Time for a series on wingnut myths about reproductive rights! Yay!
Every time someone says, “Oh, I don’t think you should be allowed to have an abortion. But just give it up for adoption! It’s just as good for you, and better for your baby!”, I want to punch a hole in the wall. Part of it is the blithe nature in which it’s said, exacerbating the flagrant disregard of what the mother might think is best for her or her baby; part of it is the moralistic, holier-than-thou tone – ironic, in my opinion, because said tone is coming from someone who has made it their business to guilt/force women into bearing unwanted children, and still manages to feel proud and self-satisfied.
My quarrel is not with adoption, per se. My quarrel is with these “pro-lifers” (you know what? I can’t handle putting parentheses around the term each time I use it, and don’t want to get into what the best alternate term would be, so just assume the quotes are there from here on out) who frantically trot out ADOPTION as the best (and only moral) choice for pregnant women who aren’t ready to have a child. Adoption can be a wonderful thing for everyone involved, but to assert that it’s the best choice in all cases, or for all people, is a dramatic misrepresentation of the facts, and insulting to women who choose to have an abortion rather than give their babies up.
I can understand why many pro-lifers seize on the idea of adoption. For someone whose priority is ensuring that already-pregnant women do not have abortions, but recognizes (either by compassion, reason, or under duress) that many women just aren’t ready to be parents, it seems like a tailor-made solution. Save the babies, and the mother gets off scot-free! Yay! To be fair, it’s probably not preferable (for most pro-lifers) to the original parent “taking responsibility for her actions” and suddenly becoming Suzy Homemaker, content and fulfilled with her new maternal duties, but it’s probably the next-best thing. But it’s really not that simple – like most (all?) pro-life “solutions”, this one is problematic because it fails to properly address the needs of the mother.
Browbeating women into giving their child up for adoption rather than having an abortion is insulting to the nth degree. It recasts women as childbearing vessels, wombs with legs, as opposed to mature, autonomous human beings with the same concerns and rights to emotional and physical health as the non-pregnant (as well as implying that someone who wouldn’t want to raise a child in their current circumstances probably wouldn’t care or wonder about what happened to it after giving birth). Even assuming somebody is completely on-board with the idea of giving her baby to somebody else after it’s born, coercing them into undergoing 9 months of pregnancy and then childbirth is a hallmark of someone who really doesn’t give two shits about women.
This is especially poignant for me – as someone interested in midwifery and reproductive rights issues beyond just abortion and birth control, I know there’s a lot of instances in which pregnant women’s bodily integrity and autonomy are not respected (of which, of course, forcing women to become and remain pregnant are two). Go to Unnecesarean.com and read statistics there; read this story of a woman who was tortured by her OB/GYN for “not having come to the hospital soon enough”; go read about how some women’s birth experiences are so traumatic that the UK now has a Birth Trauma Association; go read about how some women are so violated during labor that they call it birth rape; read this nurse’s account of how abuse of patients is endemic to some maternity wards; watch this video at Bitch, Ph.D. that talks about how “fetal rights” laws are being used to deny pregnant and laboring women any say in their bodily decisions. In addition, for the richest country in the world, that spends the most by far on healthcare, the U.S. has pretty shitty maternal morality rates. And that only refers to childbirth – during their pregnancy, women in this country are more likely to die from homicide than any other cause, natural or otherwise (most often at the hands of their male partner). Domestic violence can also be precipitated or escalated by pregnancy (to say nothing of the mental health of women who became pregnant in the context of or as a result of domestic violence). Even when they’re not beaten or killed, pregnant teenagers are frequently the target of disapproving looks and moralizing lectures (no citation needed, I think). And let’s not forget the possibility of postpartum depression! Sometimes pushed to the wayside, women’s mental health can be negatively affected by pregnancy or birth, even if they dearly want their child. That, compounded with what the American Psychological Association said in their debunking of “Post-Abortion Syndrome”,
This potential change in the profile of women giving birth does not include any new mental health problems that might develop from stresses associated with […] relinquishing a child for adoption.
and this: “A forced, unwanted pregnancy…could place women’s health and well-being at risk.” (page 13), means that women’s mental health could be seriously affected by someone pushing adoption against the mother’s wishes.*
Clearly, pregnancy and childbirth, which are intense and emotional experiences in the best of circumstances, can frequently have decidedly negative effects in our current society.
All of this is not to say that women should be discouraged from becoming pregnant and giving birth if they want to; on the contrary, they should be given much more support and respect than they currently are. However, blindly reassuring women that all of their pregnancy and parenting-related qualms will be assuaged by adoption (just DON’T GET AN ABORTION!!1!) is misleading, and not only subjects women to, but actively contributes to the already-endemic disrespect for pregnant women and their ability to make their own choices.
In short, dealing with an unwanted pregnancy by giving one’s baby up for adoption is no more or less “moral” or “right” than any other moral choice, provided it’s made with the woman’s full consent and desire to do so. It has its drawbacks, certainly, but if someone is aware of them and still decides that this is the best option for them, I wholeheartedly support them. The problem arises from busybodies pushing adoption as the panacea to all hesitations or misgivings a woman may have about continuing a pregnancy, rather than letting her make a choice about the matter herself. Giving a child up for adoption is no more moral than deliberately terminating a pregnancy, and forcing someone to do so is decidedly less.
Bitch, Ph.D.: Birth Mothers Are People, Too
Shakesville (must read!): Breaking the Silence: On Living Pro-Lifers’ Choice For Women
The Nation (must read also): Shotgun Adoption
* In fact, there already exist several sites dedicated to women who feel taken advantage of or otherwise regret having their child been put up for adoption (note: I don’t agree with everything on these sites, which is why I didn’t post them before, but they do have many valid points and heart-wrenching stories, and illustrate the clear fact that adoption does not always solve more problems than it creates).
Update: To all you readers who came from the CNN article that linked here – sorry that I don’t mention adoption by same-sex couples in this post. I was going to, but it just got too long and convoluted, and is, I feel, a separate (though related) issue. If you like it here, though, rest assured – one about gay adoption should be coming forthwith! (But isn’t it great about Florida repealing the ban?)
Update 2: Commenter paragraphein has pointed out some glaring inaccuracies in my original post, particularly regarding different types of adoption and the types of people associated with each. Thus, I have removed the applicable sections from this post, pending future research on my part. If anyone else notices blatant misstatements of facts, particularly in the areas in which I am not as knowledgeable, please feel free to drop a line pointing it out. I certainly try to research before I write, but sometimes fail epically, as I apparently did in part of this post. So sorry, long-time readers and newbies! I’ll try to do better next time.
“Pro-Life” Myth Series:
1. You can just give it up for adoption! Problem solved!