The following is the written testimony of Adoptee Rights Law Center PLLC in favor of Louisiana HB450, submitted to the Senate Judiciary A Committee, which is hearing the bill on May 24. More information about the bill and what it does is available through Adoptees United Inc.
May 23, 2022
The Honorable Barrow Peacock
Chair, Senate Judiciary A Committee
900 North 3rd Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
RE: YES on HB450 as Passed by the House
Dear Chairman Peacock and Members of the Committee:
I am the executive director of Adoptees United Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to equality for all adopted people, and an attorney and the founder of Adoptee Rights Law Center, a law firm where I represent adult adopted people. I am considered a national expert on issues related to adult adopted people and their rights to identity, heritage, and citizenship. I write to you personally, on behalf of hundreds of thousands adopted people in Louisiana and across the country, and in my capacity as an attorney. I am asking that you report HB450, as introduced, favorably out of committee.
Normally I write about relatively mundane legal issues surrounding birth records, particularly original birth records of adopted people. But in watching prior proceedings in this matter it appears that many Louisiana elected officials already “get” this issue: it is one about fairness to a person whose own record is at stake: the adopted person. More importantly, as Rep. Allan Seabaugh and others pointed out during House proceedings, there can be no alleged “state promise” of anonymity of birthparents when the vital record is 1) not their own; and 2) no such promise existed. As Louisiana law has developed over time, no such “promises” existed for Louisianans, particularly those adopted prior to 1978.
If there is one thing I hope to get across to you and the committee it is this: if the state continues to enforce a non-existent promise of anonymity, such an approach actually undermines birthparent privacy (which is far different from anonymity), incentivizes the use of other effective tools (most prominently DNA testing), and makes the entire situation worse for all persons and families involved (by spreading personal information across generations). This is best shown by the attached illustrations. In the first one, the adopted person requests his or her own original birth record at age 24—as proposed in HB450—and he or she receives it in a few weeks. That’s it.
The adopted person may do nothing with that single piece of paper, other than to confirm information already known. Or the adopted person may seek to find out more information about parents listed on the record and, increasingly, adoptees discover that their birthparents are deceased. But they are not forced to contact multiple family members across generations to identify a birthparent, often asking very personal questions, such as “do you know someone in the family who relinquished a child for adoption in 1968.”
That is what the second illustration shows, and it is the result of incentivizing the most effective tool left to adoptees who are not provided their own birth record on request: consumer DNA testing.
As you can see from the illustration—which is something I have witnessed multiple times in representing adult adopted people—DNA tests often lead to second or third cousin matches. These matches are then contacted through 23andMe or ancestry.com (or any number of companies) and are asked about the biological connection to the adoptee. From there, multiple family members get involved, as it becomes a genealogical mystery to solve, a mystery played out millions of times every day within a multi-billion dollar genealogical industry. Indeed, as a search angel testified by affidavit in just one of my court cases:
Through contacting other top matches, [the adoptee] has gained additional biological relatives. We do not fully know the precise relationship between them yet but future efforts will require multiple contacts across an entire family line, with many others in that family also making their own contacts and inquiries. It will result, as it always does with DNA registries, with numerous birth relatives of various connections making inquiries about a relative who may have surrendered a child to adoption in 1975.
Currently, three of [the adoptee’s] birth relatives are actively searching for the family connections, and I have contacted well over 200 people trying to determine how [the adoptee] fits in with her biological family. There is no anonymity in this process, as DNA results and people’s information is listed publicly in databases or on social media—matches and their relatives are therefore easily contacted through email, messaging, Facebook, or by phone.
Incentivizing DNA as a tool to “out” birthparents is the wrong approach. It makes an adoptee’s simple request for basic information on their own birth record more public, more widely shared, and less private for all involved, including the adoptee. HB450 does what is fair: making the right to your own birth record a right enjoyed by all Louisianans, not just those who were never adopted. What an adoptee does with that record is up to them, but possessing that single piece of paper does not lead to the widespread publication of information, which is what occurs without that right.
I ask you to support HB450 as passed by the House of Representatives. It is fair, equitable, and by far the best approach to this important issue.
ADOPTEE RIGHTS LAW CENTER PLLC
Gregory D. Luce