Pending Legislation Could End Battle over Rights of Adoptees versus Rights of Birth Parents

The long-running battle that has pitted the rights of adoptees to have access to their birth records against birth parents’ rights to privacy may soon come to an end in New Jersey. A bill ending that battle was approved by the New Jersey State Legislature earlier this month and now awaits signing by Gov. Chris Christie. (1)

The pending legislation would give adoptees in the State the right to access their birth certificates once they turn 18. Parents who have given children up for adoption prior to the law taking effect would have one year from the date the law is adopted to request their names be stricken from the birth records. Once the law is passed — if it is — those giving a child up for adoption could submit in writing their desire not to be contacted. (2) Those parents could have their names stricken from birth records as long as they disclose details of their medical and cultural backgrounds. (3)

Currently in New Jersey access to birth certificates in “closed” adoptions is available only by court order. The adoptee must show good cause to the courts in order for their birth certificates to be unsealed. What constitutes “good cause” is up to the discretion of the judge involved with the particular case. (4)

For over 30 years, adoptees have argued their right to have access to information about their origins citing the importance of knowledge of their medical history as a major reason, since many genetic and hereditary medical conditions can be better managed with prior knowledge. Opponents of this law, on the other hand, have argued that the loss of anonymity could cause some birth parents to dismiss the idea of adoption in favor of other alternatives. (1)

Only six other states in the country allow adoptees to access their birth records. Oregon, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Maine all passed laws similar to New Jersey’s pending legislation; birth records were never withheld from adoptees in Kansas and Alaska. (2)

The bill is currently being reviewed by the Governor’s Office. The deadline for receiving the Governor’s signature is June 23. (2)



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