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Oct
20

NO to Adoption not Abortion

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My criticism of the ‘adoption not abortion’ approach to abortion discussion does not win me any popularity contests among those who promote it,  however everything I know about both adoption and abortion compels me to dispel some misconceptions.

I see banners, flyers and memes, such as the one depicted here all over social media and every time I read them I cringe with the message this sends about how little people understand either option.

Having worked in research, education and advocating for the needs of women experiencing challenging or unintended pregnancy, and post abortive women, I understand that the issues women face in decision making are extremely complex.  Added to the complexity of sifting through personal circumstances, trying to meet the needs of all the people involved, and the woman’s own personal values, are the social pressures that often drive women toward decisions they may not necessarily want.

Research tells us that 95% of abortions are undertaken for psychosocial reasons including economic concerns, relationship issues, career and education goals, fears of not being ‘ready’ for motherhood etc.   What we shouldn’t read into this is that these women are making ‘lifestyle’ decisions purely for their own benefit and selfish happiness, as some seem to think.   Our professional, educational and social structures are for the most part constructed around the biology and needs of men, not women.  Our universities still fail to provide adequate child care facilities for new parents.  Women in workplaces still face discrimination, and sometimes threats of losing jobs when they become pregnant or take time off to parent.  New mothers are sent home from hospital on day 2 after giving birth to their first child, often unprepared, frequently isolated and unsupported.  Public breastfeeding is still maligned and places to be in comfort to care for an infant when out and about often inadequate.

What sixties feminism did for women in fighting for, and gaining abortion rights simply exchanged one form of female bondage for another.  Women now have the ‘freedom’ and ‘autonomy’ to ‘choose’ abortion so that they can continue their education and careers, unencumbered by their biology and reproductive capability.  This has turned out to be a much quicker, cheaper and less time consuming solution to the ‘problem’ of pregnancy and children than many seemed to anticipated.  So much simpler in fact, that it is easier to promote abortion as the best solution to an undesired, mistimed or complicated pregnancy than it is to walk alongside the woman and ensure that she receives the best possible care and faces no discriminatory practices.

Abortion advocates say women NEED abortion in order to be experience equality.  To me, this statement says that women must change who they are in order to fit a male structured world if they want to be perceived as equal.   If a woman was considered truly equal she would have the freedom and autonomy to birth as many children as she wanted without facing lost opportunities because the  social world would be forced to accommodate her.

When prolife advocates say to women you should choose adoption not abortion, they are failing to understand that few women considering or having abortions are even thinking about the reality of being pregnant with a baby. They are generally reacting, often in a state of reasonable anxiety to a high pressure situation for which they are being offered a seemingly quick and easy solution;  one which leaves them no longer pregnant.  For it is being pregnant at that stage that women are seeking a solution for.  They are not usually saying ‘I don’t want my child’.  They are not usually saying ‘I don’t want to parent’.   They are saying, “I have no money, no resources, no support, no confidence, too much fear, not enough help” to continue this pregnancy.

Waving ‘adoption not abortion’ banners at this time completely ignores and diminishes the very real circumstances of her life at that time.

This approach also fails to understand the experience of adoption for mothers.  We see lots of rosy stories of happy ‘birth mums’ who ‘loved their child so much they gave them a better life’. What we see less often is the genuine, absolute and lifelong heartbreak of many mums who felt compelled to see adoption as a solution to their inability to parent for many of the same reasons some women consider abortion.   When I hear a women praised for giving her child ‘a better life’ or being ‘selfless’ or doing the ‘best for her baby’ I have an almost physical response.   How dare we suggest that a woman’s child is better off with a non biological family, or that a woman is more selfless by relinquishing her motherhood than walking through it?

I was 17 and single when I had my first child, a daughter.  I know that had I been forced, pressured or felt compelled to give her to another family, a piece of me so large would have shattered that I would have spent every waking second of my life trying to fix it.  I see this experience in mothers who did take the adoption path.  I see some who truly believed it was the right thing to do at the time, who were convinced someone else would be better for their child, and who only weeks, or months, or sometimes years realised that wasn’t true.  Then it is too late.

Adoption is a decision made between the option of parenting or not.  The United States has about the same abortion rate as Australia, but a significantly higher adoption rate.  This has to tell us that women and babies are not ‘saved’ from abortion because of adoption availability.   Women in the US are adopting in higher numbers for a whole lot of reasons that we don’t fully understand, but they are not all rosy stories.

Before a woman makes an adoption decision we want to be darn sure we have provided her with every possible means to raise her own child so that she is not left wondering how she could be so abandoned some time down the track. For some, adoption may be a preferred option, but confusing the two does nobody any favours.

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18 comments

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  1. Greg says:

    Until now, I understood most of the counter to adoption, but never the unaddressed failings providing an alternative to the opposite poles. Yes, this society is so male dominated that we try to pressure women into conforming to its reproductive choices..

    1. Debbie says:

      Thanks Greg. Both abortion and adoption can represent the ways in which society has failed to meet the real needs of women, and of mothers in particular. Fathers too lose out in both cases.

  2. Pam McRae says:

    Very cogent. I’m a natural mother from the BSE, and I was pressured into relinquishing my son when I would have been a perfectly good mother if only I’d had an ounce of support. Instead, my son suffered all the fallout of being adopted that is amply documented in so any adoptee blogs, and I endured decades of unresolved grief. Now in reunion, I realize even more painfully just how much we lost by being separated. I didn’t want an abortion then (this was before Roe v. Wade) even if that option had been available to me. I wanted my baby, but more than that I wanted what was best for him–what I THOUGHT was best for him. I will say the unsayable: abortion would have been easier. My advice to a woman with an unplanned pregnancy: have an early abortion or birth and raise your child. Don’t for a moment consider giving him/her away.

    1. Debbie says:

      Thanks Pam. I am so sorry for what happened to you, and to so many women whose voices still need to be heard. I have heard many women in your situation make the same statement, that abortion would have been easier. I have also heard the opposite from suffering post-abortive women. We can never truly know what the suffering of the alternative may have been like for us unless we’ve walked both paths.

      Neither option serves to meet the real needs of women. Deb

  3. Greg says:

    Why is it society’s obligation to subsidize child care for others? Parents get enough breaks that the childless sacrifice receiving nothing in return and now they should hand parents more? How about people who have unplanned pregnancies or give birth to children they weren’t ready for step up and take responsibility for their kids. You can’t have it all in life. There are decisions people have to make in their lives that come with consequences.

    I do agree though that abortion and adoption have nothing to do with each other. One is a pregnancy decision the other is a parenting decision. There are ways to cut down on abortion (birth control) and it has nothing to do with adoption.

    1. Debbie says:

      Hi Greg

      I think the raising of children to be future adult citizens is a social and community issue. Parenthood is a tough journey and shouldn’t have to be done in isolation. While there may be some financial incentives etc, we shouldn’t underestimate the ways in which women particularly find parenting to be an extremely isolating experience, and often lacking in necessary support.

      Deb

      1. Greg says:

        Hi Deb,

        What gets forgotten is the isolation that those who choose not to have kids or those unable to have kids live in. Our society is childfilled and if you lack kids then you are seen as less important in our society. What gets ignored is the contributions the childless make in our society. There are no Adult Day that celebrates the contributions and sacrifices they make unlike Mothers and Fathers. They pay taxes yet never utilize the public schools. They pick up the slack in the work place when others with kids are unable to work for whatever kid related responsibility. And when the childless age there is no family to care for them or grow old with.

        Until there is better support for those who are childless I see no obligation on their end to subsidize someone else raising their kid. It’s their responsibility. None of these people ever come to the aid of someone who is childless who lacks a family or support in their old age.

        1. Debbie says:

          You make some great points about social isolation Greg. I think what is happening to women and families is a similar thing to what you describe as happening to singles and to the elderly. One solution is a return to a sense of greater social responsibility as opposed to our current focus on individual self sufficiency and ‘happiness’. Worthy of another post. :)

          1. Greg says:

            The social responsibility has to go both ways. Until things change I don’t think it’s fair that the responsibility fall on one group while their needs and well being are ignored. I see you proposing a solution for one side but not one for others. The solution is for our society to become less child centered and having children not be a status symbol. To not isolate those who lack children either by lack of ability or choice.

          2. Debbie says:

            I think I’m proposing a solution for both sides, although I admit it is with a better understanding of the issues facing parents than facing singles. I disagree that we are childcentric. My experience, both personally and professionally is that the social world frowns on children and their needs more than ever. Many mothers still struggle to find somewhere decent to change or feed a baby outside of their homes. We hear stories all the time of women abused for breastfeeding, even discreetly, in public places. The Human Rights Commission into Discrimination of pregnant or parenting women found widespread discrimination. You can read the submissions here.

            Isolation of single people, whether young single by choice or circumstance, older and child-free, or much older and lonely, can be alleviated by greater social, community and family engagement. This also helps to alleviate the isolation and discrimination that exists toward those who have children, a very common experience. It is difficult for me to fully understand the experience of a single adult, having never been one, and because my work is around issues of family, so I am not trying to trivialise the issues. I have also worked with women and couples in my private practice who are unable to have children and the very real grief of such a loss and how their perspective is quite different. I have seen at least some partial resolution to grief when they can see their role with others’ children as valuable and necessary. No, it is not the same, but valuable and necessary, for both the child-free, and for parents. I greatly appreciate your input.

  4. Tami says:

    Wonderful analysis of a situation fraught with gray areas! Thank you!

    1. Debbie says:

      Thanks Tami

  5. Mary O'Grady says:

    Having observed the anti-abortion movement for decades, I think it is obvious that it is all about punishing women for having sex. “The baybees” provide a convenient emotional focus for a deep-rooted misogyny. Adoption is also promoted by these folks because not only does it allow them to send womb-wet infants to worthy (read: pious and prosperous) people who agree with them, they may also understand on some level that their propaganda about natural mothers just going off and forgetting their children is totally bogus. Adoption is a cruel lifelong sentence of sorrow for women who lose their children.
    It is not often talked about openly, but some of the most vehement advocates of legal abortion I know are women who lost children to the adoption meatgrinder.

    1. Debbie says:

      Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. Your statement that it is obvious that pro-lifers are about punishing women for sex has not been my experience at all, although this is often an accusation that abortion advocates will use. There are a large number of pro-life groups that are not conservative on other issues, and are not religious. There are radical people on the edges of all ideology and sometimes the minority radical view gets pushed to the forefront because it is .. well… radical.. but this doesn’t make it representative of the group.

      I also know a number of mothers whose children were adopted who take a stance for abortion, believing it to be a less painful path. I believe both have their trauma attached and aren’t comparable. My hope is that we can work to separate the 2 concepts and understand the issues involved for each. Deb

  6. Ariel says:

    Thank you for understanding how shattering it is to place a baby for adoption. It’s definitely not something anyone should be encouraged to do, which is the case right now. People don’t want to hear from me, a birth mother who regrets the adoption, they just want to cling to the imaginary woman made famous by adoption mythology: the happy birth mother with no regrets. I know very few people truly like this.

    Abortion is a separate consideration, and adoption does not save babies from abortion. As you said, these women can parent with help. Someday the shiny facade of adoption will come crashing down, and I can’t wait.

    1. Debbie says:

      Thanks Ariel. I agree that we should not be encouraging a stronger push toward adoption when there are so many women who have experienced it still trying to have their pain and grief heard. All the research points to the significantly greater benefit of keeping biological families intact. All the maternal grief I see, in women who have aborted and adopted, points to the failures of society to meet their real needs. Deb

  7. Janet MacKenzie-Cohen says:

    I too am a Birth Mother who surrendered my Baby in 1965 and then spent almost 50 frantic years looking for her – and I had been worried sick about her for all these decades.
    I was told by the attending physician that she would not survive or if she did she would be institutionalized – but conversely, she is in the same line of work as me and has a good life.
    I am one of the lucky ones who has found their Child, but in our Adoption Support Group there are many adoptees and Birth Parents who have not been so fortunate.
    Adoption is not the happily ever after solution that I was promised – it is a huge heartache – now my Daughter and I are complete strangers and have very little (other than our DNA) in common;
    It is not just a tragedy for me, but for my whole family, and for her adoptive family as well, who are apparently not pleased that I found her.
    You have no idea of the complications of adoption – and worst of all is the impact on the child which is borne out by the research –
    Please check out carefully what you propose to do, before you advocate adoption.

    1. Debbie says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. There is so much heart break for so many people that needs to be heard.

  1. Addressing misconceptions says:

    […] the issue of adoption, I have been quite vocal in my opposition to promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion. I strongly believe every mother should be given every opportunity, not just in words, but in […]

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