Oregon lawmakers are considering a measure that would make it easier for people who were adopted as children to access court records about their biological family. A House committee could vote to advance the measure Tuesday.
Oregon Senate Bill 623 is what is sometimes called a housekeeping bill. It's pretty boring, really. The measure clarifies who gets access to certain kinds of paperwork and how they go about getting it.
But it's not routine stuff for everyone. Laura Batt testified in favor of the bill in front of the Oregon Senate's Judiciary Committee. She spoke for just over a minute, and was fighting back tears the entire time.
"I don't think it's fair that adoptive persons are treated differently than other people," Batt told the panel. "If they were biologically born into their families, they would automatically have their story."
Batt’s story, as you've probably guessed, is about adoption. In an interview later, she said she always knew she was adopted, but when she was 19, she decided she wanted to know more. Finally she tracked down her birth mother. The two met one summer day in Seattle, surrounded by relatives.
"I don't think one single person in the room was not crying that day that occurred," Batt says. "What the experience provided for me was a sense of cohesion. I have nurture, and I always had access to that. And then there's nature. And now I finally have access to that. And so I got to make sense of who I am as a whole person."
A 1998 ballot measure grants open access to birth certificates in Oregon adoption cases. Most other adoption documents are available, but only with a court order. We’re talking about family medical history, a review of the adoptive parents' home situation, or something called the "adoption petition."
"It's not a very exciting document. It's a very legalistic document," says Beaverton attorney Robin Pope. She says like Laura Batt, a lot of people just want to know the basic facts of their own personal story.
Pope was part of a legislative work group that helped write the measure. She says the bill doesn’t open up any new adoption records. It just streamlines the process for getting them.
"We're not trying to just open doors that have been totally closed, slammed shut and cemented over," Pope says. "That's not what we're doing. We're simply trying to make sure that we are most consistent across the state of Oregon."
Laura Batt definitely sees the value of that. But here's the thing: Though she now lives in Portland, Batt was adopted in Idaho. And that means she doesn't have access to her records.
Like most states, Idaho doesn’t give adoptees the automatic right to their original birth certificate. Batt says her own experience searching for her mother motivates her to try to make it easier for people adopted in Oregon. But there’s more. She’s also thinking about her son. A son she hasn't seen in 15 years.
"I'm not only adopted, but I'm also a birth mother," Batt says. "I placed a child for adoption right before I found my birth mother. And that's what motivated me to find her.”
And remember that emotional testimony we heard at the beginning of this story? Turns out, it wasn't just the contents of the bill that brought Batt to tears. She says "It was his birthday that week."
Batt says she has limited contact with her biological son. The occasional letter sent via an attorney. But she says if he ever looks to her for his own story, her door is always open.
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