The New York Assembly Health Committee recommended passage today of a bill that would end 83 years of iron-clad secrecy over the birth certificates of adopted persons. The bill, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman David Weprin, would restore a right that New York adoptees once had: the right as adults to request and receive their own pre-adoption birth records.
It is a right that advocates have been working to restore for decades, going back at least to the beginning of the adoptee rights movement in New York in the 1970s.
Governor Cuomo vetoed discriminatory legislation in 2017 that would have continued to restrict the rights of New York adoptees. In his message as part of that veto, Governor Cuomo requested a better bill from the legislature and ordered a state agency workgroup to study the issue and to make recommendations. The Montgomery/Weprin bill, S3419/A5494, came directly out of that process, and a large bipartisan group of legislators now stand behind it.
Almost half of all legislators in the Senate and Assembly, including sixty percent of all New York Assembly members, have signed on to the bill. Pressure is now mounting to do what adoptees have been requesting for decades: pass a bill that restores a right that existed in New York until 1936.
“This legislation is 83 years overdue. New York’s experiment in enforcing eternal secrecy over a person’s own vital record has proven unworkable, discriminatory, and punitive,” said Annette O’Connell, a spokesperson for the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition, a group of state and national adoptee rights organizations working to enact the bill.
The bill, if enacted, would also likely influence how other states approach the issue. While nine states already recognize or have restored the right of adoptees to obtain a copy of their own birth certificates, numerous states continue to consider similar legislation, most recently Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Iowa, and Texas. For the millions of adoptees in the United States, enacting the Montgomery/Weprin bill may prompt those and other states to follow.
“Hundreds of thousands of people were born and adopted in New York and tens of millions of families are linked to adoption,” said Gregory D. Luce, a national expert and the founder of the Adoptee Rights Law Center. “We are asking for leadership from the governor’s office and from the New York legislature on this issue, which is about basic equality—a basic right to know your own heritage and who you are.”