Legislation Would Also Provide Access to Family History, While Protecting Privacy of Birth Parents
By a vote of 44-27-3, the General Assembly on Thursday granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assemblywomen Angelica Jimenez and Valerie Vainieri Huttle that will give adoptees in New Jersey access to their original birth certificates and family history while being mindful of privacy issues.
“We’ve heard many heartfelt stories about the need for adoptees to access their birth records simply because they are facing a crisis and need to know more about their family medical history,” said Prieto (D-Hudson). “This is information that many of us take for granted, but adoptees often cannot access through no fault of their own. This is a compassionate plan to help many adoptees learn more about themselves while still protecting the rights of the birth parents.”
Under current law, the only way to obtain an adopted person’s original birth certificate is by court order.
The bill (A-1259) advanced today would amend current law to allow the following individuals, 18 years of age or older, access to an uncertified, long-form copy of an adopted person’s original birth certificate, upon request to the State Registrar: 1) the adopted person; 2) a direct descendant, sibling, or spouse of the adopted person; 3) the adoptive parent, legal guardian, or other legal representative of the adopted person; or 4) a state or federal agency.
“This is undoubtedly a sensitive issue, but providing adoptees with accurate information about their family history is beneficial for so many reasons,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “Ultimately these records will allow adoptees to make the best possible decisions when it comes to their own health and the health of their families.”
“This is the right thing to do for adoptees who have been left in the dark about their family medical histories and backgrounds because of these long-standing barriers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Adoptees have been working towards this for over 30 years and it is time we get this done. This bill does a good job of ensuring that adoptees have access to critical information about who they are while also protecting the privacy of their birth parents.”
In the interest of protecting the privacy of birth parents, the bill provides an opportunity for them to indicate a preference concerning contact with the adopted person, by filing a document with the State Registrar indicating whether the parent prefers direct contact with the adopted person, contact through the use of an intermediary, or no contact at all. The birth parent may change this preference at any time by submitting a revised document of contact preference to the State Registrar.
The bill also stipulates that when a birth parent submits a document of contact preference to the State Registrar, they are also required to submit family history information. The birth parent whose preference is “no contact” will be encouraged to update the family history information every 10 years until the birth parent reaches the age of 40, and every five years thereafter.
In order to ensure that an adopted person gains access to their family history information, the State Registrar, upon receiving a request for an uncertified, long-form copy of the original birth certificate, will provide the requester with information regarding the birth parent’s preference for contact, as well as any family history information document that has been submitted by the birth parent.
Adoptees would also have the right to contact the adoption agency, or the intermediary who facilitated the adoption, to obtain any available medical or family history information contained in that person’s adoption file.
The sponsors noted that while nearly every state in the country seals their adoption records and withholds them from public inspection upon final adoption judgment, many have established procedures by which parties involved in an adoption may obtain information about an adoption record, while protecting the interests of all parties. According to the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform, eight states provide access in a manner similar to that established in this bill: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Tennessee.
The bill’s provisions would also apply equally to adoptees who are born in other states or foreign nations, so long as the State Registrar has received certification of the adoption proceeding or associated judicial decree or judgment.
The bill would also direct the state Department of Health to produce and distribute national public service messages to increase awareness of these new initiatives and procedures.
The bill was also approved 24-8 by the Senate on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.