HB 450 set to make birth certificates accessible for adoptees, clears Senate committee
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported House Bill 450 on Tuesday, May 24, which would provide for unrestricted access to the original birth certificates of adoptees.
For almost half a century, adopted individuals in Louisiana have been restricted from accessing the first document of their existence in the world, their original birth certificate.
”People know they’re adopted,” said Rep. Chuck Owen (R-District 30), the bill’s author. “They know there’s a story there. But when the government won’t give it to them, it’s just, it’s wrong and it’s not fair, and it goes to a place of unequal treatment under the law.”
Ever since 1977, Louisiana seals original birth certificates upon adoption, granting implied anonymity for the birth mother and father, that is unless the adopted person is willing to pay to litigate.
“They have to pay a lawyer to convince a judge to let you see a document written down about you,” said Owen.
Bill proponents argue adoptees should not be forced through a costly process to obtain something anyone else is able to get through one records request.
Owen also says it is about the identity of the adoptee.
“It tells us who we are,” said Owen. “It tells us where we came from, tells us what our identity is.”
Alexandria licensed psychologist Greg Gormanous, Ph.D., echoed that idea.
“The core component of existence as a unique human being is one’s identity,” said Gormanous. “It’s the legal origin of your unique self.”
For Owen, the issue is both personal and professional. As a child, Owen was adopted from a New Orleans orphanage by a family in Leesville. When he was 35, his birth mother paid a search agency to find him. The way that conversation unfolded is one of the primary drivers behind the bill, which is to allow for the facilitation of a conversation between a consenting adult adoptee and a consenting birth parent.
“Right now with DNA, 23 and Me, Ancestry and stuff, someone can go spit in a cup, and then six weeks later they can find all this out, and then everyone else is involved,” said Owen. “If a person my age or your age goes to New Orleans and gets their birth certificate, it’s like okay, ‘I know the person I need to contact.’ Or I may not contact anyone. I just may want the information.”
However, the bill appears to have split the pro-life community, with some adoption advocates arguing it could have a negative impact on birth mothers choosing adoption, who expect to do so confidentiality.
“I believe the state should not under any condition release a document to one individual that contains the name of another individual without that individual’s consent,” said Teri Casso, executive director of St. Elizabeth Foundation. “Especially, if under the law, it was presumed that they would be anonymous.”
Proponents argued the bill is only about adoptees and their legal rights.
“This is about a civil right, a basic civil right,” said Pam Testroet, a bill supporter. “I know that if I could not get my own birth certificate, I would I would just be furious.”
After a lengthy and emotional debate before the committee, the bill was reported favorably in a 4-2 vote, with Sen. Heather Cloud (R-District 28) and Sen. Jay Luneau (D-District 29) voting in favor. HB 450 now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
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