December 13, 2008
Adoptees want access to original birth certificates
(by Terrence T. McDonald - December 11, 2008)
For 24 years, Zara Phillips did not know her real name.
Phillips was born in Barnet, England – Montclair's sister city – in
1964 and, when she was two months old, she was given up for adoption.
She had "difficulties" during her teen years, she said, and soon
struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
Being an adoptee did not help, Phillips said over a cup of hot water
with lemon at Bluestone Coffee Co. this past Monday afternoon.
"You have no sense of self," she said. "You don't know where you came
from. You feel very disconnected."
It wasn't until she was in her twenties, and rid herself of
addiction, that Phillips realized that there wasn't something wrong
with her – she just needed to get find out who she was. And that
couldn't happen unless she found her birth mother, Phillips said.
"How can you move forward in your life if you don't know your
beginning?" she asked. "You can't start a book on chapter two."
Though Phillips was able to navigate Great Britain's social services
system to find her birth mother, such a task is impossible for
adoptees in New Jersey, where original birth certificates for adopted
children are sealed barring a court order.
Phillips, 44, is one of a number of New Jersey advocates urging the
state Legislature to pass a bill allowing adult adoptees access to
their original birth certificates.
If signed into law, the bill would then give adoptees a chance to
know their families' genetic and medical history, in addition to
providing them an avenue for emotional closure, the advocates say.
The bill, which passed the state Senate 31 to 7 in March but has yet
to move through the Assembly, has been in the works for three decades.
Two weeks ago, the Montclair Township Council unanimously passed a
resolution urging the Legislature to adopt the bill.
Third Ward Councilman Nick Lewis, father of three adopted children,
supports the measure, saying there are a number of reasons why an
adopted child should know the identity of his or her birth parents.
"For many kids, there is a need to understand where you came from,
this sort of void that needs to be filled," said Lewis, whose son
made an unsuccessful attempt to find his birth parents during a
recent trip to Korea.
New Jersey's existing regulations amount to a restraining order
against adoptees who want to know about their birth families,
according to Pam Hasegawa, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Coalition
for Adoption Reform and Education.
Hasegawa, 66, an adoptee herself, said restricting access to her
original birth certificate deprives her of the right to know her
"I just think the injustice of our not being able to get this
information, which I consider a fundamental human right, is morally
outrageous," she said.
Only six states – Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire, Maine, and
Oregon – allow unfettered access to original birth certificates,
though 16 states allow conditional access, sometimes depending on the
birth parents' wishes, according to Bastard Nation, an Ohio-based
adoptee advocacy group.
The New Jersey bill passed the state Senate in 2004, 2006, 2008, but
stalled in the Assembly each time.
A legislative aide for Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-38), a primary
sponsor of the bill, said she believes the bill has been held up
because of complaints from religious groups.
"It's going to be a tough bill to pass," Voss' aide said.
Phillips said it makes her "blood boil" that the proposed legislation
has not received a vote in both houses of the Legislature. For a
British woman who in her youth dreamed of America and its forward-
thinking ideals, Phillips said she is disillusioned to discover New
Jersey's adoption laws are so far behind those of her home country.
Starting in 1975, Great Britain allowed adoptees to access their
original birth certificates.
"We're not stalkers," Phillips said. "We're not these weird people.
We're just adoptees who have every right to know who we are."
Phillips, a mother of three, met her birth mother in a British social
worker's office in 1988. It was an intense experience for both, she
said, and even though the two have had a rocky relationship since,
Phillips now feels like she belongs.
She also learned her birth name: Paula Sampson.
"It made me feel more connected," she said.
Contact Terrence T. McDonald at email@example.com. By "clicking" on the title to this post, you can read the entire article and "reader comments".
Zara is a musician & author of the book, "Mother Me", about an adoptee's journey to motherhood. Her website is www.zaraphillips.com