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Law plans to unseal thousands of previously sealed birth certificates of adopted Arkansans

Shane Carter, his adoptive mother, legislators and Governor Asa Hutchinson gather at the Capitol for the signing of HB 1636, a bill to open previously sealed birth certificates of adopted Arkansans. (Photo: Office of the Governor Asa Hutchinson)

A bill signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson last week will give thousands of adults adopted as children in Arkansas access to their original birth certificates, documents that were previously sealed.

While many may know Shane Carter as the spokesperson for Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, what few know is that Carter has spent the last several years crafting legislation to help adoptees like himself gain access to their original birth certificates in the hopes of learning more about their family medical history.

"My parents were very open about it," said Carter, commenting that he's known he was adopted since a very young age.

"But about five years ago, I started needing more information. I started having some health issues and I just had no where to go - I absolutely had no health history."

All Carter's adoptive parents were given was a picture of him and a small synopsis of his eating and sleeping habits as a young baby.

When Carter began to search for more information, a state agency was able to provide him with limited details about his birth parents, an idea of the circumstances surrounding the reason he was given up for adoption, he even learned that he had a biological sister - big news for Carter who grew up as an only child.

Unfortunately the identity of Carter's biological parents remained under seal, hence his family medical history remained unknown as well.

Carter had done research about other states opening their previously sealed birth certificates from closed adoptions. He got in touch with an organization that helped pass similar legislation in Ohio, helping him craft a bill to try to make law here in Arkansas.

Around that time, Carter became friendly with State Representative Deborah Ferguson of West Memphis who became interested in trying to help Carter. Ferguson introduced Carter to State Rep. Chris Richey of Helena-West Helena, a proud father of two adopted kids, to help sponsor House Bill 1636.

The bill establishes the right of adoptees to request access to their original birth certificate after the age of 21.

"Understanding the importance of having their biological medical history was important for our family," said Rep. Richey. "I wanted to give that same opportunity to other adoptees around the state."

Carter's bill passed both the house and senate without dissent on either side, much to do with the bill's provision to allow birth parents up to a year to decide if they would like to redact their name from the original birth certificate to maintain their anonymity. While the bill helps protect birth parents, it also requires those who choose to redact their names to provide the state with a family medical history to provide to a requesting adoptee.

"It's about the right to information, it's not about a right to a relationship," said Carter.

HB 1636 was signed into law by Governor Hutchinson last Thursday; both Carter and his adoptive mother were on hand to see it happen. Carter said he wished his adoptive father, who died in January, was also on hand for the bill's signing. Carter's father has acted as his "private investigator" - trying to find out as much as possible about his son's biological parents.

Since the bill didn't have an emergency clause, the law goes in effect in July, making adult adoptees wait a year before requesting their original birth certificate. Parents who give their children up for adoption in the future will have until the child turns 21 to decide if they would rather redact their name from the original birth certificate and provide a family medical history.

According to 2010 Census data, more than 20,000 adopted children were living at home with their adoptive families in Arkansas. Carter said there are likely hundreds of thousands like him though who were adopted as children but now live on their own.

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