Neville Testifies on Adoptees’ Access to Birth Certificates Legislation

Chelsea resident Sarah Neville, a doctoral candidate in Social Work at Boston College, testified during a state hearing Monday in support of a bill that would grant equal access to original birth certificates to all persons born in Massachusetts.

Sen. Joanne Comerford, chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, moderated the meeting in which several speakers, including Neville, advocated for the passage of the bill (House Bill 2294, Senate Bill 1440). The hearing focused on Massachusetts adoptees’ access to official birth certificates.

Sarah Neville (left) is pictured with her husband, Chelsea School Committee
member Roberto Jimenez, and their son, Robi, at the start of the GreenRoots
Earth Day Cleanup and Celebration May 1 at Chelsea City Hall.

Neville, who is not an adoptee but is the sister to two adopted siblings, articulately expressed in her remarks why all adoptees should “have the right to their own personal information.”

Neville’s remarks demonstrated clearly her extensive knowledge of adoption-related issues. In fact, Sen. Comerford praised Neville for “combining your personal story with your professional expertise.”

“We’re very grateful for the context you offered,” Comferford told Neville during the virtual broadcast of the hearing.

Marley Greiner, co-founder of a national adoptee rights’ organization who also spoke in favor of the bill, said that “current Massachusetts law allow adoptees to obtain their original birth certificated without condition at age 18 if they were born on or before July 17, 1974, or on, or after Jan. 1, 2008.”

“The official birth certificates of people born between those dates remained sealed, available only by court order,” said Greiner. “This bill simply levels the playing field and lets all of Massachusetts adoptees be treated the same way.”

Sarah Neville is the wife of Chelsea School Committee member Roberto Jimenez Rivera. They have a baby son, Robi.

Following are Sarah Neville’s remarks at the Joint Committee on Public Health hearing:

My name is Sarah Neville and I live at 40 Eleanor Street in Chelsea. I am a PhD Candidate in Social Work and an adoption researcher. I’m not adopted, but my parents adopted two of my siblings, and when I was 19 I learned that my mom had placed a child for adoption before I was born. 

Faced with an unexpected pregnancy in the late 80s, my mom’s parents encouraged her to hide her pregnancy by living in a maternity home run by a Catholic adoption agency. My mom had decided placing the baby for adoption was for the best, but she had no choice in the circumstances of the adoption. She wanted to have a relationship with the baby’s adoptive parents, but the nuns said no, what she needed to do is put this all behind her and forget it ever happened. A few years later she tried to send the adoptive parents a letter, but the social worker refused to send it. My mom has been searching for my half-sister for years now, with no success.

I support this bill as an adoption researcher, and my mom supports it as a birth mother. I tell her story to illustrate that birth mothers were not “promised anonymity” – the higher-ups in adoption agencies thought secrecy, and sealing birth certificates, was the best way to protect adoptive parents from interference. 

Bill H.2294/S.1440 doesn’t force anyone to contact anyone or have a relationship with anyone. It just gives adoptees the right to their own personal information. And if they contact a birth family member, that individual is perfectly free to turn them away.  

I urge you to report favorably on this bill, but more than this, I beg you to use your influence to get this bill to the floor for a vote afterwards. This bill has died in three consecutive sessions not because anyone opposes it, but because it has been passed over by the legislature. This year, please, please, grant adopted people their rights. It’s the right thing to do.

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