ALBANY — A new law will allow adoptees to obtain their full, original birth certificates, including health histories and the identity of their parents, ending a decades-old practice that blocked that information.
Adoptees will be able to access their original birth certificates once they turn 18 years old. The bill signed into law Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was passed with strong, bipartisan support in the Legislature earlier this year.
“Personally, this is great news,” said Larry Dell, 71, of Brooklyn, who has tried to learn about his birth parents since he learned 11 years ago that he was adopted. “It will likely fill in the blanks that DNA testing has been unable to do.”
Currently, children who are adopted are provided an abridged birth certificate from hospitals which provide little information about their past and no information about their birth parents.
By contrast, original birth certificates provide parents’ names, their marital status, their hometown and some critical health information that could point to hereditary diseases. New York will be the 10th state, and the largest, to open original birth certificates to adoptees and to end the practice of alternative birth certificates, which dates back to 1938.
Experts in the field say the old system was based on a concern at the time, often fostered in local houses of worship, to provide anonymity to young, unmarried women who had children. Assemb. David I. Weprin (D-Queens), who has argued for the bill for 20 years, said in an interview that the Catholic Church was once opposed to providing a record of birth parents out of fear it would prompt young parents to turn to abortion. But the church hasn't opposed the measure in recent years, he said.
Weprin called the measure an adoptee bill of rights that is a “momentous step forward for adoptees … After many decades, adoptees will finally share in the same human and civil rights as other New Yorkers who are free to access their family histories and medical backgrounds.”
“This has been long overdue,” said Sen. Velamanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), the Senate sponsor. “We owe our success to the advocacy of thousands of adult adoptees who have fought tirelessly on this issue for over 20 years."
The law also allows for an adoptee’s legal representative or his or her descendants to obtain the original birth certificate after the adoptee dies.
“Where you came from informs who you are, and every New Yorker deserves access to the same birth records — it's a basic human right,” Cuomo said.
The law is scheduled to become effective Jan. 15.