Adult adoptees in most of the advanced,
industrialized nations of the world have unrestricted access to
their original birth records as a matter of right. In contrast,
adult adoptees in all but four states in the U.S. are forbidden
access to their own original birth certificates. Archaic, Depression-Era
laws created “amended” birth certificates, which replace
the names of the adoptee's biological parents with those of the
adoptive parents, and frequently falsify other birth information
as well. The original records are permanently sealed in most states
by laws largely passed after World War II, a legacy of the culture
of shame which stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth, and
In Scotland, adoptee records have been open since 1930, and in
England since 1975. Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, South Korea,
Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela are only a few of the many nations
which do not prevent adult adoptees from accessing their own birth
Why are they still sealed in most of the U.S.?
Well-funded lobbies representing certain adoption agencies and
lawyers have a vested interest in keeping adoptee records closed.
They are working in several states to pass a Uniform Adoption Act
that would keep adoptees' birth records sealed for ninety-nine years
and in some instances criminalize searching for one's biological
relatives. These special interest groups would continue to deprive
adult adoptees of their rights, presumably to prevent the disclosure
of controversial past practices (baby-selling, coercion, fraud),
which are now hidden by state-sanctioned secrecy.
While many adoptees search for their biological relatives to discover
the answers to questions regarding medical history and family heritage,
all adoptees should be able to exercise their right to obtain the
original government documents of their births and adoptions whether
they choose to search or not. At stake are the civil and human rights
of millions of American citizens. To continue to abrogate these
rights is to perpetuate the stigmatization of illegitimacy and adoption,
and the relegation of an entire class of citizens to second-class
For everyone else, it's “Vital Statistics”—for
adoptees, it's “None of your business.”
All Americans, adopted or not, have a right to access government
records about their own lives.
Please join us in our fight to restore adoptee dignity and equality!