Adopted people across the country may soon have access to their original birth certificate

by Andrea Ross, University of California, Davis

I was adopted in Colorado in the late 1960s. At the age of 20, I was stricken with a serious illness that required access to my medical history, including the history of my birth family. To my distress, I discovered that I had no legal right to obtain my original birth certificate.

Americans generally take their right to accurate information on their birth certificate for granted. This is not the case for the almost 5 million adoptees in this country. Once adopted, the courts replace the names of our birth parents with the names of our adoptive parents – and then seal the original record. Access is granted only through a court order.

As it is now, adopted children face a confusing web of different state laws and policies. And it’s only for American-born children. Foreign-born children are a completely different matter.

Patchwork of restrictions

Only 10 states in the country now offer U.S.-born adoptees and their birth parents unrestricted access to original birth certificates: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

But in 18 states, from Arizona to North Carolina to Wyoming, a court order is required to allow adoptees access to the originals. A compromise is offered in the remaining 23 states. In some, including Delaware, Iowa and Pennsylvania, the original birth certificate can only be obtained with the names of the parents giving birth. Twelve other states have restrictions that allow access only for adoptees born during certain periods; for example, before 1968 or after 2021.

In yet other states, including Indiana, Vermont, and Washington, foster parents have the power to veto an adopter’s request for admission.

In Pennsylvania, an adopted person must obtain a high school diploma or GED in order to be eligible to access their birth record.

Changing culture

The practice of changing birth certificates was originally used in the 1940s to prevent birth parents from interfering with the child’s adoptive family.

Nevertheless, child welfare officials recommended that birth records of adopted children “must be seen by no one except the adopted child when they are of legal age or by court order”. Popular opinions suggested another reason: protecting the privacy of biological parents, especially unmarried mothers, who faced condemnation of having given birth to a child out of wedlock.

American culture has changed markedly over the 70 years since altered birth certificates became the norm in adoption. Families with single parents have become commonplace, and children born out of wedlock are no longer labeled “illegitimate.”

The question then is: Has the importance of sealing original birth certificates and replacing them with altered ones been surpassed by time and cultural change?

Adoptants and other proponents of legislative changes that allow access to original birth certificates claim that knowledge of one’s own identity is a fundamental human right.

In response, many legislators are changing their policies. Tennessee, Connecticut and Rhode Island have recently enacted legislation favoring access. Tennessee’s legislation, passed in April 2021, revokes the birth parents’ power to veto an adoptee’s right to contact them based on the information on the original birth certificate. Connecticut’s law, passed in July 2021, closes a loophole restricting access to those born before 1983. And Rhode Island’s law reduced the age, from 25 to 18, where an adoptee can obtain an original birth certificate.

Proposed legislation in Wisconsin and Massachusetts will provide unrestricted access. Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 483 would give adoptees 18 years or older access to their “seized” birth certificate. Massachusetts’ HB 2294, if ratified, would close a loophole that now restricts adoptees born between 1974 and 2008 from accessing their original birth certificates.

But for every step forward, there are also proposals that limit full access. Arizona recently passed a bill that excludes adoptees born between 1968 and 2022 from the right to their original birth certificate. And in May 2021, Iowa allowed birth parents to edit their names from original birth certificates.

Dissemination services

To bridge the gap, there are now state-run confidential intermediary services in many states. The services enable adoptees and their biological family members to search for each other. If the wanted person does not wish to have contact with the applicant, all records will be closed and no information will be provided. Fees vary from state to state, and many are prohibitively expensive. Colorado is $ 875, for example.

The cost is not the only drawback. Mediation services are often mentioned by those who oppose legislation that allows access to original birth certificates. They argue that the originals are not necessary because the intermediaries offer a legal alternative to finding biological relatives.

Another argument against unhindered access is that birth families who thought they would remain anonymous would receive unwanted contact from those placed in adoption.

But there is evidence to the contrary. In states that offer unrestricted access, such as New Hampshire, less than 1 percent – 0.74 percent – of expectant parents have indicated that they do not want to be contacted by their remarried children.

Gregory Luce, founder of the Adoptee Rights Law Center, says there is a trend favoring unlimited rights, especially among younger lawmakers.

“They really do not see it as a big problem,” Luce explained in an email exchange I had with him recently, “especially since DNA and other tools developed over the years can ‘delete’ birth parents much more. publicly than the release of a person’s own birth record. ”

In 2016, when Colorado changed its laws to give adopted people access to their original birth certificates, I was almost 50 years old. Thirty years ago, shortly after my medical scare, I began what became a long and arduous search for my birth parents. After a decade of searching, I finally found them and had a happy reunion.

I had given up the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčever holding my birth certificate – the one with their names on it – in my hands. A month ago, I became aware of Colorado’s law change and submitted the necessary paperwork to obtain my birth certificate.

I am anxiously awaiting its arrival. I can not wait to show it to my birth parents.

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Andrea Ross, Associate Professor in the University Writing Program, University of California, Davis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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