Just before Mother’s Day last month, the New Jersey Senate approved a bill that will allow adopted children to access their own original birth certificates. Family attorneys in New Jersey report that this bill marks the first change for adopted children in finding their roots in nearly 75 years. If the bill continues to advance, it will make New Jersey one of just eight states, including Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, with open disclosure laws for adoptees.
Both houses passed the bill back in February, but Governor Chris Christie originally vetoed it in April, saying that he could not approve the bill until it included a “safe harbor” clause, to protect birth parents who do not ever want to reveal their identities. To accommodate this, the bill was amended, and now includes the provision that birth parents have until December 31, 2016, to alert the state Department of Health that they would like their names redacted from the original certificate, or that they would prefer contact with their children through an intermediary. If parents opt to have their names redacted from the birth certificate, they are still required to provide adopted children with a full family medical history, although they will be permitted to remove any identifying information such as social security numbers, family names, etc.
S-873, the amended bill, passed in the state Senate with only a few members voting against it, and now will be presented before the New Jersey Assembly for approval. The New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education have supported such a measure for the past several decades, of the mind that adopted children should have access to their basic health information and medical histories. Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, said that the measure represents “that special bond, knowing who you are, having access to medical history and records” that is “extremely important” to adoptees.
Opponents of the bill, including the New Jersey Catholic Conference and the New Jersey Right to Life groups, argue that the bill nullifies the original confidentiality promises made to many birth parents, who only choose to give their babies up for adoption if they can remain anonymous. Supporters of S-873 hope that the amendment will take care of this fear, by giving parents who wish to remain unknown a chance to provide the necessary health information for their children, while still concealing their identities.
Currently in New Jersey, an adopted child cannot obtain access to his or her original birth certificate. An adoptive parent or child can only have access to non-identifying information, including medical history, conditions, diseases, drug use, medications, and any other information that may have bearing on the child’s present or future health. Information that would identify a birth parent is excluded, and sealed by the courts, similar to the provisions of the new bill’s amendment.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family attorneys represent all families. If you have questions regarding your rights in the adoption process as a birth parent, adoptive child, or adoptive parent, contact an HCK family attorney for a consultation today.