For more than three decades a debate has been waged in New Jersey on the adoption front over the extent to which adoptees can access their birth records and uncover information about their biological parents. In 1940, New Jersey began sealing adoption records. In 1977, New Jersey allowed the records to be accessible by court order. N.J.S.A. 9:3-51. Anti-abortion/pro-life activists advocated for birth records to be sealed because birth mothers who wished for anonymity might be more inclined to have an abortion if her privacy were not protected, or birth mothers might be more inclined to use New Jersey’s Safe Haven Infant Protection law that allows a newborn who is less than thirty days old to be left legally and anonymously at a police station or hospital emergency room without having to give any identifying or health information about the birth mother. Adoption advocates zealously advocated for open birth records to allow adoptees access to information about their birth parents, their personal identities, their family histories, and family medical histories. They pointed out that other states experienced an increase in adoptions after they decided to allow access to birth certificates.
On May 27, 2014 Governor Chris Christie, who has an adopted sister himself, signed a bill that offers a compromise between birth parents’ desire for privacy with adoptees’ desire to access more information about their identities. Under this new law, as of January 1, 2017 adoptees born in New Jersey can obtain their full, unredacted birth certificates from the state registrar. Birth parents can indicate a preference about contact with the adoptee by filing a document with the state’s registrar indicating that the parent will allow direct contact with the adoptee, or contact through a confidential intermediary. Alternatively, birth parents can choose to maintain their anonymity by not allowing adoptees to contact them at all, in which case the birth parents are requested to provide and update their family’s medical, social and cultural histories which the adoptees can access. For adoptions that are finalized after August 1, 2015, adoptees’ full birth certificates will be available to them. Birth parents of children adopted before August 1, 2015 have until the end of 2016 to request that their names be removed from the birth certificates, in which case they will be asked to provide a family health history.
Adoption can have a lifelong impact on a person. This new law allows New Jersey to join the rising number of other states that are removing the shroud of secrecy around adoption to allow adoptees the opportunity, if they wish, to know more about their family history or their medical history.