A once clean Iowa bill is going bad. I oppose it, and I have called on others to voice similar opposition, including an action alert that will be out in the morning. The immediate problem with the bill is an anticipated amendment in both legislative chambers, each one adding statutory redaction rights for birthparents—i.e., the ability to request and receive the power to alter another person’s original birth certificate. Tucked into the bill, however, is another issue that may not play out as expected and will likely lead to confusion and potential lawsuits. And that is this: who exactly is entitled to the adult adopted person’s original birth certificate? The bill says the adopted person at age 18, which is obvious enough. But it also gives the same right to an “entitled person.” Who’s entitled? That’s a bit unclear.
The bill defines an “entitled person” as follows:
For the purposes of this section, ‘entitled person’ means the spouse of the adult adopted person or an adult related to the adult adopted person within the second degree of consanguinity.
Consanguinity is a fancy term meaning “by blood.” It generally denotes “persons descended from the same stock or common ancestor.” The combined terms of “second degree” and “consanguinity” mean those who are siblings, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren. Read as written, the bill means an entitled person must be a spouse or a biological sister, brother, child, grandchild, grandparent, or parent. That is, all those people are entitled to a copy of the adopted person’s original birth certificate—and no one else, other than the adult adopted person. Further, the OBC is available upon request while the adult adopted person is still alive (subject to redaction if expected amendments are added) . I don’t know if this is the intent, and the bill’s explanation sheds no light on any interpretation. Courts are loath to add language that is not there and will presume that legislators mean what they say and write exactly what they mean. As written, the bill operates to eliminate legal descendants and ancestors from any entitlement to request the adopted person’s OBC. That may or may not be a good thing, as I know of no other state law that allows your adoptive brother or sister to get your OBC while you are still alive, at least not without your consent.
Iowa is not the only state messing around with “free for all” OBCs. One group in New York has advocated for adoptive parents to get the OBC while the adoptee is still a minor, plus print the adoptive parent names and date of adoption on the document. That’s in addition to giving the OBC to descendants while the adopted person is still alive and kicking (this is not something non-adopted people get in New York). And then there’s Maine, which is trying to eliminate the OBC altogether and has so far unsuccessfully tried to introduce a bill that would either 1) create a new legal certificate of parentage in addition to the OBC, or 2) create a new “integrated” certificate that contains the names of all parents, legal and biological, and would cross out the adopted person’s birth name while substituting “new data immediately above or to the side thereof.”
But Iowa’s bill is a bad bill for one primary reason: it creates a birthparent right that never existed and that was extinguished upon parental relinquishment of rights. Worse, for adoptees who were formerly in foster care on account of childhood abuse or other good reason, it resurrects new power and an undeserved right over the adoptee to control the adoptee’s own identity and vital record.
But it is also flawed in an overlooked provision that won’t be resolved if the bill gets enacted as written, whether clean or dirty. And that is, who actually gets the OBC? Practically everyone in the family, including the family dog? And which “family”—birth or adopted?
Good luck with that. Iowans, whether adopted or not, do not deserve redaction. Adopted persons also deserve a clean and clear bill that sets out rights definitively and doesn’t create new rights that never existed before.