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Privacy of adoption law
I write to point out misstatements and misrepresentations that are being made by individuals and groups who are trying to eliminate an important privacy for birth mothers -- a privacy that has been protected by law for decades. Those who want to eliminate a birth parent's privacy claim that New Jersey's adoption law protects only the adopted child. That claim is wrong. New Jersey's adoption law protects all of the parties: the child, the natural parents and the adopting parents.
The Catholic Church has provided adoption services in New Jersey for well over a century. The New Jersey Catholic Conference has long supported mutual consent reunions and the sharing of health information between adoptees and birth parents. Indeed, Catholic Charity agencies provide adoptees with information about their social background and health histories even in instances when they are unable to facilitate a reunion.
The New Jersey Superior Court, in Mills vs. Atlantic City Department of Vital Statistics (1977), reviewed at length the interests that are involved in placing adoption records under seal. Judge Philip Gruccio noted that the purpose of the Adoption Act is to protect the child placed for adoption, the adopting parents and the natural or birth parents. Analyzing each of their respective interests, Judge Gruccio first addressed those of the natural parents and the adoptive parents:
"The assurance of secrecy regarding the identity of the natural parents enables them to place the child for adoption with a reputable agency, with the knowledge that their actions and motivations will not become public knowledge. Assured of this privacy by the State, the natural parents are free to move on and attempt to rebuild their lives after what must be a traumatic and emotionally tormenting episode in their lives.
"The adopting parents also have an interest in having the birth records placed under seal. They have taken into their home a child whom they will regard as their own and whom they will love and raise as an integral part of their family unit. It is important to these adopting parents that they may raise this child without fear of interference from the natural parents and without fear that the birth status of the illegitimate child will be revealed or used as a means of harming the child or themselves. The State has an active interest in protecting and nurturing the growing family relationship it has statutorily created."
Certainly, the court recognized that the state has an obligation to protect the interests of all three parties. Judge Gruccio wrote, "The statute requiring that the records be sealed clearly serves the interest of all three parties in the adoptive triangle: adoptive parents, natural parents and the child."
We must remember that thousands of birth mothers placed their children for adoption through the New Jersey courts in reliance on that statutory assurance of privacy that is so clearly articulated by Judge Gruccio.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference is working with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry to support a simple and fair approach to this very sensitive issue. Our coalition supports sensible and compassionate legislation that would take into consideration the interests of all parties.
The foundation of such a system is an effective mutual consent registry established by the state to provide adoptees with access to their birth parents' medical history and to link birth parents and adult adopted persons when the parties have requested and consented to such a reunion. This mutual consent registry system would use qualified individuals and agencies to function as intermediaries to locate adopted persons and birth parents, to certify contacts and to assess those interested in reunification. In the case in which a birth parent is unwilling to reunite, the intermediary would obtain family and medical history for the adoptee.
It is time for those trying to end the privacy of birth mothers to tell the truth: New Jersey's adoption law protects all three parties -- adoptees, natural parents and adopting parents.
Patrick R. Brannigan is executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the Archdiocese of Newark, Diocese of Camden, Diocese of Metuchen, Diocese of Paterson, Diocese of Trenton, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic and Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese.
Mr. Brannigan there is this little memo that was sent to the governor of the time. They were asking that the governor not seal the records.
I quote from the memo dated on April 18, 1935 Memorandum for the Governor:
The plight of a child forced to bear the burden of illegitimacy and unable to secure his vital records unstigmatized challengs society.
In records to Assembly Int. 2458, Print Nos 3037, 3094,
The above bill should not be approved. They fail to take into consideration many important rights of the mother and child and of the community, and definitely contravene certain State Laws - property rights of descent and inheritance, the protection of family names, the laws enacted to away with baby farms and vicious unregulated maternity homes and laws designed to prevent abandonment are all disregarded.
It is contended that the honor of a good name and protection from being stigmatized as illegitimate are so important that all should be willing to disregard property rights, but in a practical social world such as property rights, rights of inheritance and descent cannot be ignored, and the mere fact of being unable to trace family because of the falsity of records would ear mark and create distress and heartaches for the persons it is planned to protect.
For years the social groups interested in the unmarried mother and her child have sought to develop an understandng and sympathetic, and furthermore to put on a statute books laws that would protect them from exploitation and abuse and at the same time would do away with wholesale abandonment.
Explain why Catholic Charities and the Catholic Conference has changed its position. They thought it was bad to seal the records. Now they think its bad to unseal them. There was no promise to natural mothers. Yes there was promises made to adoptive parents. I can see this until the child is an adult. We are adults seeking our records. Only in adoption are adoptees expected to honor the rules that both sets of our parents signed up for. Once we reach adulthood, they no longer apply to us. GIVE US OUR BIRTH CERTIFICATES.