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Washington State Expects Rush When Adoption Records Open

Washington's state Department of Health is expecting a rush when an adoption law change takes effect on July 1.

Adults who were adopted in Washington will be allowed to request their original birth certificate showing the names of their birth parents. The long-standing practice in most U.S. states has been to seal adoption records.

Increasingly though, those restrictions are loosening as adoptees such as Colleen Florio-Montgomery argue they deserve to know their family and medical backgrounds.

"Peace has come from being able to know who I am. I know who I look like. I know what my nationality is. As an Italian girl raised in a Norwegian household, I stood out," she said with a chuckle.

Florio-Montgomery was among the adoptees and family members who convinced Washington's legislature to allow everyone to see their original birth certificate. In Oregon, this change toward openness happened more than a decade ago by citizen initiative. Oregon Measure 58 passed in 1998, but was then held up for more than a year by unsuccessful legal challenges from birth mothers who wanted to preserve their privacy.

In both states, lawmakers created an optional form for birth parents to indicate they prefer not to be contacted. Florio-Montgomery said her birth mother was glad to reunite when she finally found her.

"I didn't take any love away from my adoptive family to be able to love my birth family," she said. "There's just more love."

Washington's Department of Health is encouraging interested adoptees to pre-order their original birth certificate in anticipation of high demand after July 1 when the access law changes.

Idaho remains a closed-records state when it comes to adoptions. Adult adoptees can petition a court to seek access to adoption records. The state Health and Welfare Department also maintains a confidential voluntary registry where adoptees, birth parents and siblings can leave contact information to connect with one another by mutual consent.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.