Friday, August 12, 2016

With Push From Adoptees, States Open Access to Birth Records

From Stateline, a publication of the Pew Charitable Trusts:

For many years, adults adopted as children who wanted to find out who their birth parents were ran up against a brick wall because they had no legal right to simply get a copy of their original birth certificate in most states.

But that’s been changing, as a growing number of states have been giving adult adoptees more — and in some cases, unrestricted — access to those records.

The shift reflects a move toward more openness in the adoption process itself, as well as the growing influence of adoptee rights groups, which have grown in number and become more vocal, putting pressure on legislators to act.

“We have the right to find out about our ethnicity, medical history, family information and culture,” said Erica Babino, legislative director for the American Adoption Congress, a nonprofit group that advocates for adoptees’ access to their birth records.

Decades ago, the birth records of adoptees were being sealed in most states to try to protect the confidentiality of birth mothers, particularly those who were unwed and faced the stigma of having a child out of wedlock. But advocates for adoptees say getting ahold of original birth certificates is a way to help them understand their backgrounds by revealing where they were born and their birth parents’ names and addresses.

Today about half of all states allow adult adoptees some form of access to their original birth certificate outside of going to court. In at least nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island (for those 25 and older) and Oregon — adult adoptees have unfettered access to those records, according to Nina Williams-Mbengue, who works on the issue at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Hawaii law was passed this year and took effect in June. At least two other states — Indiana and Missouri — enacted laws this year that make it easier for adoptees to access their birth certificates. But similar legislation failed in other states, including Kentucky and Louisiana.­

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