This is a thrilling and encouraging moment for the pro-life movement in the U.S., as American society shifts further away from abortion in both its attitudes and policies. Last month, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed into law the strongest pro-life measure in America, and Louisiana and Missouri recently enacted their strongest-ever pro-life laws, bringing to seven the total number of states that have this year banned abortion after six weeks’ gestation.
But with this shift come new challenges for the pro-life movement. If Roe is overturned soon and states continue to criminalize the killing of unborn children, more unplanned babies will be born in America than ever before. This raises the obvious question: Is America ready to fully embrace adoption as the “loving option” the pro-life movement knows it to be?
Already, pro-choice writers are anticipating an adoption-focused future. The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan has written a mildly slanted, yet factually honest, piece exploring available statistics and anecdotal evidence on how unexpectedly pregnant women feel about adoption and their ultimate decisions about their pregnancies:
But even among American women for whom carrying a child to term would be safe, adoption is a remarkably unpopular course of action. Though exact estimates for all women are hard to come by, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports [sic] that among never-married women, about 9 percent chose adoption before 1973, when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. (The figure was higher for white women: 19 percent.) By the mid-1980s, the figure had dropped to 2 percent, and it was just 1 percent by 2002, the last year the CDC data captured. In 2014, only 18,000 children under the age of 2 were placed with adoption agencies. By comparison, there are about 1 million abortions each year.
Tellingly, Khazan forgoes explaining why the percentage of women who chose adoption dropped so dramatically after Roe v. Wade. The reason is as plain as day: If something that was once scarce suddenly becomes widely available, more people will choose it. After Roe’s blanket legalization of abortion, more women began to choose abortion, which meant that there were fewer babies to adopt. This tendency has remained disturbingly lopsided to this day: There are about 55 abortions for every one adoption of a child under the age of two in America.
But there is hope. There can be little doubt that once legal abortions become increasingly hard to procure, more and more babies who would have otherwise been aborted will be born and placed up for adoption. How many more is hard to say for certain, but if the 9 percent pre-Roe figure referenced by Khazan begins to take shape after a possible future overturn of Roe, there would be (very roughly) 90,000 more babies in need of adoption per year.
Is America ready to adopt this many unplanned babies? Pro-choice activists insist the answer is a resounding “no,” constantly fretting over imagined horrors that inevitably await “unwanted” children if they are born. But numbers are stubborn things. There are an estimated 2 million infertile couples in the U.S. waiting to adopt a baby. In addition, about 10 percent of American women — 6.1 million — “have difficulty getting or staying pregnant.” A CDC study found that over half (57 percent) of these women, and 81.5 million Americans overall, have considered adoption.
Undoubtedly, Americans can find loving homes for tens of thousands more unplanned babies. That being said, there is a real question that must be faced: How do women with unplanned pregnancies actually feel about adoption, and how does it actually affect them?
Khazan’s article depicts the emotional distress that women experience with adoption. Studies have found that many women feel “guilt” at the thought of leaving their child with an adoption agency without knowing “whether it was being taken care of or who was taking care of it.” Studies also show that virtually all birth mothers feel grief after they place their children up for adoption.
Clearly, the pro-life movement must rethink how it promotes adoption to address the real-world concerns of women with unplanned pregnancies. The practice of “open” adoption has proven particularly healthy and beneficial for both the birth mother and the adopted child; it should be widely discussed and encouraged. Another effective strategy is to amplify the voices of those who have been adopted out of difficult circumstances and are now thriving. Ryan Bomberger, Melissa Ohden, and Gianna Jessen are just a few such people, but a simple YouTube search reveals thousands more “ordinary” adoption stories that are just as beautiful and inspiring.
Khazan’s Atlantic article reveals that there remains a huge and difficult mountain that must be climbed to transform the cultural view of adoption. With the end of Roe now in sight, the pro-life movement must prepare more urgently for a future America where adoption is seen clearly as both the lawful option and the loving one.