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From left, Mike Cason, Daszia Williams and Beverly Young, all from the Computer Center, go over how the new voting monitors operate that are on the upper left corner of each desk in the House of Representatives chamber, Monday Jan. 31, 2022, in Baton Rouge, La. The legislative special session on political redistricting begins at 5 p.m. on Tuesday Feb.1st.

A proposal that would allow adoptees in Louisiana to obtain an uncertified copy of their original birth certificate at the age of 24 cleared its first legislative hurdle on Monday.

Under existing law, adoptees are barred from viewing their original birth certificate – which includes names of their birth mother and birth father – unless they’re able to convince the courts that there’s a compelling reason to unseal the records.

But state Rep. Charles Owen, a Rosepine Republican and adoptee who last year tried – and failed – to get access to his own birth certificate, said it’s unfair for the government to withhold a record about him from him.

“This is a liberty and freedom thing, for me,” Owen said.

House Bill 450, sponsored by Owen, would allow adoptees that are at least 24 years old to obtain a copy of their birth certificate from the state register of vital records without having to petition the court. It advanced Monday out of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure without objection and now heads to the full House for debate.

The measure faced opposition from anti-abortion groups, who argued that without the presumption that birth records will remain confidential, mothers may resort to abortion over adoption.

At Monday’s hearing, Jeanette Livingston, chair of the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board, Inc., urged lawmakers to view the legislation through the lens of adoptees – not birth parents.

She said when she relinquished her child to adoption, there was no promise of lifelong anonymity.

“We love our children, and we want them to know where they came from and where they started,” Livingston said.

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Another birth mother who chose adoption, Karen Babin, said the birth certificates “belong” to adult adoptees “and to no one else.”

When an adoption is finalized in Louisiana, a new birth certificate is created with the adopted parent’s information. The original birth certificate is kept under seal.

Several lawmakers questioned whether the proposal would lead to “unwanted reunions” between birth mothers and adoptees. But with the proliferation of services like Ancestry.com and 23andMe – which allow users to submit DNA samples to discover relatives – that “door is already open,” noted state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport.

Elise Bateman-Lewis, a supporter of HB450 who was adopted in Louisiana, said that when an adoptee uploads their DNA to an ancestry mapping service, “everybody and their brother will find out” who their birth mother was. She said the legislative proposal allows two adults – an adoptee and their birth mother – to have a private conversation, out of public view.

“If you’re worried about a mother who isn’t in a position to have a relationship or be in contact, this is the best possible protection,” Bateman-Lewis said.

Louisiana’s adoption records weren’t always off-limits. It wasn’t until 1977 that the state Legislature passed its closed adoption law that placed birth certificates under seal.

The law was changed to protect adoptees – not their birth parents – from the social stigma of being labeled a “bastard” or exposing their adopted parents as infertile, according to Bateman-Lewis, who cited research from University of Baltimore Law Professor Elizabeth Samuels.

In opposing the measure, Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said that the change could push more people towards abortion. 

Owen countered that Alabama, which allowed adoptees to view their birth records beginning in 2002, has seen a steeper decline in abortions over the last two decades than Louisiana.

“If I had thought for one second that this had anything to do with abortion, I would not have touched it,” Owen said, describing himself as a “staunch member of the life movement.”

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater