Adoptees gain rights in Maine

By Chris Outcalt
July 12, 2007 6:00 AM

Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill last week that allows adult adoptees to obtain their birth certificates for the first time since those records were closed in 1953.

South Berwick resident Bobbi Beavers, a proponent of the law, said she was somewhat surprised it passed the Legislature because the same bill was met with such intense opposition last year.

"We're absolutely thrilled," said Beavers, the birth parent of an adopted child and the Maine representative of the national American Adoption Congress.

"It almost seemed anti-climactic. We were trying to be positive because last year there was an obstacle around every corner."

The law, which doesn't take effect until January 2009, allows any adopted person born in the state of Maine to access his or her original birth certificate by filing a written request with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics. The law also makes the certificate available to the adopted person's attorney or, if the adopted person is deceased, his or her descendants may obtain a copy.

"The bottom line is this restores a basic human right and ends discrimination against a class of people," said Beavers.

Maine is now the eighth state to allow adoptees to access their birth certificates. New Hampshire, Delaware, Alabama, Tennessee and Oregon have all passed similar legislation. Alaska and Kansas are the only states to never have closed those records to adoptees.

"It was a pretty momentous occasion," said Paul Schibbelhute, New England regional director of the American Adoption Congress. "They should have the right just like anybody else."

After successfully working to get the law passed and implemented in New Hampshire, Schibbelhute said he hopes to apply some of the lessons he learned while working to get Maine's program up and running.

Schibbelhute said, in New Hampshire, several adoptees were expecting the certificate would give them the names of their birth mothers and fathers — which wasn't always the case.

"For various reasons, in many cases the fathers aren't on it," said Schibbelhute. "I think the more informed everyone is about what's going to happen, the better."

Statistics from other states, according to Schibbelhute, indicate only about 15 to 20 percent of adoptees will request their birth certificates.

"That's really irrelevant to the issue, though; it's about having the ability to get it," said Schibbelhute, who is already debating which state to tackle next. "You can't celebrate for too long."

Don Lemieux, director of the office of data research and vital statistics in Maine, said although the department expects an initial influx of requests, he believes it is equipped to handle the demand.

"There will probably be a flurry of activity in the beginning," said Lemieux. "Right now, we're just taking a few weeks to digest the law and understand what we're required to do."


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