November 22, 2008

Council Supports Adoptee's Rights Bill

O'port council supports adoptees' rights bill
BY LIZ SHEEHAN Correspondent

OCEANPORT — The Borough Council unanimously approved a resolution that supports passage of a bill in the state Legislature that would give adopted people access to information about their birth parents.

The resolution supports the language of the proposed bill, which would provide adoptees access to the "adopted person's original birth certificate and the adoptive parents of a minor the right of access to the adopted person's original birth certificate and related medical and cultural information, upon request."

The council members voted on the resolution at the Nov. 6 meeting, after Thomas McGee, a former borough councilman, asked for their support.

McGee said the bill, S-37-3, had been passed by the state Senate but was being held up in the Assembly. He said the Assembly bill had 23 sponsors but "can't be posted" because "it seems the leadership is standing in the way."

McGee said he had been adopted and found his birth mother in 2000. He said that members of her family told him how much happier his birth mother was after they were reunited.

"I don't know a woman who would surrender her child and not want to know what happened to her child," McGee said.

He said that before contacting his mother, he did not know his medical history and was concerned there could be a health issue that could affect him and his family.

After the meeting, McGee, who is a member of the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJCARE), said the group is asking municipalities to pass the resolution to prompt the Assembly to take action on the bill.

He said Camden, High Bridge, Trenton, Morristown and West Milford have also passed the resolution, and it was waiting to be acted on in other municipalities.

There are now nine states that give adoptees access to their birth certificates, McGee said.

The resolution passed in Oceanport states that the state Legislature has considered similar legislation since 1980, and bills giving access to birth certificates passed in the Assembly in 1991 and 1994 and in the Senate in 2004, 2006 and this year.

NJCARE wants the bill placed in the Assembly Human Services Committee so it could go to the full Assembly for a vote.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., who makes that decision, has yet to do so.

Roberts did not return several calls to his office concerning requests for information about his position on the bill.

On Monday, Nov. 17, NJCARE was scheduled to hold a rally on the steps of the New Jersey Statehouse and has invited Senate and Assembly sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill to the rally.

Marlene Lao-Collins, director of social concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said the conference has formed an alliance with New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey Bar Association and the American Civil Liberties Union to oppose the bill.

She said the bill would unilaterally unseal the records and would not allow the birth parent to maintain their privacy.

The bill provides that for a 12-month period after its passage, the birth parent can submit a form to the state requesting nondisclosure, which would prohibit the release of the birth certificate.

When the request is acknowledged by the state, the birth parent must file a family history with medical, cultural and social history within 60 days, or the request for nondisclosure will be nullified.

Lao-Collins said this is a "punitive action." But adoptees should have access to medical and cultural information, she said.

She said she hopes a compromise can be reached on the bill.

Judy Foster, 61, Morristown, who said she was a birth mother, said she was married for 10 years before she told her husband that she had given birth to a daughter when she was much younger. He encouraged her to look for her daughter, she said, but Foster said it took her 10 more years until she worked up the courage to do so.

"I didn't feel I had the right," she said, and she went to therapy before beginning the search.

Foster said she wrote to the agency that had arranged the adoption, and after two and a half months, she received a "cold letter" that said her letter would be placed on file. Then she decided to hire a private detective, Joe Collins, who specializes in such cases.

Two and a half weeks later, Foster said, she sat in her kitchen with Collins and he pulled a photograph out of a folder.

It was her daughter's high school graduation picture.

"It could have been my high school picture," Foster said.

Her daughter was 37 and she was 55 when they were reunited, she said.

Foster, who is now retired, said she was devoting her time to work for the passage of the bill to open birth certificates.

"This is a basic human right to know your heritage," she said.

Foster said that adoptees are "starting to get a voice."

NJCARE, the group she is working with, is "just grass roots normal," she said.

Foster said that when she gave up her baby for adoption, she was not promised confidentiality nor did she request it, although those opposed to opening the records say that is the case with birth mothers.

What she did sign, she said, was a promise not to interfere with the family the baby was placed with.

Foster also said that she believes even if a birth mother signed a contract asking for confidentiality at the baby's adoption, once the child is not a minor, this should no longer hold, as is the case with other contacts signed for a minor by a parent, and the adoptee should have the right to the information about himself or herself.

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