top of page
  • Writer's pictureRicki King

Iowa Adoptees and their Original Birth Certificates

Relief. Life-Changing. Amazing. It feels freeing, not real. These are only a few of the words heard in the rotunda of the Iowa Capitol on May 19, 2021, prior to the signing of

HF855. The new law allows access to the original birth certificates of adult adoptees born before January 1, 1971, to apply for a noncertified copy immediately. The original birth certificate is the one issued before a person is adopted. Once a person is adopted, the adoptive parents are listed as the birth parents.

The law goes even further, allowing ANY adult adoptees 18 years old or older to access their original birth certificate starting January 1, 2022. So, if you were born after January 1, 1971, and are 18 years old, you only have a few months before you also will be able to obtain your original birth certificate. In the coming years, as adoptees reach the age of 18, they will immediately be able to request their original birth certificate. If the adoptee is deceased, a qualifying family member may request the record.

Why is access to an adoptee's original birth certificate so important? Because it may provide the adoptee with the name of their biological mother, the name they are given at birth, and possibly their birth date. In most cases, the biological father is not listed on the original birth certificate. I was told some adoptive parents might change a child's birth date to the official adoption day. It is thought the adoptive parents might change a name and/or birth date to make it harder for a biological parent to find the child.

Some of the people I spoke with talked about no longer having to take a DNA test. With the stroke of Governor Kim Reynolds' pen, she opened access to adoptees' original birth certificates and the names of their biological mother or did she. Yes, the records are open, but the biological parent can choose to have their identity known, their preference to be contacted or not, or to have their identity redacted. If a biological parent chooses to censor their name or not, they can attach a family medical history to the original birth certificate. Not every adoptee wants to search for their biological parents. Many only want their family medical history to pass on to their children.

The biological parent at any time can change their preference from opt-out to opt-in or vice versa. I did see where an adoptee had already obtained their original birth certificate when the biological parent had opted-out, if the adoptee would be notified or what would happen.

Supporters of adoptee birth certificate bill
Supporter waiting to enter bill signing room.

Minutes before signing

Before walking into the room to witness Governor Kim Reynolds change the bill into law, I began talking with adoptees and supporters. I attended the signing with my friend Lisa Beaty Southerland who introduced me to Threase Harms. It happens Threase is on my city council and a lobbyist. She was attending the signing in neither of those roles. Threase was attending as a child of an adoptee, the mother of adoptees, and a supporter of the law. She was looking forward to being able to get her mother's original birth certificate. Smiling, Threase mentions how glad she is that her children will someday be able to obtain their original birth certificates if they wanted them.

ToyA Johnson and Nick Dreeszen, supporters, were telling me about their organization Families United Action Network as we were being ushered into the signing. ToyA started to mention how the new law would affect those in or who had been in foster care. I am not quoting ToyA, but I believe she said the person in foster care will now also be able to obtain their original birth certificate. We were unable to continue our conversation, but it is an avenue I had not considered. I wonder, is a new birth certificate issued to a person who never leaves foster care? Is anyone listed as the parents, or is it blank on the certificate they see? What information is a child who grows up in foster care given about their biological parents?

After the signing

A few adoptees and one biological mother that I knew of walked east from the Iowa Capitol and across the street to the Lucas building. Once at the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Health Statistics office, each adoptee filled out the paperwork, showed their valid id, and paid the $15.00 to receive in about 6 weeks their original birth certificate. The biological mother filled out her papers to allow full access to her information and to give consent to be contacted. She is already in contact with her adopted child. She came today to support the law and to show biological parents want to be found. There is no fee for an adoptee's biological parents to fill out the form or attach a family medical history to the original birth certificate. However, you do need to show a valid id.

Iowa Adoptee & Family Coalition

Michelle Spear and Lisa are the co-founders of the Iowa Adoptee & Family Coalition. Michelle reached out to me through Facebook in April and introduced herself. She explained that the organization has been working to change legislation to allow access to original birth certificates. The bill was going to the House the following week for a vote. Michelle had read about me and my work in changing when Iowan's have access to death certificates along with my genealogy work. She thought we should get to know each other.

I am glad she reached out. Michelle let me know the bill had passed the Iowa House. I asked if she thought it would get through the Iowa Senate. "Yes. It passed the Senate unanimously 2 years ago." Michelle wrote. She has been trying to get this bill pass for two years, and I heard nothing about it. It turns out she had been working on the bill before I started working on the death certificate bill that passed in 2018. I was not the only one in the genealogy community learning about the Iowa adoptee original birth certificate bill. I started receiving emails asking if I knew anything about the legislation not long after Michelle contacted me. I happily provide the news Michelle relayed to me about the bill's progress and that it was heading to the Governor to sign.

On May 19, 2021, because of Lisa and Michelle's hard work Iowa born adult adoptees can now obtain their original birth certificates. Although Lisa did not live to see the law changed, she was there in spirit, and in a photo, Michelle held, and in the Governor's recognition. The law Michelle and Lisa help to change is indeed life-changing.

Find more information:

FAQ and explanation of changes.

Video of the bill being signed allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificate.

Pictures from the day.

Recent Posts

See All

Not in Iowa. News story on Ricki King

I wanted to share a news story in the Des Moines Register about me and what I am trying to accomplish. Opinion: Ricki King wants everyone to know Black people and history are in Iowa. I do, too. Spot


bottom of page