The 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 interesting.
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 homes.”
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 child.
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.
Originally published on The Resurgent