What’s the Story? The Missouri General Assembly passed House Bill 1599, the Missouri Adoptee Right Act in 2016, which will allow adult adoptees 18 or older to acquire their original birth certificate beginning Jan. 2, 2018.
Why does this matter to me? Adoptees who want their birth certificates can now get them to find out the names of their birth parents to reconnect or find out their family’s medical history. For birth parents who still want to maintain their privacy, there are provisions that allow them to get their name redacted from the adoptee’s birth certificate.
Blue Springs resident Andrea Hewitt was adopted as a child.
She was able to meet with her birth mother through FosterAdopt Connect, but still doesn’t have any information on her biological father.
Once she heard that the Missouri House of Representatives was having a hearing on House Bill 1599 two years ago, she decided to go to Jefferson City to testify. That bill would allow adult adoptees 18 and older to be able to able to obtain their original birth certificate as long as they were born in Missouri.
At that time, the bill did not pass. But during the 2016 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly passed the bill, the Missouri Adoptee Right Act. Now Hewitt – as well as other adult adoptees – will be able to obtain her original birth certificate beginning Jan. 2.
“I think people underestimate the emotional toll being an adoptee, especially a private adoption” Hewitt said. “Foster care can cause trauma. I don’t think they connect the dot that the first bond you have as an adoptee is taken away. I think it’s really important to know your roots. And that’s something I look forward to knowing.”
In the 1940s, confidentiality for the biological parents was a part of any adoption. The women usually delivered the child, signed paperwork and moved on with their lives. Adoptions were closed in 1941 and original birth certificates that had the names of the original birth parents printed on them were sealed, and could only be released by the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records if there was a court order from the state registrar to do so.
It has been that way for 76 years, but will come to an end at the beginning of next year. Adult adoptees will be able to request their original birth certificate without a court order through the Bureau of Vital Records. Adoptees can obtain the forms to fill out to get a birth certificate by calling 573-751-6387, sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting the website health.mo.gov/data/vitalrecords/adopteerightsact.php .
“I am a big advocate for adopted children to have access to their original birth certificates,” FosterAdopt Connect president and CEO Lori Ross said. “Adoption is a change in the job of parenting but it doesn’t change that connection between that child and their birth parent. They have the right to that connection, and when they are adults they have the right to make that choice.”
Printed on the certified copy is: “For genealogical purposes only – not to be used for establishing identity.” In addition to being older than 18 and having to have been born in Missouri, an adoptee must file a written application and provide proof of identification to the state registrar. Those who were born before 1941 can obtain their original birth certificate before Jan. 2.
Some of the arguments against passing House Bill 1599 was that it would take away the privacy of the birth parents. There is a provision in there for them, as well. A birth parent can contact the vital records bureau and file a contact preference form to accompany the birth certificate. The options are:
• I would like to be contacted.
• I prefer to be contacted by a intermediary.
• I prefer not to be contacted.
If the birth parent chooses the latter option, their name will be redacted from the original birth certificate, but an original copy of the certificate with their name on it can be released upon their death. The request must also occur before the adoptee requests a birth certificate. The biological parents, at any time, can fill out a medical history form with the state registrar and request that their medical information to be released, that they prefer it not be released or just state that there is no medical history of any significance.
“We believe adoptees and birth parents need to be informed (about the bill),” said Ashley Wohlgemuth, the director of support and education for Catholic Charities. “It is their right if they're an adoptee to request their birth certificate. But it’s also the right of the birth parent to not want that information to be communicated. If (the birth parent) was told at a specific time that their information was confidential and they still want that to be the case, we want to help them get an opportunity to respond. We’re all volunteering to help spread the message.”
However, if a birth parent indicates that they do not wish to be contacted, the adopted person is allowed to have access to a copy of the medical history form with the identifying information of the birth parent removed.
That aspect was one big selling point for those voting on the bill. If an adoptee acquires their original birth certificate and finds out who their birth parents are, they could get information about their family medical history or find a potential match for a possible organ transplant.
“I had some concerns regarding the bill,” said State Rep. Rory Rowland, who represents District 29 and voted in favor of the bill. “This overwrote the right of the birth parent to have a sealed adoption.
“The most compelling reason for me to vote for it was the health related issues and debates on the floor. Imagine if you were someone who needed a kidney or a liver and you’re not having a match. And you’re wondering if there is somebody out there in the world that’s a biological or related person who could do that.”
Other arguments included that the times have changed drastically since the old law went into effect in 1941. With the internet, adoptees have much easier access to find out who their birth parents are on their own.
“It was a much different culture in the 1940s than it is now,” Ross said. “You can expect to be found easily by anyone now, no matter what your circumstances are because of the internet. There is no such thing as a private adoption anymore. It’s unhealthy for anyone.
“I don’t think any (birth parent) that is 80 or 90 years old is going to get upset because someone is requesting their original birth certificate. If they are, too bad. Why is their right more important than their child to have access to their history and whatever else they might need.
“I am excited Missouri is taking this step forward. It’s about time.”
State Rep. Jeanie Lauer of District 32, who helped spearhead the bill, agreed.
“There is a demand from the adoptees to have that right,” she said. “We’ve had adoptees, the birth parents and the adopting parent show interest in this bill passing. It was quite cumbersome to get it before because you had to go to a judge and provide documentation and so forth. It was a complicated process. It’s more acceptable now for adoptees to find their parents now.”