For adopted children in New Jersey, the past just opened up.
Local adoptees and their parents are praising a compromise on a bipartisan state bill that would allow people adopted in New Jersey access to their birth records for the first time since they were ordered sealed by the state in 1940.
“It’s a big issue for adoptees,” said Bronwyn Chartier, of Manahawkin in Stafford Township. “It puts us in line with the rest of residents now. ... It’s a piece of paper that’s rightfully yours.”
The law would be the result of a 34-year effort to open the records — but there are a few conditions.
In a compromise hammered out by Gov. Chris Christie’s office and state Senate staffers, birth parents of children who are adopted before Aug. 1, 2015, have until the end of 2016 to ask that their names be redacted from birth certificates. Those who do would then be asked to report some of their medical history.
After Aug. 1, 2015, biological parents of adopted children would not have the option of redacting their names.
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.
“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.”
The amendment still needs to be approved by the state Senate on May 12 and the Assembly on May 15 before heading to Christie’s desk for his signature.
Judy Foster, a leader of NJCARE, the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education, said the group was “ecstatic” about the decision.
“After 34 years, it’s finally done,” Foster told The Press of Atlantic City. “We’re absolutely thrilled this is going to happen.”
Nancy Fiedler, of Galloway Township, helped reunite her adopted son, Eric Nail, with his birth mother.
“I look back at what my son went through, and it wasn’t easy — and his birth mother wanted to meet him as much as he wanted to meet her,” Fiedler said. “When I met my son’s birth mother, she said that she thought of him every day. A day did not go by in 18 years that she didn’t wonder where he was. How many more people are out there like that?”
For Chartier, an adoptee who reunited with her birth family, “I have important medical information I didn’t have before. Medical information that would make you grimace, a history of cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. I have questions about a few things, like the redactions, but we’ve been waiting so long. Is it the best scenario? No. But we can always move forward, and at least this will help a good majority of people. If it saves even one person, or five people, it will make a huge difference.”
Ginny Makitra, of Barnegat Township, also praised the decision, despite the compromise.
“I spent 18 months with my birth mother in a home for unwed mothers, and I was finally forceably removed from her and adopted at the age of 2,” Makitra said. “I found my birth mother when I was 33 years old. I got my (medical and family) information and found it so helpful to have all of it at that stage. And I wanted to work to help other people get the same information.”
As for the ability for birth parents to redact their names, “You don’t get everything you want,” Makitra said. “In order to get anything done, you have to compromise.”
Amanda Transue-Woolston, who grew up in Cape May and now lives in Philadelphia, said that while her adoption was finalized in New Jersey, she was able to access her birth certificate because she was born in Tennessee, “which has better policies.” Seven other states — Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island — also give adoptees unrestricted access.
“Opening up birth records is a healthy policy for the adoptee community,” Transue-Woolston said. “I’m glad we’re moving forward. ... But I don’t think it’s fair for adoptees for birth parents to be able to redact (themselves). You don’t see any other government document treated that way. It sends a negative message.”
Pam Hasegawa, of NJCARE, said the compromise was necessary to assure the bill is signed. The original bill faced pushback from the New Jersey Catholic Conference and other groups, which argued that birth mothers who gave up children decades ago have a right to privacy.
“We knew if we did not come to a resolution now, it would be another four to five years before we had another chance,” Hasegawa said. “Too many people have died who have been involved. ... It’s as good as we can hope for at this time in New Jersey.”
Foster also said that in states that have such a redaction provision, “The incidents of requests for no contact have been absolutely minuscule.”
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 53 of them.
“For most birth parents, they’ve found it an opportunity for them to heal from secrecy and shame,” Hasegawa said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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