All states urged to give adult adoptees their history

Birth parents should decide, opposition says

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The nation should follow the lead of a handful of U.S. states that allow adult adoptees to have copies of their original birth certificates, an adoption advocacy and research group says in a report released Thursday.

“Every state should restore unrestricted access to original birth certificates for all adult adoptees, retroactively and prospectively,” says a report released Thursday by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Restrictive laws on adoptee birth certificates are based on misconceptions and misunderstandings, said Adam Pertman, the adoption institutes executive director. “If lawmakers look at the reality on the ground, rather than conjecture or concerns, they would change the laws.”

An original birth certificate, known as an OBC, carries the name and address of the birth mother and, if available, the birth father. It contains other vital information, such as the time, date and place of birth.

Six states - Kansas, Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Alabama - allow adult adoptees to obtain a copy of their OBCs with little or no restrictions. Another three states - Delaware, Tennessee and soon, Illinois - allow adult adoptees to get their OBCs unless a birth parent objects.

However, the rest of the nation generally restricts OBCs, requiring adult adoptees to get a court order or birth-parent permission to release it. In some cases, adoptees can get medical or genetic information without knowing the identity of their birth parents.

The Donaldson report, “For the Records II: An Examination of the History and Impact of Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificates,” updates a 2007 report on the same subject. It argues that it is unfair to deny adults their original birth information, and that alternative solutions - such as mutual-consent registries where birth parents, adoptees and siblings can announce their willingness to reconnect - are ineffective.

Recent studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of birth mothers would like to have their birth information shared, said Mr. Pertman. Research has also shown that that people are not harmed when states pass these “open records” laws, and that they do not result in higher abortion rates.

Opponents of unsealing OBCs, however, say that adoption policy should not empower one party over another or unilaterally transfer someone’s vital information without their consent.

“Mandatory openness … ignores the birth parents right to privacy,” Marc Zappala wrote in a 2009 report for the National Council for Adoption. This is why most states only release identifying birth information based on the principle of mutual consent, he wrote.

The open-records debate is playing out in New Jersey.

A bill passed by the state Senate this spring is awaiting a vote by the Assembly this fall. If enacted, the bill would allow adult adoptees and adoptive parents of minor children to begin applying for their OBCs in a year. The delay would allow birth parents to notify the state to excise their names and addresses from the documents.

New Jersey open-records proponents are hoping that after 30 years, they will finally get their law. However, the New Jersey Right to Life group strongly opposes it.

This bill is “extremely harmful to the institution of adoption because it is punitive to birth mothers,” the pro-life group said in its legislative analysis. “It does not recognize the right of birth parents who wish to remain anonymous” and “when you take away the option of confidentiality for women in crisis pregnancies considering adoption, many will choose abortion.”

In response, New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education compiled pregnancy and abortion data from Alabama, Delaware, Oregon and Tennessee, which started allowing OBC access in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It found that abortion rates for teens fell in all four states between 2000 and 2005.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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