Atlantic recently ran a piece on adoption versus abortion. While most
conservative outlets and readers focus on the money quote, a subtitle that reads,
“Some American women see giving up their babies as more emotionally painful
than terminating their pregnancies,” the excerpt doesn’t do the article justice
and really doesn’t reflect the tone of the article.
The implication from the blurb is that many women choose
abortion over adoption because they are self-centered and would rather inflict
pain on an unborn baby than to go through the process of pregnancy and suffer
emotional pain themselves as a result. That was my initial reaction, but then I
actually read the piece by Olga Khazan, which turned out to be quite
Preconceptions are shattered almost immediately when Khazan
points out that, while rates for both adoption and abortion have fallen in
recent decades, births to unmarried children have risen. This suggests that,
rather than making a choice to abort over placing their baby up for adoption,
many women are choosing to become single parents. As single-parenting has become
more socially acceptable, more women have decided to keep their babies rather
than allow them to be adopted.
While this does contribute to the welfare state since children
of single-parent families are more like to be raised in poverty, it is a better
choice than abortion. It also works against the declining birthrate in the United
States, which is another longterm problem that needs to be addressed.
Khazan cites the Turnaway Study of women who were denied abortions
between 2008 and 2010. Of 956 women interviewed, 161 went on to give birth, but
only 15 chose adoption. Khazan doesn’t say, but presumably, the remainder had
successful abortions on subsequent attempts.
The study found that when women were denied an abortion,
usually for financial reasons or lack of access, they often considered
adoption. Fourteen percent of mothers who were denied an abortion considered
adoption in the weeks following their abortion attempt, but ultimately, only
nine percent decided to adopt. Most of those who carried the baby to term simply
decided to raise the child themselves.
On the other hand, none of the mothers who aborted had any
interest in adoption. The authors of the study wrote, “Adoption was often ruled
out because they felt it was not right for them, because their partner would
not be interested, because they had health reasons for not wanting to carry to
term, or because they believed there were already enough children in need of
While the mother’s health might preclude an adoption, the
other reasons relate more to the fact that the baby was an inconvenience. For example,
having children already has nothing to do with putting a different child up for
adoption but does raising children while pregnant is more difficult.
The study did find that mothers who chose adoption were
satisfied with the choice but that it was very traumatic initially.
“Uniformly, the birth mothers experience grief after
placement,” said Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist at the Advancing New Standards
in Reproductive Health research group of the University of California at San
Francisco. “It’s a very hard choice and one that a lot of women are not
interested in making. By the time they are delivering the child, women feel
bonded to their pregnancies and their children.”
One study participant said, “I had too many feelings for her
to give [her] to someone I barely knew.”
These types of comments underscore the truth that unborn
babies are living human beings, a fact denied by many in the pro-choice camp. Nevertheless,
most mothers inherently understand that the child inside them is just that: a
Khazan also cites a small study performed by Sisson on
mothers who placed their children up for adoption between 1962 and 2009. In the
study, she wrote, “Rarely was adoption the preferred course of action; it
emerged as a solution when women felt they had no other options.” Most of the
women interviewed described their experience with adoption as “predominantly
negative.” Khazan notes that this may be because most of the participants were
involved in closed adoptions where no contact was allowed between the birth
mother and the adopted child.
Finally, Khazan cites a third study which does lend credence
to the money quote cited above. A 2008 study found that a quarter of women
considering abortion found adoption to be too emotionally distressing. “Respondents
said that the thought of one’s child being out in the world without knowing
whether it was being taken care of or who was taking care of it was more guilt-inducing
than having an abortion,” wrote the authors.
While it seems barbaric and wrongheaded – and more than a
little reminiscent of Nazi Germany – to kill an unborn baby because you are
concerned about its wellbeing, this statement again cuts against the claim that
a fetus is not a human being. If an unborn baby is nothing more than a lump of
cells then there is no reason to be concerned about whether it will be taken
care of in the future.
If I go that far, I’m attached. I cannot just give my baby
away to someone,” said the unmarried, 24-year-old mother of two who was
considering abortion over adoption.
Khazan also points out that neither pro-choice nor pro-life
counseling centers are doing a good job of selling expectant mothers on
adoption. According to the National Council for Adoption, the referral rate to
adoption agencies is only about one percent.
While Khazan’s article is not pro-life by any means, she is
objective enough to confront some uncomfortable truths. “Rightly or wrongly,
very few women who desire abortions actually see adoption as a favorable
alternative,” she writes, but adds, “The reason the women don’t choose adoption
is not great for the pro-choice side, either. Some of these women report
feeling bonded with their fetuses, or at least too attached to give up the
resulting baby. That’s an inconvenient point if you feel that a fetus is
nothing more than a collection of cells and that what happens to it before
viability is basically immaterial.”
If the pro-life movement wants women to see adoption as a
viable alternative to abortion, there is a lot of work to be done. Crisis
pregnancy centers could do a better job of informing women about adoption and there
should be more methods through which the mother can stay involved in the child’s
life if she chooses. This may help to reduce the emotional stress of giving a
child away. Campaigns should also be undertaken to make the public see adoption
as a positive choice and spouses should be encouraged to support women who want
to carry their children to term and place them with adoptive parents.
One of the most difficult problems to overcome is the fact
that abortions can take place in secret while carrying a baby to term is
difficult to conceal. Many women probably choose abortion to keep others from
ever knowing that they were pregnant in the first place.
In the end, Khazan’s article contains both good news and bad
news for the pro-life movement. Rather than attacking the messenger or
ridiculing the women who choose abortion over adoption, we should learn from
their experience and tailor the pro-life message to address their concerns.
The only way to resolve the national issues that divide us is
to talk to each other and find common ground. Olga Khazan may be a pro-choice
advocate, but I applaud her for looking past the rhetoric to find out what mothers
on both sides of the issue think.