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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Adoption and Abortion: It's Not as Simple as Many Pro-lifers Think

Recently, I received a comment on a post I had written some time ago on what drives state bar associations to oppose equal rights for adult adoptees.  Those of you who have been involved in the adoptee rights movement will recognize the anecdotal argument right away -- it is the argument that sends legislators who are thinking about supporting an adoptee rights bill running for the hills.  It is also the argument that prompts the question some of us adoptees have heard from time to time: "Why can't you just be happy you have your life and weren't aborted?"

Here's the comment:

"My sister was a birth mother years ago. She chose adoption over abortion thinking a chance at life with a loving family was better than no chance at life or life with a teen mom. She wanted it done and over with so she could move on. She was willing to do the 9 months, willing to get the glares and stares and willing to hear the not nice comments. Our parents supported her although they thought an abortion would have been much easier for my sister.
Now the state she lives in trying to get birth certificates opened. She feels it was a two way street she got to move on with life and the child got a life. She was young did not have the means to raise a child. If she had to do it over she said she would have had the abortion. There is a reason why woman choose a closed adoption. They should be allowed to keep their privacy. I'm sympathetic to the adoptee who wants information. Mutual consent open the birth certificates for all birth mothers and adoptee families who want an open adoption. Life is not fair not everything is equal. My birth certificate does not have a father's name on it. He took off before I was born. My mother refused to put his name on the birth certificate and refuses to talk about him. Should the gov't force woman to put the father's name on all birth certificates and force my mother to give information about my father. Obviously, he didn't want to be involved in my life, I accept that."

On the surface, this argument sounds compelling, and it is a difficult one to refute in the legislative arena, because it is driven by emotion and ideology.  Here was my brief reply:

"According to the data, your sister is in a distinct minority of birth parents, and public policy should never be formulated to serve a distinct minority. What makes you think the adoptee would be disrespectful of her feelings? All we're saying is that the adoptee is entitled to the truth about her own personhood, whatever that truth might be. Many adoptees are only looking for genetic information about themselves, and it is disrespectful to imply that the adoptee will continue efforts at contact if the mother says no. Your sister did a good thing, but people should not assume that adoptees want their original birth certificates so that they can take inappropriate actions. I had one phone conversation with my original mother after I had suffered a serious medical problem and gained valuable information that has helped me physically and emotionally. I have respected her wishes and have not contacted her again. Are you saying that one conversation is too much to ask? You may not realize it, but such an attitude shows a profound disrespect for the adoptee and his or her motives. My original mother is not my enemy and never has been. She is an adult forging her way through life the best she can, as am I. She is entitled to her privacy but not lifetime anonymity from her own child, and the law is very clear on this point."

I could add many facts and statistics here to show that there is no link between adult adoptee access and abortion rates, and that mutual consent registries just don't work, but I have done that often in other articles -- I'll include the links below this post.  I will repeat the fact that in Oregon, which enacted adult adoptee access legislation in 2000, fewer than a quarter of one percent of birth mothers have filed "no contact" preferences, while more than 10,000 adoptees have applied for and received their original birth certificates.  Would not this statistic alone indicate that the vast majority of original parents do not live in mortal fear that their offspring might someday find them?  Statistics from the other open-access states reinforce the fact that the number of original parents who prefer no contact is very, very small.  The writer's sister in the comment above is actually an anomaly.

Another important point is that the writer assumes adoption has always operated in absolute secrecy, when estimates indicate some 40 percent of adoptees have some identifying information on their adoption decrees.  Both my adoptive brother and I, for example, have always had our original birth names.  Adoptees find their original families everyday in this country, in spite of sealed birth certificates;  however, under the current archaic system, original parents have no way to indicate whether they would prefer direct contact, contact through an intermediary, or no contact at all.  Clean adoptee access bills would give original parents the opportunity to express their preferences.  When people oppose such bills, they are assuming adoptees would do inappropriate things no matter what the original parents have indicated in preference forms.  As an adoptee, I find such attitudes incredibly insulting.

Too many people in the pro-life movement see adoption as the simple, win-win solution to abortion, when they actually know little about the subject's complexities.  Those who actually work in the field are well aware that closed-for-life adoptions have served neither original mothers nor adoptees well.  Consider carefully what Paul Swope, then president of Life Net Services, wrote more than 10 years ago in 1998:  "A pressure to end a pregnancy with an adoption does not save a child from abortion, but may in fact, be a determining factor in a woman choosing to terminate the pregnancy ... ."  Swope's point was that a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy is desperate for a sense of resolution to her crisis, and in her mind, "adoption leaves the situation the most unresolved."

Open adoptions have risen in popularity because adoption facilitators know that very few women are willing to relinquish their babies unless they can have some knowledge about how those babies are doing.  However, open adoption agreements are not legally enforceable in most states, a fact that many surrendering mothers have learned the hard way.

I have some faint hope that people are beginning to realize that adoption in this country is too often run like a business, in which the couples desiring a Caucasian infant to adopt far outnumber the Caucasian babies available.  Prospective adoptive parents are the paying customers, and the best interests of the surrendering parents and the adoptees themselves are too often overlooked in the effort to supply the babies to meet the demand.

The Catholic News Agency recently ran an article describing a nation-wide, pro-adoption ad campaign being conducted jointly by Austin, Texas-based Heroic Media and Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services.  An ad, featuring a pregnant woman explaining why she plans to put her baby up for adoption, aired 45 times over a four-week period on Oxygen Network during the reality TV series "I'm Having Their Baby."

The ad focuses on adoption as a "life-changing blessing for adoptive  parents" and a "gift of love and hope" for adopted children.  Unfortunately, Bethany Christian Services is ranked very poorly by original mothers who have surrendered their children, and Bethany Christian Services continues to oppose adult adoptee access bills, even as they extol the benefits of more openness in adoption.  The TV series and the ad campaign, in my mind, are ethically repugnant.  Even the title, "I'm Having Their Baby," is repugnant, as the expectant mother is obviously not receiving unbiased pregnancy counseling -- she is being groomed to see herself as an inadequate mother and adoption as the noble and uncomplicated answer to all her problems.

What gives me a little hope is that Catholic News Service published six comments about the ad campaign, and five of them focused on adoption truth. You can read the entire article here, and
below are the six comments published on-line.

"I'm not sure why pro-life has to equal pro-adoption. One can still be opposed to abortion, yet encourage families to seek out the resources they need to successfully parent their own children - adoption is not an alternative to abortion, it's an alternative to parenting. Most women who are considering adoption were never seeking abortion in the first place.
As for the agencies themselves, particularly Bethany (I will not add the other two words in the name of their company b/c there is absolutely nothing Christian about their "services")- to quote Job 24:21 "They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow show no kindness"

"Separating a mother from her baby is being promoted by a Christian organization?  Why isn't the Catholic Church helping women in "crisis" pregnancies to keep their children?  Most of these women just need financial help and low-cost child care."

"If Bethany Christian Services would lobby for adult adoptee access to their own birth certificates and for laws that would enforce open adoption agreements, then I would believe that their primary interest is indeed the welfare of the child and the original mother.  Speaking as an adult adoptee who was blessed with loving adoptive parents, I still maintain that adoption is not as simple as the ad portrays.  It is complicated, and it often results in profound feelings of loss for both original mother and adoptee.  I am not anti-adoption, but I am pro adoption reform and for full disclosure of the facts to all parties.  I also believe it is possible to offer a child a loving home without obliterating his or her original identity for life.  Unfortunately, I have found that many agencies routinely whitewash complex adoption realities."

"Some of our energies and prayers might also be well-spent finding ways for mothers to keep and raise their own children. Many women who give up their children for adoption have said they would have kept them if they had the simple support (financial and otherwise) every mother deserves. Without that, how can we say these women's decision to adopt was really their own idea?"

"Perhaps some energy and prayers should be directed towards making contraception allowable. Obviously, the plan to make sex between two loving people within the bonds of matrimony clearly isn't working. Contraception would lower the dilemma women face when deciding on an abortion. Time to admit people are going to have sex (even despite gay marriage) and keep having babies... choose the lesser of two evils, contraception over abortion."

"All of our energies and prayers must be focused on programs like these. Campaigns directed at those who have traditionally killed their children are much more effective than attacking politicians who are constitutionally unable to overturn the Supreme Courts ruling on Roe v. Wade which has unfortunately stood for 40 years now.  Time to get over hating politicians and begin saving children."

I take great comfort in the first five comments, one of which is my own.  They seem to come from people who are well-versed in adoption realities.  The sixth comment seems to come from a true believer who is not so well versed in adoption truth.

Could it be that the times are slowly changing, and that people are starting to recognize that adoption itself is not the painless and problem-free antidote to abortion that some pro-lifers seem to think?  We can only hope so, and keep working for the adoption reforms that are so badly needed.

You might also like:

Adoptive Parents and Pro-lifers who Cannot or Will Not See the Realities of Adoption

Why is Honesty in Adoption Still a Controversial Subject?

Pro-Life Ideology and Adoptee Rights

Adoptee Rights and a Woman's Reproductive Choices


  1. This is so deeply thoughtful and I am in complete agreement with Susan. I've heard from many adoptees whose mothers relinquished them and then aborted a subsequent pregnancy because they could not cope with not knowing anything about how their child fared. The sealed records act as a guillotine, permanently severing a relationship originated by God and allowing no room for reconciliation, forgiveness or peace.

  2. It's good to see another credible source (Paul Swope) explaining how abortion is seen as a solution because sealed records laws deny a woman any closure.

    The Guttmacher Institute report "Concern for Current and Future Children: A Key Reason Women Have Abortions" says essentially the same thing based on interviews with 38 women who had abortions in 2004:

    "Without being asked directly, several of the women indicated that adoption is not a realistic option for them. They reported that the thought of one’s child being out in the world without knowing if it was being taken care of or by whom would induce more guilt than having an abortion."

    You also never hear about the assurances made to mothers that their child WILL be able to find them - once the child is 18, if the child wants to look, but don't hold your breath because happy adoptees don't search. They "chose" adoption because of those promises!

    Back when New Hampshire was about to become the next state to restore unrestricted access, the NCFA opposed the bill because "abortion rates will skyrocket". The bill passed into law. Abortion rates were unaffected, again. Now the various opponents say "It doesn't matter how many. If even ONE woman has an abortion..."

    I find it incredible that with approximately 1,000,000 abortions performed in the US each year, they cling to the hypothetical "one woman" who would be so bothered by her child being able to know her name 20 years hence, it would be the deciding factor in whether she has an abortion.

    I have to find the piece that also complains that if a woman could not count on "privacy" in adoption, she would "try to parent" with disastrous consequences. Huh? She doesn't want anyone to know about the pregnancy so she keeps the child? They are clearly grasping at straws.

    Keep getting the message out there!

  3. It's indeed sad that "pro-life" has become synonymous with "pro-adoption," and in the process has actually resulted in unknown numbers of abortions. To offer help only to those who are willing to surrender their babies to adoption is not only inhumane, but it's counterproductive. It guarantees that those who can't find a way to parent and can't live with the thought of carrying to term and turning their babies over to others have but one choice left: abortion.

    Back in 2007, the state of Florida's "Choose Life" license plate fund had $1.5 million in unused funds because they could only be used to promote adoption, not help women parent their own babies. How many abortions resulted? How many might have been saved with some financial help and mentoring?

    "At Lifeline Family Center of Cape Coral, for instance, where expectant mothers take a class about adoption but are offered no parenting classes, most do not decide until they are in their last month of pregnancy. Adoption is almost never thought about during the first trimester—the only time it would be “in competition” with a decision to abort.

    "Only about 1 in 10 of Lifeline residents ever makes an adoption plan, according to Kathy Miller, president of Lifeline. Miller wishes the money also could help financially needy women who parent. Instead parenting, as a choice, is being discriminated against while the state fund has $1.5 million sitting – unused."

    Abortion prevention approaches are entirely backwards! In essence, their message is: "Sorry your pregnancy is a problem for you and that you're not in a position to be a mother. But carry it to term and you can help someone else be a mother - someone who doesn't have the kinds of problems you have." This tells her that she has no value to her baby and she and her baby together have no value as a tiny, vulnerable family. They only have value by making someone else's dreams come true.

    A winning message would be this: "You're going to be a mother! Your baby already knows your voice, your smell, the way you walk. You and your baby are a small but valued family. Let us help you overcome the obstacles that your family faces so your baby can develop into a healthy and happy child and you can succeed in life, both economically and as a mother."

    There is perhaps no time in a woman's life when she is more vulnerable than when she is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. That's why she is so easily manipulated and victimized. Sadly, "pregnancy centers" that offer help - focusing totally on adoption - see these women as expendable: only their babies have value. And are they EVER valuable!

    If the only babies worth saving are those that satisfy the adoption market, then "pro-life" groups need to admit that their motives are disingenuous. It's time to save mothers and their babies TOGETHER!

  4. My daughter gave up her baby girl 20 years ago and this beautiful girl found us just last year. It was such a relief to be found. We had always prayed for her & her family, but the thought of her just out there and no other information was like a millstone on each of us. Every family celebration felt false. We could smile & fake it, but that was all. Now, there is a healing that is just starting to take place. It isn't all wonderful, there is hurt on all sides, but at least a chance to address it. And to finally hug my first grandbaby.

  5. The auther claims her sister wishes she had an abortion. Fact is, she didn't!! She instead gave birth to a human being who has grown into an adult who votes and has rights of her own seperate from those of the mother who bore her.

    Imagine for a moment someone getting married and failing to reveal to their spouse that they were previosuly married. To lie about their past is their right. But what they do NOT have a right to is to bar that first spouse from phoning them or knocking at their door, unless he or she presented a threat and a restraining order was in effect.

    Adoptees are inncocent human beings and cannot be considered legally a threat when they have done absolutely nothing except having been born, relinquished and adopted.

    There is no reason to deny them the truth of their genetic heritage because a few mother live in unfounded fear and paranoia!

  6. When a woman gives a child up for adoption, it is no longer just about the secret keeping natural parents. There is a third PERSON involved, the innocent, voiceless, powerless child. The child who had no say and never agreed to not knowing his paternity and ancestry.

    I hope some day this writer will see the light and realize that she has the right to know who her natural father is. It sounds like she has been brainwashed with her "life isn't fair" argument. That argument is true for things that are out of our control. But it is possible for her to know who her n-father is. And she might need the information in the event that she becomes seriously ill and the doctors need a complete medical history. Her children have the right to know who their maternal grandfather and his extended family are, too.

    Whenever someone brings up first parent privacy, I respond "What about the child's rights? She had not say". I don't believe there is any right to anonymity from one's own child. A right to privacy from the world, yes, but not from one's own offspring.

  7. Here is another response via Facebook to the commenter who believes original parents should be guaranteed anonymity from their relinquished offspring for life:

    Opening of birth certificates does not change the reality that your sister got to have her own life as did the adoptee. You are describing your flesh and blood niece or nephew who you never got to know. Your parents are missing their grandchild. Sad.
    Closed adoption is a legal proceeding that happens AFTER BIRTH. Birth records and adoption records are separate entities . Just because somebody wants a closed adoption does not give them the right to expect a SEALED birth certificate. Adoption files are closed (even for open adoptions). Birth Certificates should be accurate documents of parentage and available to the person they pertain to.
    No mother has an absolute right to anonymity from her child. (see Doe v. Sundquist). You may not know who your father is, but you do know who your mother is. How about we just seal up your birth certificate and tell you that your mother didn’t want you? And then tell you to be grateful you got to have a great life even though you have no idea where you came from. I’m sure that this would be unacceptable to you. In fact, if this happened to you, this conversation would have never occurred because you wouldn’t even know who your sister was.
    Your sister has no greater right to privacy than any other citizens in this country. If on the off-chance the adoptee was a stalker, she can get a protection order. Nobody is forced to answer the phone, answer letters or respond to Facebook friend requests. Your sister is an adult as is the adoptee and they can both handle the business of adults.
    Your father didn’t want to be involved in parenting. It still doesn’t change the biological fact that he fathered you and the birth certificate should show an accurate name. Should women be forced to name fathers? I believe they should, but we all know people will lie.
    It’s a good thing DNA came into existence so that mothers like yours and your sister can no longer control other people’s human rights to know where they came from. Maybe your grandchild some day will want to know who the man was who fathered you. Many people can’t see beyond their own wants/needs to realize that this affects generations to come.
    OPEN THE BIRTH CERTIFICATES! My state did! And can you believe it? My birth mother never ran for the hills!

  8. Susan: I want to thank you for your insightful post here. Thank you, too, for stopping by my blog and directing me back here. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Adoption is definitely a multi-faceted, complex issue and I applaud you for tackling the discussion with grace and poise. Forgive me for doing less in my own post. Unfortunately, my post hit the complete wrong target. I had intended it as a challenge to families considering adoption and instead unintentionally offended many who had been adopted. Again, thank you for your grace.

    I completely agree with so much of what you've stated here. I have long supported open adoptions, open birth certificates and equal rights. I definitely echo the statement you quoted here that being pro-life does not equal being pro-adoption. The world -- more specifically the CHURCH -- needs to recognize this. Would you be interested in writing a guest post on that topic for my blog? I would be honored to have you.

    Adoption is very close to my heart but I have learned (among other things) today that I am clearly not well-versed in the subject. My life has been touched by it, but it seems only by a small portion it. I would like to know more.

    Again, thank you for your thoughts and grace. I so appreciate both!

    1. Tanya, I appreciate your open mind. Unfortunately, some religious entities have long worked to block the passage of just and equitable adoptee rights bills. Two of the worst offenders in New Jersey are Right to Life and the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Right to Life just refuses to see that adult adoptee access does not affect abortion rates, even as the data shows clearly that there is no relation. But the myth dies hard, as does the myth that adoption is always a save-the-child enterprise. In this country, adoption is a business, largely unregulated, and it is driven by supply and demand. Caucasian infants, for example, are usually much more expensive to adopt than babies of color. Attorneys wine and dine expectant mothers in the hopes of procuring their babies for the many prospective couples waiting to adopt. Attorneys assure adoptive parents that original families are irrelevant. They ignore adoption complexities and refuse to acknowledge mature adoptee voices. We have to get the focus back on the children and adoptee rights, but it won't be easy. There is too much money and misguided ideology involved. I applaud your efforts to educate yourself and hope you will eventually become a spokesperson for adoptee rights and adoption reform yourself. Let me get familiar with your blog, and you with mine, and perhaps I can write a guest column for you sometime in the next month.

    2. Thank you for all you're doing! I will continue to follow your blog and efforts. My personal adoption experiences have been strictly with foster care situations and children truly orphaned. Only recently have I seen a trend toward the business side. It is this side of adoption that I sought to speak against.

      Thanks for your willingness to guest post. Upon further consideration, I may have let my enthusiasm get ahead of me. The theme of my site is Bible study and pursuing God. While I seek social justice as part of that, it's not a central theme.

  9. Thanks for the blog some people believe in the choice between adoption or abortion but I for one will always be for adoption.

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