Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (R) addresses both Senate and House Legislators on the first day of the Regular Session, March 15, 2022. Photo credit: Courtesy of Louisiana House of Representatives Twitter page

Adoption bill passes in Louisiana House, moves to Senate vote, and beelines in further dismantling Roe V. Wade

As abortion rights are a central issue on the national stage, questions of privacy violations for birth parents could likely arise. 

Passed in  the Louisiana House, with a 75-21 vote, a key piece of legislation dealing with disclosure is up for vote in the state’s Senate. House Bill 450 (HB 450) sponsored by Rep. Charles Owen (R-Rosepine), allows closed-adoption adoptees access to their original birth certificates when they turn 24. Notably, adoptees will also be able to do so without having to petition the court first to unseal legal documents involving their birth records. Hence, making them privy to parental information.

“Where else does the government keep a record on you that you can’t see?” Rep. Charles Owen asked. “Everyone should have a right to know their own story. I don’t like the government keeping secret records on me or anyone else.”

Before this bill, the August 1977 Chambers v. Parker case established that nearly all vital records of closed adoptions would be inaccessible to adoptees unless given a judicial approval under compelling circumstances. Instead, children were issued altered birth certificates with adoptive parents’ information if applicable. Needless to say, HB 450 received an outpouring of support from adoptees, foster parents, and others. Among them, Owen’s longtime friend and lawyer, LeRoy Lambert. 

“[Charles Owen] and I used to be branded as ‘illegitimate,’” expressed Lambert. “Any purported need for confidentiality makes a host of assumptions about the way things work.” 

The fellow adoptee argues that closed adoption is a contract between the birth mother and state. For that matter, Lambert argues privacy should be given for a time. Yet, the contract should not be allowed to infringe upon the adoptee’s rights once they become an adult. Not to mention, other proponents say birth mothers’ identities would be kept confidential from the public.

While State Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Gray told The Advocate the “truth sets us free,” there are two critical sides of disclosure: the right to information versus right to privacy. “Our concern is that these birth mothers, who are heroic, courageous, loving people, who chose life for their baby, we believe that the state promised confidentiality to them those years ago when the choice was made. They should continue to have that confidentiality,” said Ben Clapper, Director of Louisiana Right to Life, a pro-life organization.

Unveiling private documents on a confidential matter runs the risk of adding another layer of trauma. If parents who can no longer opt to terminate a pregnancy, must be forced in giving up their parental rights in adoption, as many pro-lifers alternatively suggest, the difficult decision further exposes a personal, and perhaps, very painful choice. 

Nonetheless, Owens and others see this bill as timely. “This is a liberty and freedom thing, for me,” asserted Owen in a The Advocate article. “If I had thought for one second that this had anything to do with abortion, I would not have touched it.” The lawmaker is a self-proclaimed staunch member of the pro-life movement.

Yet and still, in the background there are more far-reaching legal implications. The limits on abortion are occurring nationally. Last month, Florida, West Virginia and Arizona advanced 15-week abortion limitations. They join Texas and 43 other districts with some sort of temporal disallowance overall; 16 states have tried to ban it outright before being struck down by the courts. Twenty-two states bar abortion between 13 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

“[Pro-life advocates] are also anticipating that the court will at the very least uphold a 15 week abortion ban,” explained principal policy associate Elizabeth Nash of Guttmacher Institute. “So for them this is a floor – this is sort of the bare minimum they are expecting.” 

Ultimately, the gradual moves may help chip away at the landmark, Roe v. Wade decision, and with it, a future where the government dictates your ability and decisions in being a parent. 

The connection between HB 450 and reproductive rights shows a lineage of legislation gradually chipping away at a woman’s right to choose. 

In 2006, then-Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco signed a trigger, or an unenforceable, law called The Human Life Protection Act. In the legislation, the state takes a firm stance against abortion–wanting to do away with it alltogther. However, another stipulation must occur for the unenforceable law to become valid. For instance, Louisiana’s abortion prohibition can go into effect if “[a]ny decision of the United States Supreme Court which reverses, in whole or in part, Roe v. Wade,” among other things. 

According to Planned Parenthood’s National Access tool, the state along with about seventeen others still make it difficult to attain the procedure. Actually, it is likely they have likened abortion bans in their statutes. If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, it is likely the blockades would be implemented. 

That said, this is no real surprise as Louisiana has historically been pro-life. The Guttmacher Institute says the Bayou state has passed almost 90 abortion restrictions since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, where the plaintiff argued that abortion restriction violated her right to privacy. Ironically, pro-life advocates now argue HB 450 violates the right to privacy for birth mothers. 

Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) voted 5-4 against Louisiana’s additional requirements for service providers and patients receiving an abortion in the June Medical Services v. Russo 2020 case.

Originally, this stems from a September 2014 federal district lawsuit filed by five facilities that provide the medical procedure rallying to stop Louisiana House Bill 388 (HB 388) from its enactment that same month. HB 388 mandated abortion-performing doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Thus, placing an undue burden on providers to have additional requirements, and patients trying to receive the medical procedure. 

Ultimately, the SCOTUS’s 5-4 decision prevented the restriction from passing. Hence, saving the state’s three remaining clinics from closure.

Notwithstanding, the legal battle introduces interesting questions of whose rights take precedence. As we see from the continued limits on abortion, strangers are dictating whether the rights of the parent are seemingly taking a back seat to that of the child.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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