Patrick R. Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, issued the following statement on May 27, immediately following Governor Christie’s signing of the open adoption birth records law:
The New Jersey Catholic Conference (NJCC) opposed and testified against S873/A1259, a bill to open adoption birth records, as well as many similar bills that had been introduced in the New Jersey legislature over the last two decades and beyond.
Adoption is a complex issue that touches individuals deeply. Some birth parents talk about the trauma they suffered when they gave their child for adoption. Some adoptees express feelings of being unloved by birth parents or being incomplete because they do not know their full family story.
Over the years NJCC’s message was consistent. We supported reunions between adoptees and birth parents if the reunions would be by mutual consent. NJCC also supported adoptees having full access to their birth parents’ medical histories and cultural and social history information. NJCC also did not oppose releasing a birth certificate to adoptees who could provide evidence that they had had contact with one of their birth parents. The key principle upon which we operated was that a birth parent’s identity should remain confidential, and anonymity be preserved unless the birth parent agreed to have their identity revealed.
The change to our adoption law will do four important things:
1. The requirement of obtaining a court order to access birth records will be eliminated. Beginning on January 1, 2017, adoptees will be able to obtain an original birth certificate without involvement of the courts.
2. A 31-month transition and implementation period is established during which birth parents can file a request to have no contact with the adoptee. If a birth parent files such a request, the State Registrar will redact the birth parent’s name from any documents provided to adoptees.
3. For adoptions finalized after August 1, 2015, long-form birth certificates will be available without redaction. However, birth parents will be able to file a preference for contact with the State Registrar, selecting from options including direct interaction, contact through an intermediary, or sharing of only medical information with continued privacy.
4. Birth parents who request redaction will be required to update medical history information every 10 years until the birth parent reaches the age of 40 and every five years thereafter.
All who facilitated adoptions have a moral obligation to alert birth parents of the changes about to occur. For the Catholic Church, which provided adoption services for well over a century, the responsibility is great. Thousands of birth mothers placed their children for adoption, relying on the church’s assurance of their privacy. That promise of privacy was given not only by Catholic adoptions agencies but also was assured by law and affirmed by Superior Court decisions (Mills vs. Atlantic City).
Because of the church’s century-long role in adoptions, we must enlist partners to establish a robust educational campaign to alert birth parents that New Jersey’s law has been changed. Second, the church and other adoption facilitators should make available counseling and other services for birth parents who will be impacted.