Access to restored original birth certificates

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BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship School News Service) — Living nearly seven decades without any information about her birth, Rebecca Browning never thought she would learn more about her origin.

Now, thanks to a bill passed in the 2022 legislative session, Browning can access a key to its past.

Bill 450, now Bill 470, went into effect on Monday and allows adoptees aged 24 or older to get a copy of their original birth certificate.

Browning was adopted at six months old by Catholic Charities in New Orleans. She grew up in Baton Rouge and remembers a fairytale life spent playing in the garden with her sister, dancing with her parents in the living room and roasting marshmallows in the fireplace.

Although Browning adored her adoptive parents and her life, she is excited to learn more about the parts of her life left unanswered.

“I think everyone has a divine right to know where their journey began,” Browning said. Referring to her biological parents, she added: “I would like to know their names, and I would like to know what my name was and exactly where I was born.”

Prior to 1977, an adoptee could obtain their original birth certificate in Louisiana without any hindrance. But lawmakers concerned about the privacy of birth parents passed a law then sealing the original birth certificate of an adopted person after a final decree of adoption and saying it could only be opened by court order.

Law No. 470 creates a simplified procedure, allowing an adopted person to request a copy of their original birth certificate from the vital records without the costly burden of going to court.

The law also allows renouncing parents to file a contact preference form, included in the adoptee’s request for their original birth certificate, specifying whether they wish to be contacted.

Several bills mirroring House Bill 450 have been introduced in the Legislative Assembly in the past, but have failed to become law.

The new law, drafted by Rep. Charles Owen, R-Fort Polk, received majority votes in both houses and survived hours-long debates in committee hearings.

Some lawmakers have expressed concern that the bill violates the privacy of birth parents and opens the door to unwanted meetings.

Getting the bill through the Legislature was a task that Elise Lewis, a lead advocate for the Louisiana Coalition for Adoption Reform, described as a marathon.

“It’s not like we walked in saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be a piece of cake,'” Lewis said. “We worked very hard and spent many hours talking to lawmakers and answering questions from lawmakers.”

Jeanette Livingston, president of the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board, worked alongside Lewis to advocate for the bill.

Livingston, sharing her perspective as a mother who waived her rights over her child, stressed that the bill was about adult adoptees who deserved to know more about themselves and not about the birth parents.

“I really think they needed to hear our perspective,” Livingston said. “It should be a personal choice for the adoptee.”

Lewis, who was adopted herself, thinks the new law solves a huge inequity for adoptees trying to access something as simple as a birth certificate.

“To me, just having that birth certificate, seeing all the information on it, is the truth,” Lewis said. “It’s your truth. This is your start. I think everyone has a right to the truth about their origins, plain and simple.

Although a person’s birthplace and birth name may seem like basic information, it is invaluable information for adoptees like Browning.

Browning described growing up wondering where she was born and what traits she inherited from her biological parents.

“When you’re adopted, you think to yourself, ‘Where am I from, you know, and sometimes you think about who I look like,'” Browning said.

Lewis, who works as a genealogist, knows firsthand how interested people are in knowing where they come from and whether they are descended from pioneers or royalty, for example.

“If an unadopted person finds it super important to know these things, that’s even more so for an adopted person because they don’t know anything,” Lewis said. “So to have the ability to access the document that records our birth, that contains our truths, is mind-boggling.”

Louisiana is the 11th state to pass legislation restoring the right of adoptees to access their original birth certificates, and Lewis hopes the state will set an example for its neighbors.

“It’s a chance for Louisiana to shine,” Lewis said. “We’re hoping Mississippi and Texas will look and say, ‘Wow, look what Louisiana did, that’s awesome. Let’s treat adopted people the same way.

Eager to fill in the gaps from her past, Browning has already sent in a birth certificate request and is thrilled to know that other adoptees can have a full understanding of who they are.

“When I was filling out the paperwork a week ago to send it to Vital Records, I cried,” Browning said. “There were so many emotions that it was going to happen, and we would feel like we were coming from someone, and we would know who they were, and that was very exciting.”


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