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New York Adoptees Call Access To Birth Certificates A Basic Right

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - Adoptee rights advocates are urging New York lawmakers to pass legislation allowing adopted people to get unrestricted access to their birth certificates when they turn 18.

"Why should we be treated any differently than anyone else?" asked Annette O'Connell, spokesperson for the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition.

Adoptees say it's a matter of equal rights, but opponents of the measure worry about birth parents' rights to privacy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill in 2017, which he said would create a cumbersome process to search for birth parents. The governor then called on the state health department to form a working group to propose a "cleaner" bill. The resulting legislation, which has broad bipartisan support, cleared a vote in the Assembly's health committee Tuesday. The same measure is pending in the state Senate.

Current state law requires adoptees to petition a court and show just cause why they should be allowed a copy of their original birth certificate.

"It's discriminatory; it's profiling sometimes, quite frankly," said O'Connell. "They're worried about the birth mother's privacy like the big bad wolf is going to come and huff and puff and blow her house down. The state doesn't interfere with anyone contacting anyone else, so this for us, for the coalition it's (about) equality, it's equal rights, it's treating us the same."

The proposed New York legislation mentions giving adoptees the potential to learn about their birth family's medical history, but O'Connell said it's also about the personal right to understand one's background.

"It's important to know where you came from; it's important to know your roots," she said. "So many adoptees don't even know what hospital they were born in, what time of day they were born, how much they weighed."

Nine states allow unrestricted access to birth certificates.  Twenty-two states allow access with some restrictions.