By NJCARE LEGISLATIVE TEAM
The New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJ CARE), and numerous supporters in the adoption community and beyond, are grateful for the careful consideration of the Adoptee Birthright Bill, S799 by the Governor’s Office. The goals of this bill are supported by facts and evidence that support a change to the current statute.
Opponents have utilized conjecture and fear-based tactics to delay this bill for over three decades; however, truth eventually prevails. It is the truth that swayed legislators to move this bill to its rightful place, ready for enactment.
Among these truths is the absence of statutory evidence to support claims of life-long guarantees of anonymity for birth parents. A review the 1940 bill that sealed original birth certificates and the subsequent 1953 bill that kept them sealed proves that there was no mention of privacy for birth parents; it is not evident in the current statute. In fact, the law itself states that records could be opened upon showing of good cause to the courts. Thus, a promise of life-long anonymity, if made, was in direct violation of these statutes. Further, the U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit Tennessee State Supreme Court, and the Oregon Court of Appeals (upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court) have affirmed that birth parents do not have a right of privacy from their child.
Other crucial evidence that disputes this notion of infinite privacy is found in surrender documents which only required birth parents to agree that they would not intrude on the life of the adoptive family. Surrender documents are also predicated on promising nothing to the birth parent in exchange for their surrender of parental rights. Confidentiality was not mentioned. Further, the surrender document was effective only for the duration of the child’s minority.
When birth parents relinquished their parental rights, they legally freed the child for adoption. There was no legal obligation to let birth parents know the outcome for the child, nor were they given any notice of finalization of adoption proceedings. Opponents claim that the mere act of sealing records was intended to grant life-long anonymity for birth parents; however the original birth certificate is only sealed upon the final order of adoption. A legal adoption occurs many months after relinquishment, if it occurs at all. Thus, if sealing records were intended to protect the privacy of birth parents, the act of sealing records would have had to occur at the time of relinquishment.
Opponents to this bill claim that if enacted, it will lead to fewer women placing a child for adoption. Yet for decades now adoption is practiced with openness. The ship of secrecy in practice has long since sailed. Why? Because researchers and practitioners have learned that secrecy is harmful to all persons who live adoption. It is within the practice of openness that many women choose adoption and individuals live adoption in a more meaningful way.
Reason and facts though are being challenged by special interest agendas. This mantra includes extreme predictions of fewer adoptions, more abortions, and harassment of birth families. These assumptions demonstrate outmoded thinking and none of these suppositions is supported by credible evidence. Indeed, if any concern exists here it is what motivates those who so vigorously oppose a bill that seeks to restore transparency and integrity to the process of adoption.
The Adoptees’ Birthright Bill restores the basic human and civil right of adult adoptees to know the facts of their birth by providing them a copy of their original birth certificate, upon request. Other states that have allowed access have experienced very positive results. Outcomes in New Jersey will be no different.
S799 is a fair bill. It is supported not by the emotional whims of the adoption community, but rather by abundant facts and evidence, adoption community organizations, adoption professionals and those who live adoption.
We urge its swift enactment.
The New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education, NJ CARE, is a grass roots organization that supports honesty in adoption through educational outreach and legislative advocacy. We are dedicated to the proposition that all persons are created equal and should have the same civil rights under the law.