By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Legislation that would have allowed Texas-born adults who were adopted as minors to access their original birth certificates died in the final days of the most recent legislative session and supporters are blaming State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) for killing it.
Steiner Ranch resident Dawn Scott, who has a 9-year-old daughter she adopted as an infant, lobbied hard for the legislation and said she was “deeply saddened” that it did not pass.
“I believe it is a basic human right to have the dignity of self-knowledge to know who your family is – to know your ancestral roots,” Scott said. “Adopted adults grow up in a family that represents only half the picture.”
But her lobbying efforts were doused during the legislative session.
“With one emotional plea, a single senator, Senator Donna Campbell, managed to override the will of 30 other senators, public opinion, and years of work,” said a press release issued by Support Texas Adoptee Rights (STAR), a local advocacy group that lobbied for the legislation.
House Bill 984 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Port Arthur) would have given adoptees access to medical history and the possibility to reconnect with biological family. Today, 90 percent of Texas adoptions are considered open, allowing current adopted children access to vital medical history and genealogy, according to STAR.
“HB 984 would have granted that right to adults who were party to closed adoptions, rectifying this inequity between the generations, allowing all Texas adoptees access to this critical and self-affirming information,” according to STAR.
This type of legislation has support from institutions such as The Donaldson Adoption Institute, The Catholic Conference of Bishops, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Family Tree DNA, and the National Adoption Center.
Local resident Scott said she had the opportunity to witness the birth of her adopted daughter and brought her home just three days after her birth. From her birth, she said they have had a very open relationship with her daughter’s extended biological family.
“We’ve had openness and contact literally the entire time,” Scott said. “She has full siblings who are adults and has been in each of their weddings as flower girl. She has two toddler nephews whom she adores.”
Restoring birth certificate access to adult adoptees most often results in lowered abortion rates for that state, which is why many pro-life groups are now signing on in support, according to STAR. The states that never closed access have the lowest abortion rates in the nation.
Jon Oliver, a spokesperson for Sen. Campbell, said there is already a process where adoptees can petition the court for an original birth certificate.
“(Sen. Campbell) could see the unintended consequences that this bill could bring about for families,” Oliver said. “It wasn’t a pro-family bill. The language is overly-broad and will affect the privacy of adoptive families and birth mothers in a negative way.”
Oliver said that if an adoptive family knows the birth mother and wants to tell their child, they should have the right to do so in their own time and not be forced to do so by the government.
Scott said that while the statistical percentages of birth parents who don’t want to be contacted is negligible, HB 984 offered some protection to them by providing a mechanism where they could declare one of three options of preference for contact.
“It gave them a voice, honoring their right to request privacy or to choose to interact directly or via an intermediary,” she said.
Supporters say HB 984 had garnered bipartisan support in the House where it passed by a vote of 138-1. The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and also had bipartisan support from 30 senators, including 14 co-sponsors. The bill was passed by the Senate State Affairs Committee and was placed on the uncontested calendar.
That is when Sen. Campbell stepped in and pulled the legislation from the uncontested calendar, Oliver said.
“She said, as a senator, I have issues with it and I’d like to pull it off that uncontested calendar,” Oliver said.
Because it was so late in the session, he said they did not have time to work on an amendment.
“I understand there are some adoptees that are very passionate about this,” Oliver said. “We hope we can work with them next session. Our office is open to discussion. We might even file something similar next session in a narrower scope that wouldn’t interfere with privacy rights.”
He said Sen. Campbell agrees that adoptees should have access to medical records and family health history.
“That’s something we should be collecting from birth mothers,” he said. “That’s something the senator believes in as an emergency room physician.”
Scott said they are already planning for the next legislative session.
“STAR is already working with our amazing pro bono lobbyist, Mike Stewart, and a strategy to introduce the same bill is underway,” she said. “In addition, there may be special hearings conducted to further enlighten the legislators on the facts, which we believe will eventually pave the way for passage.”