N.J. strikes deal on opening birth records to adoptees

After more than 30 years of pressure to open birth records to adoptees in New Jersey, state lawmakers and the Christie administration have finally reached agreement on a measure that will allow that to happen.

The deal allows birth parents of adopted children to indicate their preference on whether — and how — they could be contacted.

The regional director of the American Adoption Congress said she welcomes the breakthrough.

“We were told in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70’s that we had no rights as birth parents,” said Judy Foster who was unmarried when she gave up her newborn daughter for adoption in 1961. “And for the first time now, birth parents will be given a voice, and it will allow them to throw off the mantle of shame and guilt that they’ve carried for so long now.”

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Foster, a Randolph resident, finally hired a private detective to track her down when her daughter was 37 years old.

Opponents of opening the documents have argued that women who gave up their children years ago have a right to privacy.

To deal with those concerns, biological parents of children adopted before the law takes effect will have until the end of 2016 to have their names removed from birth records.

“For all those adoptions that took place before the enactment of the bill, birth parents who had given their children up, whether it was last week or 20 years ago or 50 years ago, would have about two-and-a-half years to essentially say we would prefer to have no contact and have their names redacted from the birth certificate,” said Sen. Joe Vitale, chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

Sen. Diane Allen, who has been trying for more than 17 years to get adoptees in New Jersey legal access to their birth certificates, framed it as an issue of civil rights for those adoptees.

“It’s huge for the tens of thousands of adoptees in the state finding out if you have siblings, finding out if you have medical history that you need to know about,” she said. “The bottom line is then we will no longer have a second-tier class of citizenship.”

In other states that have opened birth records, Allen said, “the number of birth parents who have asked to redact their names or have said they want no contact — 0.02 percent, almost no one.”

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