Adoption Bill Signing Marks Compromise on Heated Measure

NJ Spotlight News | May 27, 2014 | Politics
A measure Christie signed will allow adopted individuals to access their birth records.

By David Cruz

Pam Hasegawa admits she had her doubts about getting today’s bill signed. After all, the original bill that sealed adoption records was passed in 1940 and advocates have been working for more than three decades to get it reversed in New Jersey.

“It feels like a miracle to us,” she said. “We now are no longer going to feel un-entitled to the very circumstances of our birth. What is more intrinsic to a person’s sense of self than knowing who we were when we were born?”

Privacy concerns were at the root of objections — from groups like the ACLU and New Jersey Right to Life. Even after the bill passed both houses — a heavy lift say co-sponsors — the governor’s conditional veto led to another delay. Sen. Diane Allen has been in the fight for 18 years.

“Everybody knew that we had to get to this place, that we had to compromise,” she said, “so we all tried to find a way; it took another three years to get here but it was worth the wait and we have a bill that works for everybody.”

The governor — whose sister is adopted — said he wanted to ensure that birth parents have anonymity in cases where that was a concern and he wanted to phase in the period for opening birth records to give birth parents who chose anonymity an opportunity to have their names removed.

“Adoption is a blessing,” he told the audience outside the State House annex. “It is a precious gift for those who either cannot bear children themselves or for those who want to continue to grow their families in a different way. They open their hearts and their homes and it’s one of the most noble gifts adoptive parents can give and also an extraordinary gift given by birth parents as well.”

The measure gives birth parents until the end of 2016 to indicate if they want to keep their identities private. Even that compromise, however, is insufficient for opponents, who say the governor’s involvement didn’t help.

“Since the governor conditionally vetoed the legislation, I have been hearing from birth mothers who are very upset with the conditional veto language,” countered Marie Tasy, Executive Director of NJ Right to Life, which has opposed the measure all along. “They have all told me that if they were not guaranteed privacy when they placed their children for adoption, they would have abortions.”

For advocates, today was about confirming their status as whole individuals, with histories and roots to be proud — or even to regret, just like everyone else.

It took 30 years for this measure to make it to the governor’s office and another six years to get it past the finish line, not to mention that it will be two-and-a-half years before all the records are unsealed. Even by Trenton standards, that’s a really long time, but advocates say it was time well spent.