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|
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.
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.
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