COLUMBUS (AP) -- An Ohio law now in effect lets biological parents of adoptees decide whether to redact their names or include contact preferences in records that will soon be made available to certain adoptees.
Birth parents can also update medical information on forms for the adoptees.
Starting next year, individuals adopted between January 1, 1964, and September 18, 1996, can request their adoption files and birth certificates from the Ohio Department of Health. Records on file at the department's Office of Vital Statistics will become available to adoptees beginning March 20, 2015.
The law is expected to give about 400,000 people access to records, which had been largely blocked without a court order.
Birth certificates before 1964 and after 1996 were already a public record. But when the law was changed again in 1996, it was not made retroactive to those caught between the two laws.
"We've got people from all over the country waiting with bated breath for a year from now when they can get their records," said Betsie Norris, founder and executive director of Adoption Network Cleveland, an education and advocacy organization.
Birth parents who placed a child for adoption between 1964 and 1996 have a one-year period to request that their names be redacted from the birth-certificate information that would be released to the adult adoptee. They also have the option of choosing to be contacted through an intermediary.
Norris told The Columbus Dispatch that before contacting her birth mother, she had no idea of her mother's wishes and her mother had no way to let her know.
"Neither of us knew, until that phone call, what we were walking into," Norris said.
Janice Matteo, a native of northeastern Ohio's Cuyahoga County who divides her time between Ohio and Georgia, told the Dispatch that she planned to fill out the contact preference form and check the box that says she would like to be "contacted directly by the adopted person or their lineal descendant." She said she hopes that the son she gave birth to in 1988 will contact her.
The only record Matteo has of her son, who would be nearly 26 now, is a photo taken after she gave birth. Matteo, who originally chose closed adoption, said she doesn't know where her son is or whether he has tried to find her.
"I felt bad later, when I understood the law better, that I had chosen closed adoption," she said.
Karla Jackson-Wynn of Huber Heights in suburban Dayton was adopted at 6 months old. Jackson-Wynn, now 45, says she has tried numerous times to locate her birth father.
"I definitely want to know who he is, not only for curiosity, but medically I would love to know the background of the family," Jackson-Wynn told the Dayton Daily News.
She said she and her 21-year-old daughter have health concerns that might be better understood and treated if she had a comprehensive family medical history.
Online: Ohio Department of Health: http://1.usa.gov/1r7Vi0E