After decades of secrecy regarding adoption records, New York now permits adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates when they turn 18, allowing them to find out the names of their birth parents. This new law overturns 84 years of secrecy with sealed adoption records in the Empire State.
Thanks to support from legislators like adoptee Pam Hunter (D-Syracuse), Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the landmark bill into law on Thursday, Nov. 14.
The new law allows adoptees to obtain their original, certified birth certificates from the state Department of Health when they turn 18 years old. If an adoptee is deceased, their direct descents or lawful representatives will have a right to obtain the birth records. The law goes into effect on Jan. 15, 2020.
For the past 84 years, New York adoptees could not access their original birth certificates. If they were born into a closed adoption, like assembly member Hunter, they might not ever know the identity of their birth parents or their own medical history. Hunter’s support for the bill came from never knowing her birth parents, but wanting her medical history for the sake of her own biological children, too.
Back when the original law was established in 1935, adoption professionals believed that closed adoption was the best solution for all involved, mainly in the name of protecting the privacy of birth parents who placed their children for adoption. However, with the rise of genetic testing and online ancestry sites and the overwhelming acceptance of open adoption, it’s rare to keep an adoption truly “closed” in the modern world. Not to mention that closed adoption is a bad idea for all — it keeps adoptees from the important medical and social history they need, while preventing birth parents from ever receiving any closure for their adoption choice.
Recognizing the trends of modern adoption, Cuomo said much the same during the bill signing.
“Where you came from informs who you are, and every New Yorker deserves access to the same birth records — it’s a basic human right,” he said.
Unfortunately, many states still maintain sealed adoption legislation. You can find a list of them here; if your state is there, please consider contacting your state legislator to push for more openness in adoption laws.
We applaud the news coming out of New York State, and we look forward to seeing other states follow its lead in the years to come!