Minnesota must unseal original birth records for adoptees beginning July 2024
About 2,000 children are placed for adoption in Minnesota every year. When a new law takes effect next year, the Minnesota Department of Health says more than 85% of the birth records it has on file will be released to those 18 and older who want it.
MDH currently has about 172,000 original birth records dating back to the year 1900.
At two weeks old, Alexis Oberdorfer was placed for adoption in Illinois. Her adoptive parents eventually moved to Minnesota where she was raised. Oberdorfer began searching for her birth parents at age 18, and when she found the name of her birth mom, her request for contact was declined.
“I will be perfectly honest. It was — it was painful. It was hard. But I also had to stop and process that a little bit of, she had her own story,” Oberdorfer said.
Oberdorfer is now an adoptive parent herself and a social service professional. Like Alexis, many adoptees want to know the story behind their birth parents.
Beginning in July, adoptees born in Minnesota can get a copy of their birth records which show their name at birth and the place of birth, the names of their biological parents along with some additional details.
“This is a really important piece of legislation to just allow adoptees to have the same rights that we all do, which is the right to our own vital records,” said Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley.
Sen. Maye Quade helped author the new law and says it’s taking effect at a time when most people don’t do closed adoptions anymore anyway.
“I don’t think it’ll have much bearing on whether someone decides to place a child for adoption or not,” Maye Quade said.
MDH has made a new form available online which will give past and future birth parents the option of whether they want to be contacted and how they would like to be contacted. Regardless of the contact preference from birth parents, adopted people can still get a copy of their original birth records and they can still initiate contact with their birth parents once the law takes effect.
Adoption lawyer Brittany Shively told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the change can be jarring for birth parents who have valid reasons to hide their identity.
“I think some of the specific concerns are that number one is retroactive. Up until now, birth parents have made a plan, assuming that that information was going to be confidential unless they had indicated otherwise,” said Shively.
While Shively says most adoptions are open, there is a small percentage of cases where parents still want it to remain closed.
“Maybe it was the pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault, or maybe they are part of a community or a family in which adoption isn’t as accepted,” she explained.
Shively also notes that the new law allows the adoptee’s immediate family to get access to their birth records if the adoptee has died.
Oberdorfer says as of now, she doesn’t want to open that door without her birth mom’s consent.
“It has a potential of return traumatizing her. And I’m not sure that that’s going to get me where I want to be,” said Oberdorfer. “She had her own narrative and the set of circumstances under which she made a decision for greater aspirations for my life and her own based off of where she was at.”
According to MDH, birth parents previously had the option to submit an affidavit of disclosure or nondisclosure to provide or restrict an adopted person’s access to their original birth record. MDH has about 17,350 affidavits on file. Of that number, only 1,500 are nondisclosure affidavits.