Monday, April 28, 2014

UPDATED: NJ adoptees to get birth certificates in 2017

Pam Hasegawa 
UPDATED ON 4/29

New Jersey will soon join the list of states giving adopted people their birth certificates. In a compromise worked out with Gov. Chris Christie, first mothers will have until the end of 2016 to have their names redacted from the original birth certificate (OBC).   After that date, adopted individuals at 18 may request their original birth certificates.

Yes, this is not a perfect bill. Yes, it unfairly gives a few birth mothers the opportunity to deny their children the truth of their origins. But given that the choice was either this--or nothing--as long as Christie was governor, the New Jersey Care people, after fighting for change for more than three decades, agreed to this compromise. FMF salutes them for making the wise choice.

FIXED PERIOD FOR NAME REDACTION ON OBC 
Lorraine and Jane, together because I broke the law
The push for the measure goes back to the 1980s and spanned nine governors, including Christie, who vetoed such a similar bill in 2011. The compromise announced yesterday gives birth parents until Dec. 31, 2016 to notify the Health Department whether they want their names redacted; after then they will not be able to remove their names. Adopted individual may begin to request their OBCs after Jan. 1, 2016. (If the parents were unmarried, it is highly unlikely the father's name is on the OBC.)

 At their request, mothers may use a confidential intermediary whom they choose--it could be a relative, a friend, or even an attorney. Mothers may also request no contact, but leave their names on the OBC. "The contact preference option give mothers a voice in the whole process by allowing them to say whether or not they want to be contacted by their son or daughter," says first mother Judy Foster, one of the leaders of New Jersey Care, the group that worked tirelessly on this legislation. Those who file "no contact" with the state registrar must supply updated medical information--though how this could be verified is questionable.

Women giving up their babies in New Jersey will be able to redact their names from the OBC until August 1 of next year, but after that date, mothers will no longer have that option. I don't understand if the name will still be on the OBC, but removed if it is requested by an adult adoptee 18 years later. (Given that the official announcement of this bill is extremely confusing, no one may.) Because so many adoptions today are open, the number of women who chose to do this is likely to be extremely small, if any at all.

"A group of twelve highly committed adoptees and birth parents who have been involved in this legislation worked together to come to this final compromise with the governor," says adoptee Pam Hasegawa, who has been involved in this reform since the beginning. "We did not agree until there was a general consensus among ourselves that this was the best we could get. We are immensely pleased that secret adoptions in New Jersey will come to an end." The final group who worked on the bill included two first mothers, Judy Foster and Martha Gelarden.

We know this is far from perfect piece of legislation. However, just as the Emancipation Proclamation freed some slaves and not others, this is a historic step for New Jersey, and we hope, a harbinger of things to come in other large states--such as New York. While the "redaction" provision is certainly not "fair" to all adoptees--and still treats birth mothers' claims of "privacy" superior to the rights of adoptees--this measure will allow the vast majority of adopted people in New Jersey to claim their OBCs--if they want to.

Lorraine
We cheer this bill as the historic achievement that it is, and it is a credit to the heroic efforts of Pam Hasegawa and Judy Foster, and many others in the state who devoted long and hard efforts on this bill. Going back several decades, we have been been involved in this effort from the side-lines, as I have written to legislators, including more than one governor, and for newspapers in that state about the travesty of sealed birth records. I first met Pam through ALMA and Florence Fisher long before I found my own daughter in 1981. It seems like two decades ago I cried with Pam on the phone when a version of the bill we thought had a good chance failed to pass the legislature. I am proud to call her my friend. As soon as I post this edited version of the blog, I am going to call Florence.

COMPROMISE BETTER THAN NOTHING
As this becomes law, I cannot help but think of another bill that would have made a difference to adoptees born after 1977 in New York. Florence Fisher, as the founder and leader of ALMA, the group agitating for change in New York's sealed OBC law, was offered a "prospective" bill after the public hearing at which she and I testified in Albany. Florence, thinking that the "let-it-all-hang-out" philosophy of the times would allow for more openness, and recognizing that such a bill did not include anyone born after the late 1930s, she rejected this compromise measure. ALMA filed a law suit in 1977.  She believed that the courts were the way open the records in all states.

However, the Court of Appeals rejected our arguments and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. As 1996 came to pass, Florence could not help but reflect that if she had agreed to the compromise bill in New York, those individuals who turned 18 that year would have had access to their original birth certificates. But of course, they did not. I also think that if that had happened, the arguments of those in favor of keeping the records sealed would have had less potency, as everyone would see that open records did not cause the sky to fall. We almost certainly would be further along than we are today--which is still hoping to get our bill to the floor for a vote!

So instead of focusing on the limited redaction period allowed, we take today to cheer what is happening in New Jersey. There was a tremendous amount of opposition in New Jersey--from the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the NJ Right to Life and the state chapter of the ACLU--more than we face from outsiders in New York. We hope this means that New York might take notice and our bill move forward. We have not had a single signal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo as to his thoughts, and my letters to him get a canned response. As this was being announced in New Jersey, members of Unsealed Initiative were lobbying in Albany.

The last time I was in Albany I spent a few moments in a stairwell talking to a lobbyist there for other issues. I explained what I was doing. He asked if any other big states had taken action in this. "New Jersey?" he asked. I shook my head, no. He shrugged, and said we needed another big state to make it happen here. Today I would have a different response. If New Jersey goes, can New York be far behind?--lorraine
Edited on 4/29.
________________________
SOURCE
NJ adoptees can get birth certificates in 2017 under compromise between Christie, lawmaker
Christie, lawmakers announce compromise on bill enabling adoptees to access birth records

8 comments :

  1. Fantastic news!! The tide has turned!

    ReplyDelete
  2. More good news.

    On Friday, April 25, a mother in Oregon got her son's adoption court file and learned his name and the names of his adoptive parents, thanks to a new Oregon law effective last month. She found her son on Facebook within an hour and met him the next day.

    She is believed to be the first mother using the new law and the first mother in the country to get her child's adoption court file without having to prove "good cause" to a judge.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is good news. It is not perfect, and the three year wait seems excessive, but at least NJ is slowly moving in the right direction. It was a very long time coming.

    I have to wonder about NY. Like Lorraine said, no one has any idea what Gov. Cuomo thinks about this. I hope our bill comes up for a vote this time. I have never seen anything move so slowly in my life!

    Gov. Cuomo was born in the same year as my husband and myself. he and my husband have their birth certificates. Why can't I? Sounds simple to me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. BIRTH MOTHER PRIVACY IS CHILD ABUSE. I DO NOT CARE IF THE MOTHER WAS RAPED EITHER. Her child did NOT rape her and her child is a victim as well and does not deserve the punishment of an identity crisis. Until both closed adoption AND birth mother privacy are seen as the forms of emotional and psychological child abuse that they are, the child abusers in the adoption industry will continue to inflict it on all of us.
    Signed,
    A rightfully pissed off adoptee.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous, I basically agree--though I would call it a violation of human rights...since we don't want to talk about adopted "children."

    There should be no legal or constitutional protection for the "privacy" of birth mothers. You had a child, and the only reason the child does know who you are is because he was to little to make note of it. Send your anger to the governor--Christie or whatever state you are in. Please.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yay. That brightens things after the horrible news coming out of Louisiana.

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  7. http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2014/05/10/Adoptee-rights/stories/201405100040#

    ReplyDelete
  8. It will be too late for me. Since I was born in 1948, my birth mother is probably dead.

    ReplyDelete

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