New Pennsylvania law allows adoptees access to birth records

A new Pennsylvania adoption law allows adoptees to access their original birth certificates.

An important new law went into effect in Pennsylvania on November 3, 2017 that will have a significant impact on the rights of adoptees throughout the state. According to the Allentown Morning Call, beginning on that date adoptees original birth certificates will be unsealed. The change is a significant one for adoption law in the state and one that came about after much debate. While proponents of the new law say sealing adoption records denied adoptees important information about their heritage and medical history, opponents claimed unsealing the records would jeopardize the privacy rights of parents who put their children up for adoption.

What changes with the new law?

Prior to November 3, adoptees who wanted to see their original birth certificate needed a court order in order to do so, which could be difficult and expensive to obtain. With the new law, however, adoptees only need to fill out an application with the Department of Health and pay a $20 filing fee. The adoptee should have his or her application processed within 45 days. Children and grandchildren of adoptees can also file the application; however, adoptive parents and sibling are not allowed to.

To protect the privacy rights of the biological parents, the law allows them to have their names redacted from the original birth certificates. However, if the biological parent does not want to be contacted by the adoptee then they must still fill out a medical history report that will be shared with the adoptee. The biological parents are also permitted to give a preference about whether or not they want to be contacted by the adoptee and to appoint a third party that the adoptee can contact in lieu of the biological parent.

Controversy over unsealing records

There was a fair bit of controversy before the law was finally passed. Proponents argued that sealing adoption records violated the rights of adoptees, who often had no way of knowing what their medical history was. That was especially stressful for those with chronic illnesses for whom knowledge of their medical history may have been useful in their treatment. According to the Philly Voice, prior to the law's passing about 90,000 birth records in the state were sealed, mostly for adoptions.

Opponents, however, contended that parents who put their children up for adoption had a right to expect that their identities would be protected in the future. Some opponents also argued that if mothers were fearful that their identities would eventually be revealed to their biological children then some of them may be more likely to abort the fetus instead of putting the child up for adoption. However, the final law does try to address many of those privacy concerns.

Adoption law help

Pennsylvania's adoption laws are notoriously complex, which is why anybody who has an adoption-related issue should talk to an experienced attorney for help. Whether it is the biological parents, the adoptive parents, or the adoptee, each party during and after an adoption has their own rights and interests. An attorney can help clients understand what those rights are and how to go about protecting and advocating for them.