New Jersey officials make deal on adoption records

((AP Photo/Curt Hudson))

April 28, 2014 1:21:31 PM PDT
Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers have struck a deal to allow people adopted in New Jersey access to their birth records, but the compromise puts the opening of records on hold for nearly three years to give birth parents time to have their names removed from birth certificates.

The deal is expected to become law, with Democratic leaders in both chambers of the Democrat-controlled Legislature supporting it. It would cap a 34-year push by a group of advocates for adoptees and their biological parents to open the records in New Jersey for the first time since they were sealed in 1940.

"It feels like a miracle," said Pam Hasegawa, a leader of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education, which has been pushing the issue.

"It's sending a message particularly to women like me who surrendered babies in the '50s,' 60s and '70s that we no longer have to hide in secrecy and shame," said Judy Foster, another member of the group. Foster reconnected with her daughter 37 years after she gave her up at birth in 1961 and has maintained a relationship since.

The advocates say it's a way for families to reunite, and also for people to have access to their family medical histories.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference and other groups pushed back, arguing that birth mothers who gave up children decades ago have a right to privacy.

Lawmakers passed a bill in February to allow adoptees to see the records.

Christie faced a deadline of Monday to take action. State Sen. Joseph Vitale said he met with Christie Sunday to talk about a compromise.

The deal that their staffs hammered out would give birth parents of children who are adopted before Aug. 1, 2015, until the end of 2016 to ask that their names be removed from birth certificates. Those who do so would be asked to give some medical history.

Biological parents of children adopted after Aug. 1, 2015, would not have the option of redacting their names.

"While I support this bill's goals, I recommend additional safeguards necessary to balance the needs of adoptees seeking critical records of their identity, with the expectations of birth parents in years past who may wish to remain private," Christie said in a statement. "The recommendations here will achieve those goals, while respecting and protecting the interests of adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents."

Birth parents of all adopted children would be able to give their preferences for whether - and how - they could be contacted. They could change their choice at any time.

In Illinois, which has had a similar law in effect since 2011, more than 10,000 birth certificates have been provided. Biological parents have had their names removed from just 53 of them.

Eight other states - Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee - give adoptees unrestricted access.

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