New law prompts 600-plus requests for pre-adoption birth certificates
Some wait months for response from state Vital Records Registry
Since a new law took effect in August, the Louisiana Vital Records Registry has processed more than 500 requests for original birth certificates from adults who were adopted as children. (Photo credit: WES MULLER/LOUISIANA ILLUMINATOR)
Since a new law took effect in August, the Louisiana Vital Records Registry has processed more than 500 requests for original birth certificates from adults who were adopted as children. With access to these official documents, they can learn the identity of their birth parents – information that was previously withheld unless adoptees were willing to go through a costly, lengthy court process.
A law the Louisiana Legislature approved earlier this year allows adoptees to obtain uncertified copies of their original birth certificates from the state once they reach age 24. Previously, birth certificates remained sealed indefinitely alongside other adoption records unless an adoptee petitioned a court and could show a compelling reason to unseal it. The process often required spending thousands of dollars on an attorney specializing in adoption law.
As of Nov. 30, Vital Records received 637 requests for pre-adoption birth certificates and processed 519, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, which oversees the registry.
It’s unclear whether the health department’s processed total includes requests that were denied. Department staff did not answer follow-up questions this week.
A 1977 Louisiana law sealed nearly all records in closed adoptions, including the adoptee’s original birth certificate that often contains the identities of their biological parents. When an adoption is finalized, the state issues a new altered birth certificate with the legal fiction that the child was born to their adoptive parents and places the true birth certificate under seal as if it never existed.
The intent of the 1977 law was to protect adoptive families from the stigma of illegitimacy that existed at the time. Today, with views on adoption having changed, those who support keeping the secrecy in place argue it is necessary to protect the anonymity of birth parents.
However, the advent of affordable consumer DNA testing in recent years, through websites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com, has dismantled any possibility or expectation of anonymity. Nearly anyone can track down their biological relatives, even if the individuals they are seeking have never submitted a DNA sample or used an online genealogy service.
The legislation that unsealed the birth certificates, House Bill 450, drew fierce debate among adoptees, anti-abortion groups and others with financial interests in the adoption industry such as adoption agencies. The anti-abortion groups and adoption agencies argued the law might discourage women from giving their babies up for adoption out of fear the child could track them down decades later.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, said those fears were misplaced. An anti-abortion conservative, Owen was adopted as a baby and had no real interest in tracking down or disturbing his biological parents. In fact, it was the other way around for him as his biological mother tracked him down for a reunion when he was 35, he said.
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Owen said adoptees aren’t intruding on the lives of their biological parents. Rather, they just want to know their own history, he said.
Until they are 24, adoptees are the only residents in Louisiana who have no right to access their own vital records.
Vital Records has a web page where adoptees can find the birth certificate application and the instructions on how to complete it. On the same page, there is also a “contact preference” form that biological parents can fill out and indicate whether they prefer to be contacted. Those forms will be given to adoptees who request their birth certificates.
Although Vital Records has processed more than 80% of the requests for pre-adoption birth certificates, some adoptees have taken to social media with complaints about the waiting process and lack of communication from the office.
April Dury, who was adopted when she was 7, said she has been waiting for more than 100 days since she submitted her application to Vital Records with the $15.50 processing fee. She said the office doesn’t acknowledge when it receives the application, and no one ever answers the phone.
“It has been months since I submitted my form, and nothing,” Dury said in a phone interview. “No document and not even any acknowledgment from Vital Records that it’s been received” … “When I call the number, a pre-recorded message says they are back-logged. No human – no help.”
Also, the entire process is done via “snail mail” with only money orders or checks, Dury said.
“It’s so arcane, and money orders are so easily lost or stolen,” she said.
LDH spokesman Kevin Litten said Vital Records has opted to limit payments to money orders or checks because they’re easier to keep track of when attached to an application.
“Vital Records has limited payments to check or money order for fees because many requests require the requestor to submit multiple forms of documentation,” Litten said. “Attaching a check or money order to the documents they provide has proven a more efficient system for tracking all documents submitted, including those reflecting payment.”
Owen said he has been speaking with Vital Records officials at least once a month to get briefings on their work to comply with the new law. The office was initially overwhelmed with requests when the process launched but has since made a lot of progress, he said.
“Adoptees have been waiting their whole lives for this, so they were ready to go by the first of August and Vital Records got a lot of applications all at once,” Owen said.
Registry staff processed only about 40 applications that first month but have since done more than 500, according to Owen.
“They’ve had struggles on the phone,” he said. “They sometimes struggle to communicate with the citizens, but I think they’re trying. I really do.”
Any adoptee who lives in Louisiana and is having problems getting their birth certificate should contact their legislator for help, Owen said, adding that adoptees outside of Louisiana can contact him for assistance with the process.
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