While it may seem difficult to believe, there are only a handful of states — Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee — that grant adoptees the right to access their birth files.
This essentially means that in all other states, including Texas, adoption records remain sealed, such that the potentially valuable information contained therein (i.e., family medical and genealogical history) remains off limits.
In a move being hailed by many adoption rights advocates, another state is now set to join the ranks of these nine states.
Earlier this week, the New Jersey Adoptees’ Birthright Bill was passed by state lawmakers.
This capped a rather hectic legislative session in which Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the original adoption access bill passed by the state Senate back on April 28. Here, the Senate ultimately came up with a revised version that addressed the governor’s concerns and passed it last week by a vote of 29-5. This, in turn, was forwarded to the Assembly, which passed it by a vote of 57-18 on Thursday.
In its final form, the Adoptees’ Birthright legislation, which will take effect on Dec. 31, 2016, calls for the following:
- Birth parents whose children were adopted prior to Aug. 1, 2015 will be given until the end of 2016 to request the removal of their names from birth certificates. Those that decide to do this will be asked to provide a family medical history.
- Birth parents whose children are adopted anytime after Aug. 1, 2015 will not be able to request the removal of their names from birth certificates.
- All birth parents whose children were adopted will have the ability to inform a state registrar as to their preference concerning contact. These preferences, which can be changed at anytime, will include no contact, contact via a confidential intermediary of the mother’s choosing and direct contact. If a preference form is filed, however, a family medical history must also be submitted.
The passage of this adoption access bill marks the end of a decades-long push by adoption advocates in New Jersey to unseal birth records. Interestingly, opponents of the measure, who have long argued that it violates birth parents’ privacy rights, included everyone from the New Jersey State Bar Association and the American Civil Liberties Union to the state’s chapter of the Catholic Conference.
Sources indicate that the law will be signed by Gov. Christie as early as next week. It is also worth noting that Colorado enacted its own adoption access bill earlier this week and lawmakers in Pennsylvania are currently considering a similar measure.
If you would like to learn more about the adoption process — particularly as it relates to stepparent adoptions — consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can explain your rights and outline your options.
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, “NJ lawmakers approve adoptee bill that Christie is set to sign,” Suzette Parmley, May 22, 2014; CBS Philly, ” NJ Assembly passes adoption records bill,” May 22, 2014