People adopted in Louisiana could get access to their birth certificates

‘Everyone should have a right to know their own story,’ lawmaker says

By: - March 9, 2022 5:08 pm
Final House vote delayed on Louisiana adoption birth certificate bill

A Louisiana lawmaker has proposed legislation that would allow adopted people to obtain copies of their original birth certificates once they reach age 24. (WES MULLER/LOUISIANA ILLUMINATOR)

A Louisiana lawmaker has proposed legislation that would allow adopted people to obtain copies of their original birth certificates once they reach age 24. It would follow a nationwide trend to reform decades of secrecy surrounding adoption records. 

House Bill 450, filed by Rep. Charles Owen, a Republican from the Fort Polk-area town of Rosepine, proposes that an adopted person who is at least 24 would no longer have to petition a court to unseal their original birth certificate. They could instead obtain an uncertified copy upon request from the state registrar of vital records. 

In a closed adoption under Louisiana law, most, if not all records, including the original birth certificate that often contains the identities of the biological parents, are sealed and not accessible to the adopted person. The state issues the adopted child an altered birth certificate with the legal fiction that the child was born to their adoptive parents. 

Closed adoption records can only be unsealed with a court order. Such a process typically requires hiring an attorney and providing a compelling reason to convince a judge to make the records available, Owen said in an interview. 

Owen pointed out access to consumer DNA testing is inexpensive and widespread through websites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com. It allows nearly anyone to trace their genealogy and track down their biological family members for about $100, he said. 

The state doesn’t really have a good reason for requiring an adopted person’s birth certificate to remain confidential forever, Owen said.

“They arbitrarily think they need to keep them sealed,” Owen said. “No one has offered any good reason to me yet, though I’m told that they will come.” 

Owen, who was adopted as a baby and didn’t know his biological mother until she tracked him down when he was 35, said he has heard from a number of constituents and other residents who have tried unsuccessfully to get copies of their original birth certificates. He said his primary reason for introducing the legislation is transparency. 

“Where else does the government keep a record on you that you can’t see?” Owen asked. “Everyone should have a right to know their own story. I don’t like the government keeping secret records on me or anyone else.

Louisiana’s adoption records were not always sealed. It was not until the late 1970s that the state passed its closed adoption law that placed birth certificates off limits, Owen said. 

That trend began in other states during the post-World War II baby boom when “more out-of-wedlock births occurred in middle-class families than had been the case earlier in the century,” according to the University of Oregon’s Adoption History Project

The original goal of confidential adoption records was not to prevent adoptees from obtaining the information on their original birth certificates. In 1949, the U.S. Children’s Bureau, which argued in favor of sealing records so that the child wouldn’t suffer the social stigma associated with illegitimacy, recommended that adults who were adopted as children should have access to their complete birth record, according to the research. 

However, “mortified parents argued that their daughters should have a second chance to lead normal, married lives,” and the proliferation of maternity wards to shield non-marital pregnancies from public view helped to render adoption “a topic of embarrassment and shame.” Confidentiality was eventually converted into secrecy, and although intentions were benevolent, “sealed records created an oppressive adoption closet,” according to the University of Oregon’s research. 

Many states have since reformed their laws to allow adults who were adopted as children to access their original birth records. Louisiana allows only disclosure of non-identifying medical or genetic information in case the adopted person is in need of an organ or bone marrow transplant from a genetically compatible family member, according to the HB 450’s digest.   

Owen’s bill will be assigned to the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee during the upcoming regular session that begins Monday.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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