June 21, 2018
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Reunions a byproduct of birth record law

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Cathy Robishaw, director of the Falmouth-based nonprofit organization Original Birth Certificate for Maine, says there are about 24,000 adoptees living in Maine, and approximately 15,000 of them are 18 or older.

In addition, she said, many others who were adopted here now live outside the state. For each of these individuals, there is on file in Augusta a sealed birth certificate identifying the birth mother and, in most cases, the father.

Because of a new law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2009, adoptees now can gain access to those records without having to go to court.

The primary aim of the law was to make it easier for individuals who were adopted to discover familial medical conditions, said Robishaw, who is an adoptee.

But the law also can facilitate reunions, she said.

Arguably the most famous such event occurred last September, when Mainers Randy Joubert and Gary Nisbet made international headlines when the furniture movers discovered they were brothers after having worked together in Waldoboro. The media attention that followed led to the discovery of a half sister, Joanne Camp-bell. Joubert credited the new law for bringing the siblings back together.

For birth parents, the law provides an opportunity to attach two documents to the original birth certificate: a form that indicates whether or not they are willing to be contacted by a now-adult child they gave up for adoption, and a medical history. If provided to the Maine Office of Vital Records, these two documents will be in-cluded with the birth certificate if it is requested.

Before the new law, such information rarely was granted and the adoptee was required to petition the court, according to Robishaw.

Robishaw, Original Birth Certificate for Maine co-founder Bobbi Beavers, of South Berwick, and a broad coalition of adoptees spearheaded the effort to provide access to birth records. The new law, co-sponsored by former state Sen. Paula Benoit, of Phippsburg, who was adopted, was modeled on similar legislation in New Hampshire and Oregon.

Benoit said this week that she understands the frustration of having her petition for original birth records turned down by the courts, a request she made so that she would know what the process was like.

After her petition was denied, she went to work on her legislation and on Jan. 2 of last year, the first business day after the new law took effect, she obtained the names of her birth parents.

Though both had since died, Benoit said she did find extended family members in the Maine Legislature.

Benoit discovered that two of her fellow legislators, Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, and Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, are her nephews.

Only a few states outside of northern New England allow full disclosure, but Benoit is working to take the issue to other states through an organization she founded called the Adoptee Council for Adoption Reform Education Foundation. Its Web site is at www.adopteecare.com.

“It’s important [that adoptees have access to their birth information] because everyone should know who they are. It’s a basic human right, in my opinion, to know who you are and where you came from.”

Since the law took effect, the state has received 755 requests for original birth certificates, according to a summary compiled by Don Lemieux, director of the state Office of Data Research and Vital Statistics. Of those requests, 722 could be granted because they came from adoptees.

In addition, several parents have taken advantage of the law to attach contact preference or medical information to the adoption birth records.

Lemieux’s statistics show that 29 biological parents so far have submitted paperwork with the state, 28 of them mothers and one of them a father. Of those, 17 indicated that they wanted contact with their children, eight did not want contact and one had no preference.

Though the state doesn’t track how many reunions among birth family members have taken place since the law took effect, Robishaw estimates the total at 100.

She said this week that she based her estimate on the 52 reunions brought about by the search group Sharp and Bohan are involved with and her belief that at least as many reunions have occurred privately without outside involvement.

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