Time is running out for thousands of New Jersey birth parents to protect their anonymity from the children they gave up for adoption.
A state law takes effect Sunday that will let adoptees obtain their original birth certificates without court intervention. As many as 300,000 children who were given up for adoption could be affected.
Birth parents have until Saturday to have their names removed in order to maintain their privacy.
So far, 287 birth parents have requested to have their names redacted, said Dawn Thomas, a state Department of Health spokeswoman. Birth certificate requests have been filed by 821 adoptees, she said.
"We are trying to get the word out as much as possible," Thomas said. The state has notified local and national adoption agencies and community groups, she said.
But others worry that birth parents may be unaware of the new law or may have moved out of the state. The state privacy form must be postmarked by Saturday.
"The government made a promise that now they are not keeping at all," said Assemblywoman Patricia Jones (D., Camden). "These people gave up babies quickly, thinking they were going to be anonymous forever."
Jones said her office received inquires from several birth parents who were "dramatically upset and concerned" about possibly having their identities revealed. The law applies to adoptions finalized before Aug. 1, 2015.
For years, access to birth certificates was restricted, to shield birth parents and the children at a time when there was a stigma attached to unwed parents and unwanted pregnancies.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference has been spreading the word about the new law through churches and set up a help line for birth parents to call for assistance.
"There are lot of questions from the birth mothers. They are distraught," James King, who heads the Office for Social Concerns, said Wednesday. "They just don't know what is going to happen."
King said the office has fielded calls from a few fathers and adoptees as well as women in their 80s who put their children up for adoption more than 60 years ago.
The church supports reunions between birth parents and adoptees "as long as there is mutual consent," he said.
A birth parent can choose not to be contacted, or to be contacted directly by an adoptee or through an intermediary such as a lawyer or minister. In order to file the form, the birth parent must provide a family history, which includes medical and cultural history.
Birth parents who choose to have their names redacted can reverse that decision at any time and make their identities known.
Gov. Christie signed the New Jersey Adoptees' Birthright Bill into law in May 2014. It had been championed for three decades by adoptees and their advocates.
The New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education fought to open the records, arguing that adults should know about their birth parents and have access to family medical histories.
The group plans to hold a celebration Jan. 9 at the Statehouse to mark implementation of the law.
"I'm thrilled beyond words," spokeswoman Pam Hasegawa said. "I know it is going to mean a whole lot to so many people - birth parents and adoptive people."
New Jersey joins 19 other states in providing adoptees access to their birth records. A similar measure takes effect in Pennsylvania at the end of 2017.
Birth parents of children adopted on or after Aug. 1, 2015, cannot seek to have their identifying information redacted.
In those cases, long-form birth certificates will be available and birth parents will be permitted to submit an information statement electing their preferred method of personal contact with the children they had put up for adoption.
For more information on the new adoption law, call 609-292-4087 or visit www.state.nj.us/health