New Jersey has unsealed the records, including the original birth certificates (OBCs), for individuals adopted in that state. The New Jersey Birthright Law was signed into law in 2014, and went into effect on January 1, 2017. The law, which was the culmination of more than 30 years of work by adoptees’ rights advocates, also did away with the sealing of new records, as of August 1, 2015.
Opponents to open records laws contend that they violate the confidentiality of women who placed children for adoption, but New Jersey’s law, like laws in other states, allows birth parents to request to remain anonymous. Far fewer birth parents file such requests than adoptees who request access.
Champions of such laws see gaining access to such information about oneself as a basic human right. “I see access to my birth certificate as a civil right issue,” says Susan Merkel, LSW, a counselor at IAC Center and board member of American Adoption Congress. “Why should any state hide a document that is available to every other citizen? For many adoptees just possessing their birth certificates is enough validation and information. People outside the adoption constellation may not understand that OBC access and the desire to search for birth family are two separate issues.”
“The ceremony for the Restoration of Adoptee Rights was powerful,” says Joni Mantell, LCSW, director of the IAC Center and a mother through domestic adoption. “The adoptees spoke of gaining access to information about their medical history, nationality, and genetic connections, but also finally being able to thank a birth parent, to ask a nagging question, to express or explore a feeling. Adoptive families today, with semi-open and open adoptions, may take this civil right for granted.”
She also notes that “obtaining the OBC is an exciting first step, a ticket to a long-awaited journey. The next step is integrating this information into one’s real life. Time to digest the information, and support to help make sense of the overwhelming emotions and navigate the intricate relationship expectations, are key as all parties move on to a reunion.”