Hawaii may join a controversial national adoption trend.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday that would require the names of birth parents to be included on an adoptive child’s birth certificate. The bill will now head to the House floor for a vote.

It incited emotional testimony on both sides of the debate. One group claims privacy is being sacrificed; another claims adoptive parents rights are being stripped; and a third believes open records should be a fundamental right for adopted children.

Currently, when children are adopted in Hawaii, they are issued a new birth certificate along with the names of their adoptive parent(s). Adoptive parents have the option of including the names of one or both birth parents, if the birth parents agree. With the approval of HB 1407, Hawaii is a step closer to liberalizing its secrecy of proceedings rules governing adoptions.

If the House approves the bill, it will head to the Senate. If it is signed into law, Hawaii would join about 10 other states with similar legislation.

“In the last 10 years or so, about eight states have opened (adoption records),” says Eileen McQuade, chair of the American Adoption Congress. “It’s definitely a trend. There’s legislation pending in New York, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, quite a few states.”

States that have opened adoption records recently include Illinois, New Hampshire, Maine, Tennessee, Alabama, Oregon and Delaware. Alaska and Kansas have never had closed records.

“And nothing bad is happening,” McQuade said. “They’ve been open in the United Kingdom since the mid 1970’s… Everybody deserves to know who they are. Why should the state have a piece of paper about you as a person that you can’t have? It makes no sense.”

Despite McQuade’s claim, testimony heard in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday displayed polarized views on the subject. More than 50 people packed the meeting to testify on the bill.

Adult adoptees testified about their lifelong struggles to find their parents — a task made difficult by existing laws. They argued that laws governing adoptees’ birth records are outdated, written at a time when protecting children from the shame of illegitimacy was a higher priority than helping adoptees discover their heritage.

“It’s really time to modernize all the laws… Not knowing is very hurtful,” said K. McGlone.

Opposing the bill were adoptive parents, social workers and adoption lawyers who worried that the new law severely compromises birth parents’ privacy.

Several adoptive mothers tearfully said they felt the law strips them of their rights as parents to decide when to tell their children about their past. Some worried that forcing a birth mother’s name to appear on a birth certificate could push more mothers toward abortion.

Heidi Harms, an adoptive parent, told the committee that the birth mother of her adopted daughter is an incredibly private person. “She is terrified that her name would ever be put out in the public, so much so that I don’t know her real name. I only know her as Anna,” she said.

Harms described a chance encounter with Anna in public after the adoption. “We could see the terror in her eyes — she was trying to balance how much she loved us and what we did for her, with the fear with what her family would do if they found out she had put a baby up for adoption.”

The State Judiciary weighed in before the Wednesday hearing, providing the following comments in written testimony: “In Section 1, this bill amends the existing law which currently allows the adoptive/legal parents to include the name of a natural parent in the birth certificate, if the natural parent consents. In the place of this existing consensual and flexible system, this bill mandates that birth certificates include the names of the adoptive parents and the natural parents. Taking away the discretion of the people who best know the child and the circumstances of the adoption is problematic. Even in “open” adoptions, where all the participants know the identity of the other participants, there are many reasons why mandating inclusion of all these names could cause pain to one or more of the participants or to the child. (Emphasis not added.)

“Rather than specifying that this bill only applies prospectively, Section 2 of this bill deletes all mention of the current process which allows the natural parent or the adopted person to file an affidavit requesting confidentiality. Because citizens should be able to rely on the continuation of legal protections, the court will continue to honor all existing affidavits requesting confidentiality. If the Legislature intends to dishonor these affidavits, the family court respectfully requests that this bill be amended to specifically dishonor these reasonable expectations.”

DISCUSSION What do you think about the legislation? Should Hawaii’s adoption rules change? Share your thoughts