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If You’re Adopted, What Can The State Tell You About Your Birth?

Suburban wooden row houses and American flag in Brooklyn, New York City

The United States is home to an estimated six million people who’ve been adopted.

At the moment, the state an American lives in dictates what they can and cannot know about their birth parents.

Now, more than a dozen states are looking at new laws to make it easier for people to access their pre-adoption birth records. Some proposed laws have already been struck down.

Morning Edition and Up First host Steve Inskeep wrote about his experience in The New York Times:

My parents told me early that I was adopted, but that was all they knew. Indiana, like most states, practiced closed adoption, meaning birth families and adoptive families were allowed no identifying information about each other. Secrecy was considered best for all concerned. In recent decades, open adoption has been replacing this practice, but rules governing past adoptions change slowly, and I was barred from seeing my birth records. Everything I just told you about my biological parents was unknown to me growing up; they were such a blank that I could not even imagine what they might be like.

About 2 percent of U.S. residents — roughly six million people — are adoptees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A majority were adopted domestically, with records frequently sealed, especially for older adoptees. Gregory Luce, a lawyer who tracks adoption laws, reports that only nine states allow adoptees unrestricted access to birth records. Indiana is among those that have begun to allow it under certain conditions, while 19 states and the District of Columbia still permit nothing without a court order. California and Florida remain closed; Texas surrenders a birth certificate only if you prove you already know what it says. If my biological mother had stopped in a different state back in 1968, I might know nothing today.

Why are some laws being considered while others fail? And what’s the rationale for keeping adoptees who want to know about their births in the dark?

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