Law Allows New Jersey Adoptees Access to Birth Certificates, Medical History
TRENTON – Senator Joseph Vitale, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, joined Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senator Diane Allen, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto today at a Statehouse event to recognize a law that took effect this month allowing New Jersey adoptees to obtain their original birth records and medical history. The original bill amending the Vital Statistics Act, which was sponsored by Senators Vitale, Weinberg and Allen, was signed into law in May 2014.
The legislators were joined by New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett, New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJ CARE), NJ adoptees, and other advocates.
“Adoptees have long fought for the right to access their birth records and family histories, not only to know who they are and where they came from but also to access important medical information that can have major implications on their health and well-being,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Their wait is finally over and they can now access their original birth certificates and get the answers they have long sought.”
“I want to congratulate Senator Vitale for his leadership on this legislation that will now begin to provide answers to many New Jersey residents who want to know the most basic information about their personal and medical history,” said Senator Sweeney. “As legislators, our goal is to improve lives, and this is a great example of when we are successful at doing it.”
The law provides important information such as family history to adoptees while still maintaining the privacy of the birth parents. Under the legislation, birth parents were given the opportunity until December 31, 2016 to have their names redacted from their biological child’s birth records, with the option to rescind their request for redaction at any time. As of January 1, 2017, adoptees can now start accessing the original birth records.
“Many people take for granted that they can ask parents or family elders about their past and medical history, but New Jersey’s adoptees have been left in the dark for far too long,” said Senator Weinberg. “Now, they can find answers and access vital information that will bring them closer to their true identity and help them address any health concerns while maintaining the privacy of birth parents who choose to remain anonymous. I am proud to be a part of the effort that brought us here today.”
Under the law which just took effect, an adopted person over the age of 18, their direct descendant, sibling or spouse, an adoptive parent or guardian, or a state or federal agency now have access to an uncertified, long-form copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate through the New Jersey State Registrar. Additionally, the adoptive person can receive any available information regarding contact preferences with their biological parent and family history information.
“I’m glad to celebrate that New Jersey’s adoptees finally have the ability to learn their personal histories, something that many of us take for granted,” said Senator Allen (R-Burlington). “I first started working to change our state’s adoption records laws nearly 20 years ago. It’s been an extremely long fight, but it’s one that we believed was worth the effort. I’d like to thank everyone who worked with us to get us to today.”
The law provided birth parents the opportunity to supply to the state registrar their preference for contact with their biological child – whether it be direct contact, contact through an intermediary or no contact. It further permits them to change this preference at any time through the state registrar.
“For 37 years, New Jersey born and adopted individuals have yearned for this day, a time when they would be able to experience the relief that occurs when a law that has constrained the civil and human rights of citizens is put right side up instead of upside down,” said Pam Hasegawa, a leader of NJ CARE.
The law requires that when a birth parent submits a document of contact preference to the state registrar that they also submit family history information. A birth parent whose preference is to have no contact with the adoptive person is encouraged to update their family history once every ten years until they reach the age of 40, and once every five years thereafter. The state registrar will be required, under the law, to supply adopted persons with any updated information as it is added to the file.
“Today, we are not just providing birth certificates for New Jersey’s adopted residents who have waited many long years to learn about their core identity,” added Senator Vitale. “We are celebrating a victory for the state’s adoptee community, giving hope and providing an opportunity for adoptees and birth parents to reunite.”
The Department of Health published information for adoptees and birth parents about the changes to the vital records law on its website.