Abortion or Adoption is NOT an Equal Choice

It will be some time before the Supreme Court rules on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization but there are quite a few perspectives turning up in the news already. Both Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Justice Brett Kavanaugh have gotten a lot of attention for their questions during the oral arguments. Forgive me the long blog but I am passionate about both the issue of legal abortion and curtailing the number of babies who end up adopted. And forgive me this too but I do believe there is an element among the Evangelicals of indoctrinating children who would not have been otherwise raised in the Christian religion into their belief system. Basically, conversion of the heathen masses.

Justice Barrett was perhaps the most clueless but as an adoptive mother her perspective should not surprise. NPR had a good feature on this – Why ‘Abortion Or Adoption’ Is Not An Equal Choice – and hence my blog title. Justice Barrett said, I have a question about the safe haven laws. NPR’s Ailsa Chang comments – Safe haven laws are essentially laws that allow someone to terminate parental rights to a child by relinquishing that child for adoption. (Blogger’s note – this is not entirely my understanding but I’ll leave it stand.)

Justice Barrett continued, “In all 50 states, you can terminate parental rights by relinquishing a child, and I think the shortest period might have been 48 hours if I’m remembering the data correctly.” Chang interjects, “Justice Barrett, who adopted two of her own seven children, wanted to know, isn’t adoption an alternative to abortion?” Barrett continued, “Both Roe and Casey emphasized the burdens of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe haven laws take care of that problem? It seems to me that it focuses the burden…”

Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist at the University of California at San Francisco, was also commenting on this program and said, “It’s very interesting that Justice Coney Barrett focuses specifically on the safe haven laws because this usage is extraordinarily rare. . . her broader argument about the termination of parental rights is still somewhat surprising because what we have found is that most of them do not end up choosing to place the infant for adoption.”

Another guest is “Bri” (not her actual name but used for privacy). Chang explains, Bri “had a baby and relinquished it for adoption seven years ago. It was a decision that still weighs on her to this day.” I think Bri’s perspective is accurate, “The suggestion that abortion isn’t needed because adoption is there makes it seem like this casual thing, like taking off a sweater and giving it to someone else and just forgetting about it or moving on. And that’s not what it is. It’s this huge event that you do to yourself and your child, and it changes you.” Chang adds, “For many people who don’t wish to have a child, it doesn’t come down to some binary choice between adoption or abortion. These are not equivalent options.” I agree. 

The numbers are shocking. There are around 18,000 to 20,000 private domestic adoptions per year, and these are the adoptions in which a woman makes the decision during or immediately after her pregnancy to terminate her parental rights and place that child for adoption. The number of people who choose to get an abortion is about 900,000 per year. If you look back pre Roe v. Wade, there were more illegal abortions happening than there were adoptions happening. And this is when the adoption rate was at its peak and abortions were completely illegal. There were still more abortions than there were adoptions. Adoption is a very hard decision and it has a lot of adverse outcomes. We see a lot of grief, a lot of mourning, a lot of trauma for the women who go through relinquishments. And that has not really changed even as the context of adoption practice has changed over the years. There is also data that suggests that, in some cases, it is a medically riskier to carry a pregnancy full-term and deliver that baby than to have an abortion, in early stages of pregnancy.

The bottom line is – this isn’t a choice between having an abortion or giving the baby up for adoption, but actually the choice is whether to abort, terminate the pregnancy, or whether the mother has the resources to parent. Many single women faced with an unplanned pregnancy will still chose to parent their baby IF given the support, encouragement and resources to do so. Unfortunately, the selfish elements of our system of government and overall society do not choose to do so. Adoption is often a derailment of parenting plans due to a lack of financial resources, familial support and/or partner support. And when parenting feels precarious or untenable, adoption becomes the solution that they then turn to.

Slate has an article with a similar focus – While Hearing the Case that Could Overturn Roe, Amy Coney Barrett Suggests Adoption Could Obviate the Need for Abortion Anyway. They note that 3 of the Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, while listening to arguments about Texas’ notorious SB 8 last month, demonstrated some hesitation about overturning Roe and further dismantling the inherent legitimacy of the highest court in the land. Also note that Chief Justice Roberts has two adopted children and Justice Clarence Thomas has an adopted child as well. Looks like the adoptive parents side of the argument is well represented !!

As part of Justice Barrett’s argument which I have already shared, she goes on to note, “There is without question an infringement on bodily autonomy, for which we have another context like vaccines. . . . so it seems to me that the choice would be between the ability to get an abortion at 23 weeks, or the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more, and then terminate parental rights at the conclusion.” The lawyer for Jackson Women’s Health points out that adoption has existed since Roe was first decided and  that pregnancy and birth in particular have dramatic effects on a woman’s health, also that the choice to give a child up for adoption is its own burden, not something to lightly suggest is easy. I agree.

One of the main arguments the state of Mississippi is making in this case is that pregnancy, and parenthood by extension, is no longer burdensome because of many economic and social developments that make pregnancy safer and parenting easier. (And I also agree that they are wrong.) “Numerous laws enacted since Roe—addressing pregnancy discrimination, requiring leave time, assisting with childcare, and more—facilitate the ability of women to pursue both career success and a rich family life,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote. It is shocking to hear this claim from Fitch, whose state refuses to enact laws that would grant basic protections and security to new and expectant mothers. In fact, Mississippi remains a dangerous and difficult place to bear, birth, and raise a child for lower-income parents.

The Supreme Court can only embrace Fitch’s fantastical thinking by denying the brutal reality. At every stage of pregnancy, life is difficult for Mississippians who are not wealthy. The state’s maternal mortality rate is substantially higher than the national average, and its infant mortality rate is the highest in the nation. And the racial disparities are staggering. Black mothers die at about three times the rate of white mothers. While Black infants only make up 43 percent of births, they are more than half of the premature births and nearly 60 percent of the infant deaths. Black infants also experience birth defects at four times the rate of white infants.

Be sure to click on the other link embedded (also in Slate) that takes you to an earlier article from September – Mississippi Claims Its Abortion Ban Will “Empower” Women – In reality, it could kill them by Jonathan Allen and Mark Joseph Stern.

As to Justice Kavanaugh, it appears he is opportunistic and has never been honest with the American people, especially during his confirmation hearings. Verdict has an article titled – Justice Kavanaugh’s Misdirection Plays in the Mississippi Abortion Case. Basically it comes down to his definition of “settled law” (as applied to Roe v Wade) and “precedent on precedent” (as applied to Casey). And each seems to have been intentionally misleading during his confirmation hearings.

Those statements seemed designed to reassure senators and the public that he would not vote to eliminate the abortion right. By “settled law,” Kavanaugh apparently meant only that the Supreme Court had not yet overruled Roe and Casey, leaving open the possibility that the Supreme Court could unsettle the law by doing so. As for “precedent on precedent,” the phrase perhaps sounded like a kind of extra-strength precedent, but all Kavanaugh really meant was that the Casey decision included a discussion about precedent (in addition to its discussion of abortion). It was thus a precedent about, or, if you will, on, precedent.

All the linked articles contain additional details and context. What seems clear, depending on how the Supreme Court rules, is that there may be MORE babies for hopeful prospective parents to adopt. The supply of humans for the profit of more than one entity involved in the business of adoption has been severely limited. When I was researching my dad’s adoption, which was related to The Salvation Army, they admitted to me they had to close most of their unwed mothers homes because the demand went down sharply with the legalization of abortion in the Roe v Wade decision.

Intentionally Creating an Adoptee

So the topic came up about how a birth mother loses her baby – intentionally surrendering the baby at the hospital to pre-selected adoptive parents who are hovering there through labor, delivery and immediately after the birth – or because the baby has been taken away by child protective services.

The topic first came up from a woman who falls in the latter category and feels despised by just about everyone as a despicable failure.

In this adoption group I belong to, I’ve come to know that the predominant opinion is that adoption in general is a bad thing. That young mothers are convinced by parents, religious authorities and society in general that they are incapable of parenting a baby they have conceived and carried to term. This has created a hugely profitable industry supporting the separating of a baby from its original mother and handing it over to a couple that can afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of calling the original mother’s baby her own.

So the first response, to the sad feelings of the mom who lost her baby due to the intervention of child protective services, comes from an adoptee thus –

I’m way more judgmental of women that carry children to full term knowing that they have no intention of parenting. Like the minute they have the baby it goes to the adoptive parents without a blink. In my mind…they are purposefully creating an Adoptee. I find that despicable. (This is of course a very broad statement that does not apply to every single one.) Mother’s that lose their children to the system did not plan on creating an Adoptee. They had every intention of raising their children. Then something happened between the time of birth and the time of separation. Regardless of the reason for removal…it was never their intention for their children to be parented by strangers. (Again…a very broad statement that does not apply to every case).

Another woman, a mom who lost her child writes –

There’s a stigma that if your rights have been terminated through the system then as a mom, it puts a red X on us. Here’s just a few examples of things that have been said to me – “You obviously didn’t try hard enough.” “If it was my kid, I’d fight til the death.” “You must have done something just really terrible.” A lot of people in society, especially adoptive parents only see a different side of the system. They don’t see how people get there or the months of fighting for your child just to be fought at every turn. It seems as though everything is weaponized against you, not just during, but for years afterwards.

Yet another mother who lost her child adds –

Watching somebody else raise our kids is always hard. Watching somebody who was deemed “better than us” do it is harder. And when that person is abusing them while the child you were PERMITTED to raise is thriving (for the most part) is harder. As mothers of welfare loss, we have to live with the fact our children are in a system known for its abuses. I’m lucky to have contact with mine.

The problem is that society is conditioned to believe that Child Protective Services is infallible and only takes kids when something is severely wrong and their parents give up, correcting that narrative is very hard. Realize just how broken the system is. Most of the time these women forcefully lose their children only due to poverty.

And finally, this perspective from a woman who once wanted to adopt –

Society as a whole has to make these first moms villains to feel better about the systems. Infant adoption is justified by calling birth moms brave, selfless, any other positive attribute you can think of. But since mother’s who lose their children to welfare didn’t just willingly hand over their kids to some family who wanted their kid so badly they are neither of those things. A narrative that these mothers have done horrible things to their children is pushed to continue to justify removal. Until you meet them, join Facebook groups, or otherwise learn the truth you are often under the impression that they simply aren’t safe. In short, they’re “bad” because they “didn’t want the best for their children,” whereas mothers who place are saints.

So, it is true that there’s a huge stigma if a parent lost their child to the foster care system. That parent is judged as having been terrible. People think they didn’t deserve their own kids. That the parent must have harmed them. Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption is justified by demonizing people. Society as a whole doesn’t see anything they don’t want to see. They aren’t willing to see the poverty, lack of resources or that these parents are pushing mightily against a system that’s determined to take their children, often supplying strangers with financial stipends, rather than trying to help the parent achieve their potential with financial support, therapy and basic living resources.

A Growing Problem

It is possible for parents to love their children dearly but be unable to kick an addiction that endangers their ability to parent.

Nationally, neglect is the most common reason for the removal of children from their parents (62 percent).  These cases often involve other underlying factors such as drug or alcohol abuse or parental mental health problems, which may not be reported or even known by child welfare agencies at the time of removal.

The threshold for indicating parent drug abuse as a reason for removal varies among, and sometimes within, states. For example, some states require a formal diagnosis of drug abuse for parental drug abuse to be listed as a reason for removal, while others maintain lower thresholds such as a positive urine screen or investigator suspicion. States also do not report data on informal arrangements in which a child stays with relatives or family friends without formally entering foster care.

In 2017, the rate of children entering foster care due to parental drug abuse rose for the sixth consecutive year to 131 per 100,000 children nationally—a 5 percent increase from the previous fiscal year and a 53 percent increase since FY 2007. Of the 268,212 children under age 18 removed from their families in FY 2017, 96,400 (36 percent) had parental drug abuse listed as a reason for their removal.  35 US states have experienced an increase in both the number and rate of children entering foster care due to parental drug abuse.  Federal law does not require states to specify the type of drug abuse involved in a child’s removal from the home and so the role of opioid addiction is not quantified.

Challenges for keeping families together include a lack of resources to provide appropriate treatment for parents battling addiction and a shortage of foster homes to care for children while their parents are in treatment.

Addiction is an isolating disease.  Due to the pandemic, AA and other 12-step groups have moved online, and some methadone clinics have shifted to phone meetings and appointments.  The coronavirus may make it harder for parents who have struggled with addiction to stay in recovery.  The pandemic has changed some long standing rules for treatment – it is recommended that clinics stop collecting urine samples to test for drug use.  Many patients can now get a 14- to 28-day supply of their addiction treatment medication, so they can make fewer trips to methadone or buprenorphine clinics.

It’s too early to tell what long term effects this unprecedented time we are living through will have on families.  Compassion, understanding and whatever support can be given under pandemic restrictions may be critical to the long term outcome.