Perhaps I am biased about adoption. After all, my husband and I adopted three children. We don’t like to say that we are “adoptive parents” or that they are our “adopted children.” Adoption is an event, not a status, and from the time we brought each of them home from the hospital, we were family. While adoption doesn’t define our relationship, it certainly made it possible and there isn’t a day that passes that we don’t marvel in gratitude that the five of us were brought together — unrelated by blood and born in far-flung corners of this country — to form the intimate bonds of family. And, I’m firmly convinced, my children are better off having been adopted than aborted. So it’s probably obvious that I support adoption — as a way to build a family and as an option for a woman in a crisis situation who, for whatever reason, feels unable to parent.
So when I read an article raising serious concerns about a Texas bill that would require a woman to receive limited adoption information before obtaining an abortion, I was taken aback. I say “limited adoption information” because the bill requires a woman seeking an abortion to take a short Internet course. It can’t be longer than three hours. In addition to adoption information, it must also include information about women’s health before and during pregnancy as well as resources for pregnant women and children, including federal nutrition programs. The bill, proposed by Democratic state senator Eddie Lucio, was originally filed as part of the Texas abortion legislation passed and signed into law in July, which garnered national attention and was the subject of Wendy Davis’s filibuster. It was partially blocked by a federal district court judge on Monday. The bill did not go to a vote, and Lucio has stated he plans to refile it in the next legislative session.
I was surprised at the opposition to the proposed bill because support for adoption seems like a universal mantra — repeated mindlessly by those on both sides of the aisle and by President Obama — the proverbial “win-win” to resolve the otherwise difficult situation of a crisis pregnancy. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, involving profound sacrifice for the mother and tremendous emotional and financial risk for prospective adoptive parents. But generally adoption is portrayed as something that bridges the gaping divide between the pro-life and pro-choice camps — the ultimate “common ground.” So why the opposition to a relatively innocuous measure that promotes adoption awareness?
Well, first of all, Andrea Grimes, who has reported on the bill for the website RH Reality Check, doesn’t think it’s innocuous. Even though she doesn’t know the contents of the course (the bill calls for it to be created by a state health agency), she describes it as “government-mandated counseling . . . to compel more pregnant people to relinquish their infants for adoption.” In addition to likening the measure to forcible baby-snatching, Grimes takes issue with it because, according to her, adoption is not an alternative to abortion but rather to parenting. Since those who consider and choose adoption are not likely to have ever considered abortion in the first place, she argues that requiring adoption counseling for abortion-minded women “would serve predominantly to detain, and perhaps shame, pregnant people who are already in a time crunch, and who are already facing logistical hurdles to obtaining legal abortions.”
I don’t know whether it’s true that women who choose adoption, on the whole, would never consider abortion. But, if it is, does that mean that women who consider abortion would never consider adoption? In fact, isn’t it possible that at least some of those who choose abortion never had a meaningful opportunity to consider adoption? Just as pro-choice advocates would want every woman to have the chance to consider (and choose) abortion, wouldn’t they also want them to have as much information as possible about all of their options, including adoption? Information empowers women, allowing them to make a fully informed decision, right?
Pregnant women in crisis situations should have access to accurate, complete, and non-coercive information about their various options — and this should include accurate information about adoption. There are many misunderstandings about contemporary adoption practices. For instance, the birth mother of one of our children initially resisted adoption because she thought it meant her child would be placed in foster care and she would have no idea what happened to him. When a friend of hers happened to describe the reality of adoption (that prospective adoptive families are subject to extensive background checks and home visits, that she would have complete autonomy over the choice of family who would adopt her child, that her child would be welcomed into a family and home from his birth, and that she would receive regular photos and updates from the adoptive family), she decided to look into it further and eventually embraced it as her best option. But she never would have considered it in the first place without the information she received by happenstance.
What Grimes fails to appreciate is that many women choose abortion because they believe is it their only real choice. According to a recent fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, women choose abortion largely because they believe they have other competing demands (e.g., other children, job, education) and not the support or resources (e.g., a partner or enough income) to meet those existing demands. They don’t feel they are able to parent. Negative stereotypes about adoption abound and adoption counseling is weak or non-existent, so it is not treated as a serious option. Once parenting is off the table, in our post–Roe v. Wade culture, most women believe that abortion is their only choice. Indeed, as Grimes acknowledges, the number and rates of adoption were at their highest immediately before Roe. Now, with the ready availability of abortion, those women who can’t or won’t parent instead choose abortion, in part because they aren’t presented with a meaningful alternative to parenting.
Instead of recognizing these facts, Grimes claims that the primary concern about the Texas legislation is that adoption is handled by the “adoption industry,” which she describes as having ideological and financial investments in increasing adoptions. But the limited sources she chooses to cite (mostly active adoption opponents) and the narrow perspective of the article are not enough to support this claim. Her concern isn’t simply about coercive tactics. It’s about adoption itself. She reminds us of the horrors and abuses of the Baby Scoop era, a period from approximately 1945 to 1980 when infant adoption rates were relatively high, and of adoption’s “long history of secrecy,” but does little to acknowledge the real ways in which adoption is practiced today. She all but ignores the healthy trend toward openness of records, enforceability of contact agreements and protection of fathers’ rights. Today, over half of the states allow written, and enforceable contact agreements, and over 30 states have mutual-consent registries for the exchange of identifying information. The Supreme Court has recognized increased protection for the constitutional rights of unmarried fathers, and all states have mechanisms for fathers to voluntarily assert paternity.
By skimming over important changes to adoption law and policy, Grimes perpetuates misperceptions and outdated stereotypes about the experience of adoption for all members of the “adoption triad.” Grimes begrudgingly admits that good can come from adoption, but is quick to state that “the waters must be navigated carefully and ethically.” She cites opponents of the bill who find it “really frightening” and “ethically questionable.” She laments the emotional regret that some women who choose adoption experience and worries about the rights of biological fathers without any comparison with the serious psychological harm and deep emotional regret post-abortive women suffer or with the fact that biological fathers have no rights at all in the abortion context.
Despite the antipathy toward adoption evidenced in the article, Grimes concedes that it is “not an issue that [‘reproductive justice’ activists] can afford to ignore” and suggests various ways to promote adoption reform. Yet her suggestions have nothing to do with promoting greater adoption awareness in the general populace, improving training for those who provide options counseling, or offering accurate and complete information to women in crisis situations. One can’t help but draw the conclusion that her concern is that adoption itself is detrimental to women and children.
Annually there are more than 1 million abortions in the United States, compared with an estimated 14,000 domestic infant adoptions. Perhaps some women would appreciate a better understanding of their options.
— Elizabeth Kirk is a former associate director and fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture.