Many Vermont adoptees can't see their original birth certificates. A new law restores access
A new Vermont law will give adopted people the right to obtain their original birth certificates when they turn 18.
That is not the case in much of the country. When a child is adopted, by law, every state issues them a new birth certificate that lists their adoptive parents in place of their birth parents, sometimes without details like where and when they were born. In most states, the original is locked away.
“In Vermont, it’s held in a vault at the Department of Health,” said Ellie Lane of Braintree, an advocate for adoptee rights.
That will change beginning in July 2023, thanks to legislation passed this month that impacts about 30,000 people born in Vermont, according to Christina Shuma, coordinator of the Vermont Adoption Registry, who testified in front of a Vermont House committee earlier this year.
“Everyone else who is born in Vermont is entitled to obtain their own birth certificate. That document belongs to them. And our original birth certificates belong to us, too.”
It upends laws going back to the 1940s.
“It was a very shameful secret in those days,” said Rebekah Henson of White River Junction, who’s been involved in adoptee advocacy for most of her life.
That legacy still defines policies across much of the country. In all but 10 other states, adopted people have limited or no way to obtain their original birth certificates without a court order. (Bills to change this are under consideration in Massachusetts and Louisiana.)
“We are the only class of people that are subject to these codified laws that keep us locked out of our own basic identity,” Henson said.
For her, obtaining an accurate birth certificate is a civil right.
“It comes down to the fact that my birth certificate is mine," Henson said. “It's the true reflection of how I entered the world. That’s information that — you don’t really understand what it’s like to live without that until you have.”
It’s also about equality, says Ellie Lane, the advocate from Braintree.
“Everyone else who is born in Vermont is entitled to obtain their own birth certificate," she said. "That document belongs to them. And our original birth certificates belong to us, too.”
Lane said issues facing adopted people have gained more attention in recent weeks, after the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion that would upend abortion access in much of the U.S.
“It is a moment for adopted people to have our voices heard,” she said. “I also really hope that we can start to have a broader conversation about how complicated adoption really is for the people who live it for their whole lives.”
Lexi Krupp is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.
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