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NY moves to allow adoptees to obtain original birth certificates

The state Capitol on Wednesday.

The state Capitol on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Powerful stories of adopted children wanting to learn about their unknown birthparents and of birth mothers desperate to meet the children they gave up for adoption fueled Thursday’s final legislative approval of a measure to allow adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates when they turn 18.

The measure passed 126-2 in the Assembly three weeks after it overwhelmingly passed the Senate. It now goes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his approval or veto. His senior adviser, Richard Azzopardi, called it “a critically important issue.”

“Imagine,” said Assemb. Pamela Hunter (D-Syracuse), who was adopted, “you have a child and you can’t tell if they have a disposition to cancer, or diabetes, or high blood pressure our heart disease … that’s my son.”

Hunter was one of a few legislators who said during an emotional floor debate that they were adopted or found joy in reuniting with adopted relatives.

A 1938 law prevented an adopted child from obtaining the original birth certificate. Instead, they are given a substitute certificate that excludes their birthparents’ names and any information about health issues.

The practice to provide confidentiality for birth parents began as an outgrowth of the mores of the day concerning single women having children, critics of the law said.

So if an adopted child wanted that information, he or she could hire a private detective, ply the internet or pay a DNA site to find their birth parents, if they could afford it.

The Republican-controlled Senate blocked any bill to change the law over the past 30 years. But advocacy by adopted children and parents resulted this year in overwhelming and emotional support in both chambers.

“There is something about having that piece of paper,” said Assemb. David Weprin (D-Queens), the bill’s sponsor. “It identifies them. Why should government hide that piece of paper?”

Assemb. Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) also shared her story as an adopted child: “It wasn’t until I was ready to have a child myself that I became curious about history … if there would be anything to worry about for my own child.”

Assemb. David DiPietro was among the majority of Republicans who joined Democrats in what has become increasingly rare bipartisan support for a bill in Albany.

"I met a mother who gave up her child for adoption and 30 years later she cried about it because she wants to find her child, but she didn't think her child wanted to find her," said DiPietro (R-East Aurora). "We forget it's often the mother who wants to find the child."

“It’s decades overdue,” said Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor). “It’s about their right to be whole.”

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