Looking for Answers: Open Access to Adoptee’s Birth Records in Massachusetts

Humans are full of curiosity. We are in constant search for answers. It is natural for us to desire an understanding of our history. We long to know where we came from, who our ancestors are, and how their past will affect our future. This knowledge shapes our identity. It can be hard to imagine life without it, but many adopted persons do not have answers to these questions.

There are only about 14 states today that allow adult adoptees to fully access their birth records.  These records include an adopted person’s original birth certificate, medical records, family genealogy, and many other pieces that may have been missing from his or her puzzle. While a handful of states currently allow partial access to these vital records, the majority of legislatures are still hesitant to open up such private information.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for example, became a “partial access” state in 2007. Since then, state law has denied adopted persons born in Massachusetts between July 1974 and January 2008 the right to fully access their birth records. Adoptees born before 1974 and after 2007, however, can access their vital records upon turning 18 years old without any discrepancies. Those born within these “gap years” are left lacking answers. They want to know this information.   People who are adopted feel entitled to and understand their pasts, but are restricted by the law.

Massachusetts’ expansion of all adoptee rights has been in the works for years, and the prospect of equal access to personal records is now finally surfacing. Currently, a revised legislation is pending to restore the rights of all adopted persons in the state, regardless of the year they were born. Ohio passed new legislation opening up adoption records to adoptees in March 2015, and a handful of other state legislatures, such as Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New York and Texas, are also considering “opening up” birth records to all adoptees this year.  Thousands in search of their biological parents may finally be given some real, concrete answers.

Of course, there would still be provisions under this updated law if it were to be passed in Massachusetts. Birth mothers who placed their child for adoption during this 33-year period would have the option of filing a “no-contact” form. This form would prevent the release of any identifying information, and would ultimately keep her personal records sealed. Without this request all records would become obtainable to her child.

Initially, it seems like the obvious answer in all of this is to simply pass the bill and completely open up birth records in Massachusetts. Adoptees should have the right to know their histories. Many states have already permitted access, so why is there still a debate?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer here. The fact is, these lawmakers are dealing with a very emotional and complex subject. They must consider both the adoptee’s right to know as well as the birth mother’s right to privacy. Until they can compromise the two, it will remain a complicated subject.

Supporters of this bill believe that adoptees have the right to view their birth records, to gain insight on their family history and on potential genetic health risks. Those that oppose the bill feel as though birth mothers were promised privacy, and their identities should therefore be protected. At Adoptions With Love, we believe there should be a balance between the two sides.

An adopted person has the right to know who they are, genetically, medically, and ethnically. A birth mother should also maintain her right to anonymity, if that is what she requests. A birth mother today may not be the same person she was years ago when she placed her baby for adoption. It is inevitable that her life has changed.  She may now have a stable home, a significant other, a steady job, and even other children. She may be at a point in her life where she is more than ready to see her birth child. Conversely, she may be in a situation that is simply not right for this kind of unveiling. She may have never told anyone about the adoption, including a current spouse or other children. She may not be emotionally or physically prepared for a reunion. She may not want to be contacted yet, and that want should be respected.

Going through an intermediary, such as Adoptions with Love, can make the process of rediscovering a loved one much easier. Not only can we serve as a neutral, third-party in negotiating the relationship between adopted child and birth parent, but we can also assure the relationship stays on good footing. Through emails, letters, even private investigations, we can help you reconnect with family, find a friend, or gain any answers you have been seeking.

Adoptions With Love is a nationwide adoption agency, and our team of compassionate counselors and attorneys has been specializing in full service adoptions since 1986. For more information visit our web site here, or call us at 1-800-722-7731.


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