Abortion, Adoption and the Destruction of Family and Parental Rights

The Right has taken a complex issue and narrowed it down to a catch phrase - "Adoption not Abortion" - that arbitrarily and narrowly defines it in black and white terms, positing adoption as the solution to reduce abortion.

The debate over when life begins will be left to others.

Presenting adoption as an alternative to abortion is an absurd premise. Abortion is a choice to not be pregnant. Carrying a child to give away is an unacceptable alternative for the majority who abort.

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The "Adoption not Abortion" campaign pits two of three options against one another while excluding the option of parenting in discussions and policies.

An insidious consequence of "adoption not abortion" is the use of specious arguments by anti-abortion organizations in opposition to adoptee equal rights. In many states Catholic Charities and Right-to-Life lobby against the rights of adoptees to access their own birth certificates under the false allegation that if adopted-out children could find them someday, mothers would opt to abort instead. This argument is totally unfounded as states which have unsealed adoption records have seen no decline in adoptions or increase in abortions.

Cory L. Richards, former executive vice president and VP of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute notes that:

"Increasing the rate of completed adoptions, however valid on its own merits, is irrelevant to the abortion rate. And increasing the rate of newborn relinquishments, even assuming it could be done in an ethically and socially acceptable way, at best would be tinkering at the margins. Even if relinquishments doubled, and each one of them represented an averted abortion, it would make hardly a dent in the abortion rate."

The artificial binary construct is also insulting to adoptees and their mothers. Many in the adoption community have railed against these exclusionary and offensive arguments that suggest that those who are persuaded to relinquish children for adoption are more likely to have considered abortion than any others with no data to substantiate such an assumption.

Elle Curadaigh expresses well the frustration and anger adoptees feel when burdened with expectations of gratitude for having not been aborted, which slogans that join the two create, asking: "Why are the adopted expected to be grateful merely for being alive? "

Perhaps most importantly is that the "adoption not abortion" campaign is politically polarizing and creates a false duality, viewing a multi-faceted decision-making process - that can change over time - as a two dimensional choice while eliminating the most important option for mothers, fathers, and children: Helping to support struggling families.

In order to boil it down to an overly simplified either/or, pro-lifers exaggerate the effects of the Roe v Wade decision for less babies being available for adoption while ignoring other factors such as the decline in the teen birth rate by nearly 56 percent over the past twenty years according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also summarily ignore the accessibility of birth control that began even before Roe v Wade. The same time period also witnessed a drastic reduction of the stigma and shame of single parenthood. Thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 girls can now continue their education while pregnant and parenting. All of these social changes combined to reduce the number of babies being placed for adoption, not just legalization of abortion.

Informed Choice

The powerful anti-abortion lobby is in part responsible for unfair policies that strongly favor one choice over all others. For instance, twenty-seven states have mandatory waiting - or "cooling off" - periods for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy:

• 72 hours in four states: Missouri, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah
• 48 hours in three states: Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee
• 24 hours in 19 states: AZ, GA, ID, KS, KY, LA, MI, MN, MS, NB, ND, OH, OK PA, SC, TX, VA, WV, WI
• 18 hours in Indiana

Conservatives are pushing to lengthen these waiting periods in many states and enact them in states where there currently are none.

Prior to 1992, waiting periods and informed consent provisions for abortions were unconstitutional. Now, states may require a physician to provide a woman with information such as alternatives to abortion, sources of financial aid, development of the fetus and the gestational age of the fetus Pregnant women and young girls seeking termination - no matter what the reason - can also be forced to watch videos of fetuses being aborted.

In several states, including Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, "informed consent" laws require health care providers to tell women seeking an abortion that the procedure can lead to mental illness.

There are, however, no laws requiring "informed consent" in adoption. The pressure on American mothers-to-be is greater than ever before (as a result of international adoptions declining and same sex couples adding to the demand). The result is a one-sided presentation of adoption as unselfish, mature, and best for the child.

There are likewise not adequate waiting periods before women can sign irrevocable relinquishment of the parental rights that permanently sever all legal ties between children and their families of origin - even in open adoptions.

University of Baltimore law professor Elizabeth Samuels studied the state-by-state time periods allotted women to sign consent for adoption in a market place "in which demand for adoptable infants far exceeds supply." Samuels notes the conflicting goals in adoption created by "pressure to increase the number of adoptions." In her groundbreaking - albeit largely ignored - article, "Time to Decide: The Laws Governing Mothers' Consents to the Adoption of Their Newborn Infants," Samuels concludes:

"Most state laws, in contrast to the laws of many other countries, provide that consent may be given and become irrevocable almost immediately after the child's birth. Under the laws in more than half the states, irrevocable consent can be established in fewer than four days.

[T]he laws of most states do not sufficiently promote mothers' deliberate decision making. [The article] recommends laws that make it more likely mothers will be offered skilled, unbiased counseling; will receive clear, complete information; and will have adequate time to decide."

In some states mothers can sign their rights away within hours of birthing - even while still under the effects of anesthesia and rapidly shifting hormone levels known to cause postpartum depression. Alabama and Hawaii allow women to sign away their parental rights before giving birth and becoming parents! They are expected to decide the fate of their child's life before it has become a reality and without seeing and holding him or her.

In addition to being denied adequate time, expectant parents considering adoption also have no legal counsel other than that which is provided and paid for by the intended adopters or adoption agency. Nor are they informed that:

• Adoption is a permanent solution for temporary problems. They will not remain young or unmarried.
• There is no guarantee of a "better" life, just a different one. Parents who adopt divorce and die and the child can wind up being raised by a single parent. Adopters have abused and abandoned their adopted children, terminated adoptions, rehomed, and even murdered children entrusted to them. Home studies are not crystal balls.
• Despite being well loved, many adoptees still suffer feelings of rejection and having been "unwanted" by their first parents.
• Promises of open adoption are unenforceable in most states and are often broken. Even under the best of circumstances open adoption still begins with a relinquishment of parental rights and is thus not joint custody.
• Mothers are not told the loss of a child to adoption will affect and impact her parents and siblings, all her future relationships, and any subsequent children she may have.

They are not informed of the lifelong grief suffered by mothers who lose children to adoption as per:

• A Child Welfare Information Gateway study that found that "three-quarters of birth mothers still experienced feelings of loss 12 to 20 years after placing their newborns."
• The Donaldson Adoption Institute's 2006 study, "Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process," about the deep pain that reverberates throughout the course of the mothers' lives.
• Women who relinquish have a higher rate of secondary infertility. So, the baby they relinquish may be the only one they ever have.

None of this information is provided to women considering adoption. Mothers - and fathers - who consider adoption get no options counseling and, instead of ample time to make an informed choice, many describe being pressured and made to feel obligated to adoptive parents they've been matched with. They are often made to feel indebted for expenses paid for them during their pregnancies and some report being threatened to repay these fees if they do not go through with the adoption.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Two camps advertise out-reach to women facing an unplanned pregnancy: crisis pregnancy centers and adoption agencies. According to many who have worked or volunteered at crisis pregnancy centers "Choose life" is often code for "Choose Adoption" which of course is likewise the goal of adoption agency businesses. In many cases, it is as deceitful as a divorce attorney offering marriage counseling.

The difference between information dissemination provided women seeking abortion and the total lack thereof for those considering adoption is drastically - and shockingly - unequal. Anti-abortion rhetoric is force-fed to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies while not a word of balanced reality is offered to those considering adoption.

Rushing mothers to decide without sufficient time to consent or revoke, as well as failing to provide complete, balanced and accurate information, serves the adoption industry and those who earn their living within it by greatly reducing the possibility of mothers making a truly informed choice and changing their minds. Fathers are often left out of the decision-making totally, lied to, or simply not told of the pregnancy, yet are required to register their paternity status for yet unborn babies. Putative Father Registries exist in most all states now and some states require additional hoops for unmarried fathers to jump through. Utah allows adoptions without any consent from fathers.

If all of that is not enough to meet the demand for babies, "Safe Haven" laws legalize abandonment in all states, allowing anyone to leave a baby at hospitals, houses of worship, police and fire stations, with no-questions asked. Such "drop offs" totally eliminate any possibility of any options counseling and also deny the child any chance of ever tracing back his or her origins. It's the equivalent of drive-through abortion clinics!

There is no financial gain in helping struggling mothers. On the other hand, there are 30-35 individuals and couples eager to pay tens of thousands of dollars for each baby who could be adopted. It is thus that mothers - and fathers - are pressured against abortion and pressured to lose children to adoption.

The religious right would have us believe it's a matter of life and death; but if that was truly their goal, why not offer more support for parenting? Instead, adoption is touted as "family building" while ignoring the fact that every adoption begins with a family that has failed to find the resources they need to remain intact.

Adoption is framed as rescuing orphans, yet the children in most need - those in state foster care - are seldom the ones being sought. Those willing to pay on average of $40,000 want babies, preferably newborns.

Until adoption is no longer market and demand-driven, mothers in crisis will never be able to freely choose between options. Until profits are removed from adoption, mothers and fathers will continue to be pressured, often unable to maintain the integrity of their emerging family.
Single parent families need to be treated with decency and not as sources of commodities to meet a demand. They deserve time and truth, not exploitation.