if the adopted child moved. And then the judge decides whether the adoptee’s request meets the standard of “good cause” to unseal the documents. “Good cause” is open to interpretation, the bill’s advocates note, which means adoptees in similar circumstances could be denied in one court but approved in another in the same county.
“As a civil right, people should not have to go through any of that,” said Patricia Martinez Dorner, an adoptive mother and director of Adoption Counseling & Search, a San Antonio center that provides counseling, search assistance and support for adoptees and families involved. “People who are adopted are entitled to get their birth certificate like any other citizen of the state of Texas. We all have the same needs to know our genealogy and our medical history.”
Under Creighton’s bill, a court order would no longer be required to release an adoptee’s birth certificate.
Connie Gray, president of Texas Adoptee Rights, said there was secrecy and shame that surrounded adoption starting in the 1940s, known as the “Baby Scoop Era.” After Texas established the Central Record File under the Family Code in 1973, all adoption decrees and records were sealed and access to adoption records to everyone was restricted.
Gray said people now use social media or DNA databases such as ancestry.com to find possible family members or genetic matches.
“People are holding signs on Facebook with all their personal information,” Gray said. “It’s not private to do DNA tests and have multiple family members start asking around who in the family may have given up a child back in the day.”
Last legislative session, Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, herself an adoptive mother, killed a similar bill, saying it would have ended closed adoptions. She has declined to comment on what she thinks of the new measure until it’s scheduled for a hearing.
Marci Purcell, vice president of Texas Adoptee Rights, said the new bill would still allow closed adoptions, and that the current law is actually hurting birth parents because they are outed in public ways.
“When the states open the records, the adoptee will have a private way to contact the birth parent,” Purcell said. “Those currently against this bill need to recognize birth parents are routinely being found.”
Concerned United Birthparents, a national advocacy organization of birth parents that support restoring access to birth certificates, said that equal access to court files and the wish to search for one’s birthparents are separate issues.
“An adoptee’s decision to search is independent of the right to obtain vital statistics and court files that concern himself or herself,” the group said in a statement.
Martinez Dorner pointed out that people seeking their original birth certificates do not necessarily go looking for their biological families.
If Creighton’s bill passes, Texas would be the 21st state to offer adoptees full access to their birth certificates, and according to Gray, it would affect about 628,000 people statewide.
“If you’re old enough to fight and die for your country, you’re old enough to handle a birth certificate,” Gray said.
This article was published in the San Antonio Express-News Feb. 15, 2017.