Senate Bill 799, now ready for a vote by the New Jersey Senate, would eliminate an important privacy for birth mothers — a privacy that is a covenant between the mothers and the state that has been protected by law for decades.
Groups supporting S-799 have continually made misstatements and misrepresentations about New Jersey’s adoption law. These groups claim that New Jersey’s adoption law only protects the adopted child. That claim is wrong. New Jersey’s adoption law protects all of the parties: the child, the birth parents and the adopting parents.
The Catholic Church has provided adoption services in New Jersey for well over a century. The New Jersey Catholic Conference has long supported mutual consent reunions and the sharing of health information between adoptees and birth parents. Indeed, Catholic Charity Agencies provide adoptees with information about their social background and health histories even in instances when they are unable to facilitate a reunion.
Superior Court Judge Philip Gruccio, in Mills v. Atlantic City Department of Vital Statistics, 148 N.J. Super. 302 (Ch. Div. 1977), explained that the purpose of New Jersey’s Adoption Act is to protect the interest of all three parties: the child, adoptive parents and birth parents. The law as it now exists assures birth parents that the intensely private and emotional decision to place their child for adoption will not become public knowledge.
The adopting parents, too, are granted confidentiality by the law since they take into their home the child of others to raise – and love - as their own, and, in Judge Gruccio’s words, “the State has an active interest in protecting and nurturing the growing family relationship it has statutorily created.” We must remember that thousands of birth mothers placed their children for adoption through the New Jersey courts in reliance on this statutory assurance of privacy.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference is working with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey State Bar Association, and the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry to support a simple and fair approach to this very sensitive issue. Our coalition supports sensible and compassionate legislation that would take into consideration the interests of all parties.
The foundation of such a system is an effective mutual consent registry established by the state to provide adoptees with access to their birth parents’ medical history and to link birth parents and adult adopted persons when the parties have requested and consented to such a reunion. This mutual consent registry system would use qualified individuals and agencies to function as intermediaries to attempt to locate adopted persons and birth parents. In the case in which a birth parent is unwilling to reunite, the intermediary would attempt to obtain family and medical history for the adoptee.
It is time for those trying to end the privacy of birth mothers to tell the truth: New Jersey’s adoption law protects all three parties – adoptees, birth parents and adopting parents.
Patrick R. Brannigan is Executive Director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference which represents the Archdiocese of Newark, Diocese of Camden, Diocese of Metuchen, Diocese of Paterson, Diocese of Trenton, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic and Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese.