Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Adoption Reform SHOULD Be Part of Abortion Common Ground

baby vintage.jpgI recently threw out a half-baked idea of paying pregnant mothers to give up babies for adoption instead of having an abortion.
I admit there’s something creepy about the idea (which has been mocked here, here, here, here, and here, for starters) but I wanted explain what I’m trying to get at — in the hope that we collectively can come up with something better.
Improving adoption policy seems to be a logical plank in a “common ground” agenda. Pro-choicers ought to like giving women more options. Pro-lifers have been advocating adoption aid for a while. In 2008, the Obama campaign took a big step, too, adding into the Democratic Party platform this new sentence: “The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.”
Currently, government policy promoting adoption mostly focuses on helping the adopting family not the birth mother. A family can get a $11,650 tax credit for adopting a baby – a provision that stimulates the “demand side” but does nothing to change the calculus of a birth mother. The policy tilt toward adopting parents over birth moms may flow from a lingering sense that these women, or their boyfriends, are “bad” or “irresponsible.”
It’s time to purge that idea. These women go through tremendous sacrifice to carry a baby to term — to give it life — and should be viewed as heroes not villains.
Corinna Lohser of the Spence-Chapin, a pro-choice adoption agency, has some excellent ideas to help birthmothers, mostly focused on building awareness about the modern adoption choice through education and counseling. Adoption laws have changed dramatically in recent decades and many women don’t realize that they can decide whether they retain involvement in the life of the baby or not. Some may fear they’ll never see the baby again; some may fear the future relationship and reject the adoption choice based on this lack of information. Birth mothers have more control than they used to, so it’s not too farfetched to imagine pro-lifers and pro-choicers joining together around a national public service ad campaign around correcting the public perception of adoption.
Writing at RH Reality Check’s new Common Ground area, Lohser also suggests that family planning clinics are eager to get better at this:

“Family planning and other healthcare providers report that they want to be able to discuss adoption with their clients, but face a number of barriers including a lack of information and fluency in “adoption language.” Others admit to subscribing to pervasive cultural myths and misconceptions about adoption or a distrust of available adoption-referral sources.”

Others have advocated vouchers for maternity homes. These homes used to be common-place in a pre-Roe era but have since become more scarce. The idea would be to give a pregnant woman a voucher so she can choose the type of program most appropriate for her and allow her to continue her education while being in a supportive environment in which to continue her pregnancy. This would be most useful for isolated, teen mothers who need emotional and financial support. We could also support birthmothers by replicating the laws some states have allowing birth mothers to enforce open-adoption contracts so adoptive families can’t disregard her wishes once the baby is born.
It was in thinking about how to help birth mothers that I wondered about paying them if they choose to put a baby up for adoption instead of an abortion. We’re asking them to go through the extraordinary sacrifice of continuing a pregnancy knowing they might end up making the wrenching decision to give her baby away. There are health risks. More important, there are deep psychological risks. And yes there are even financial risks. Women who carry a baby to term may have to take sabbaticals from work or drop out of school.
If we as a society want women to choose adoption, shouldn’t we help make it financially more plausible for that woman? In a way, this isn’t as radical as it seems. Adoption agencies and adopting families routinely pay the medical bills for birth mothers and sometimes also provide money for housing, maternity clothing and other expenses. Perhaps we could say that expenses ought to include not just medical and clothing costs but economic opportunity costs as well. Yes, the government would be putting its thumb on the scale in favor of adoption instead of abortion but it’s still up to the woman to choose which path would be better for her.
vintage baby2.jpgAfter I floated this idea during my chat with Slate’s Will Saletan, I heard some, er, criticism. The blogger “feminste,” in a post she filed under the “assholes” category, says my proposal is to “bribe women into giving birth so that they’ll give the baby to a nice family.” Gloria Feldt, in her post, “Possibly the Most Idiotic Common Ground Discussion I’ve Ever Heard,” writes, “Remind me, how do you spell “c-o-e-r-c-i-o-n”? How much money would it take to make you carry a pregnancy to term against your will?”
Feldt’s comment implies that a woman would invariably prefer having an abortion to placing a baby up for adoption, For some women, that’s undoubtedly true. But for women who choose not to parent and would prefer not to have an abortion, is it really c-o-e-r-c-i-o-n to make it easier to do so? I bristle at the notion that it is sound family policy to give cash to nice middle class adopting families but it’s necessarily bribery to help the birth mothers who are often less well off.
Nonetheless, when I floated the idea I said that the words “tasted bitter” as I said them — and in the end I admit the cash payment ideas probably doesn’t make sense. Here’s why: I think the idea works for a woman deciding between abortion and adoption, but doesn’t for a woman deciding between raising the child herself and adoption. Under the second scenario, we could slide into a 19th century world of poor women giving up babies for cash, and regretting it for the rest of their lives.
But I stand by the idea that we should be making it much easier for birth mothers to carry a baby to term and make adoption a more viable choice for women confronting unintended pregnancy. And I disagree with the apparent inclination of some on the pro-choice side to minimize the adoption question entirely. “The real common ground is preventing unintended pregnancy, and it is logically incorrect not to start with that framework,” writes Feldt.
Actually, that would be called “our team winning,” not “common ground.”
Common ground usually does not occur because both sides equally and enthusiastically agree on some set of policies. Some pro-choicers act as if common ground involves pro-choice people agreeing with one another. Rather, it happens when one side has some things they want very much that the other side can stomach. Pro-choicers really want prevention and ought to be able to stomach adoption reform, especially since it means expanding choices for women. Pro-lifers really want adoption reform and ought to be able to stomach prevention especially since it’s the most effective way to reduce abortion.
The Obama people understood this when they negotiated the Democratic platform. In a historic shift, they coupled a prevention oriented sentence with one focused on helping women who want to choose to carry a baby to term. They campaigned on that and won countless votes from pro-lifers on those grounds. In fact, one quarter of the Obama coalition was pro-lifers.
Pro-choice activists who minimize the importance of the adoption part of the dscussion will make it much less likely that a broad coalition will be built around prevention, just as pro-lifers will lose their chance to expand access to adoption if they refuse to budge on family planning.
And because it’s always easier to block ideas than to pass them, pro-choicers who resist the common ground approach may well succeed. I believe, however, that would be a phyrric victory for pro-choicers, as it would undermine Obama, force him to betray a quarter of his voters, cede the middle ground to the pro-life community and dash efforts to mobilize the pro-life public that supports expanded access to family planning (vs, the pro-life establishment that does not) — all while expanding women’s reproductive options. But hey, it’s their choice.
Cross-posted at RH Reality Check’s On Common Ground

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posted June 30, 2009 at 3:04 pm

I’m very much pro-choice, but I can see your point. However, I cannot accept the idea of providing adoption benefits to pregnant women if it is not coupled with the government paying for abortions at the same time. That would be the only way to keep the two equal and allow women a true choice of conscience.
Churches and other pro-life supporters should also drop their opposition to allowing gays to adopt. How can they promote adoption when they cut out a segment of the population that could greatly alleviate the numbers of orphans adoption agencies must support?

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posted June 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I take serious issue as an adoptee with the idea of giving mothers money for their children. I was already paid for by my adoptive parents. In fact, my maternal birth grandparents paid for her stay at the home. Then as an adoptee searching, I got suckered out of money as well. There is also the issue of coercion, corruption, and pure deception in adoption. We need to fix adoption first before we make it into a panacea for abortion.

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Katie Angel

posted July 1, 2009 at 10:40 am

It seems to me that anything we can do to support a woman’s right to choose is worthy of consideration – including providing support for the birth mother who is willing to give up her child for adoption. A lot of women do not have the financial support to be able to carry a child to birth without some assistance (something that I think Catholic Charities is still doing, but I’m not sure). If we can give financial incentives to couples who adopt – when there is already a much greater demand for babies than there is supply – why shouldn’t we, as a society, do the same for the woman who is actually “doing the work”? I agree that common ground doesn’t mean that one side gets exactly what they want – we have to find things that one side wants very much and the other side can tolerate. This seems to be one of those things. Yes, we need to fix adoption – but we can do this as part of the fix.

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Adult adoptee

posted July 1, 2009 at 3:54 pm

You have left the child, the PERSON to whom adoption is supposed to benefit, out of your scheme altoghter. Children are meant to be raised with their parents–natural ones–except in cases of abuse, addiction or neglect.
Why not do whatever it takes to keep families together instead of practicing this social deconstruction? It is not the responsibility of fertile people to supply your side with womb-fresh infants to raise. The *demand* you’re creating is not a good enough reason to destroy families.
You are promoting an “open adoption” fallacy. There is no such thing as an “open” adoption. They are NOT enforcable by law, and certainly you are well aware of this fact. Most adoptions are closed within the first few years, if not months. The adoptive parents worry that the children are “confused” (i.e. mommy and daddy are getting insecure) and they pull out of their end of the deal, breaking off contact. It’s just a ploy used by agencies and attorneys to coax women in need of help into a deal she can’t back out of–like the “counseling” the agencies provide. It’s all to close the sale. The same techniques are used at any car dealership.
Please, do some research.

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Your Name

posted July 1, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Initially, I was not going to write a comment on this story, but when I read the comment from “Adult Adoptee”, I felt obligated to do so.
First, there are such things as “open adoptions”, as I have been living through such an arrangement for over 7 years. I do agree with the author’s idea of making open adoptions enforceable, because that was my main fear and concern when I gave my daughter to her family. Thankfully, things worked out wonderfully with her adoption and I am still as much a part of her life now, as I was 7 years ago and will continue to be a part of her life until the day I pass on. Please do your research, and you will find that my situation is not unique.
Second, although money may seem like a nice “reward” for carrying a child to term, most mothers who would even consider giving their children away are not doing so for monetary gain. They are concerned about the well being of their child, and view the adoptive parents as the biggest gift they can receive, provided they are decent people who provide a loving home.
This was a very interesting article, and I hope that more people educate themselves about all aspects of adoption. I will definitely forward this to my daughter’s adoptive parents and ask their opinions as well!

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Your Name

posted July 1, 2009 at 5:40 pm

As a birth Mother, I would have gladly kept my daughter but had no money, no support at home from my parents to keep her, and open adoption was not an option. Luckily, we found each other after 35yrs. Her adoptive parents would not speak to me at all. They are both in ill health and I’m glad I can be here for her. Her Dad is an alcoholic and she went through a lot with his poor health because of it, and her Mother has been chronically ill for years. My daughter had to take care of the house and do the cooking from 8th grade until she left for college. I wish more birth Mothers had the option of keeping their children. Adoptive parents are like everyone else. Life happens and you deal with it.

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posted July 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

great idea ! you convinced me.

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Dawn Friedman

posted July 6, 2009 at 4:27 pm

No, no, no, no, no. No. This isn’t a good idea. A good idea is helping women parent — giving them the support they need to get job training and education, access to programs that allow them to parent, safe and affordable housing, etc. When I saw “adoption reform,” I got excited because adoption reform is needed but right now what’s need is LESS coercion — not more. Open adoption is NOT enforceable by law even in states where legal open adoption agreements exist. I have a daughter who was placed with us in an open adoption and I could leave town, change her name and never talk to her birth mom again and her birth mother would have NO LEGAL RECOURSE.
Bribing less privileged women to give their babies to more privileged women? Just NO.

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posted July 6, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Adoption in the United States is the pretty stepsister to abortion. It is walking, living, abortion. We abort the natural mother and child connection and ask them both to walk around with the emotional placenta for the rest of their lives and be happy about it. We close records and hide medical history and damage generations. Buying babies from women is not going to cease abortions. It will however create yet another market economy, human trafficking and more. If you have money to spare, why not give it to the mothers to raise their children? Oh, mom doesnt want the child? MOm is a crackwhore slut? Maybe dad wants his offspring. Maybe gramma or auntie does? Give THEM the money. Keep the children with their family of origin. Do not make them human bandaids meant to fix the wounds of infertile families. Please do your research. Start here for some ideas.

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Adult adoptee #2

posted July 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Oh when, oh when will people realize adoption sucks. Even in “open adoption” ….your child still calls another woman “mom”. Sounds great. Another shining example of pro-adoption, anti-choice propaganda being shoved down my throat. Bottom line, I lost the family I was supposed to be with. Did it ruin my life? No. Am I suicidal?? No. Do I lead a productive life? Yes. That being said, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow that I don’t wish on my worst enemy. Adoption should only be used in cases of abuse, when next of kin is unable to raise the child. Period.
Bye now! I’m off to be grateful!!
Adult adoptee
reunited with married natural parents
loving adoptive parents
identity stolen, name changed
no access to birth certificate even in 16 year reunion

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Claudia Corrigan D'Arcy

posted July 6, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Great! I love the idea! I’ll take my 210,240,000,000 dollars for adoption please!!!
See that’s what I figured out should be thehow much money would it take to compensate a woman to place her child for adoption.
I found this: The jury awarded the estate of Evelyn Forman $120,000 for pain and suffering she endured between the time the missile struck the airplane and the time the airplane crashed” Not for her death, but for her emotional pain and suffering for the perhaps though at least 104 seconds for time actually suffering before she died.
For arguments sake, we will round that up to 2 minutes. We’ll take the 120K and reduce it to 100K for easy math making us a nice round number of 50K per minute of suffering at a legally acceptable rate. I’ll even be so kind as to say: Ok we won’t measure my Kool aid years, but only count the last 8 when I was mentally transforming to the pain filled bitter birthmother that I am infamously known for today. So that’s 8 years with 365 days each times 24 hours in a day times 60 minutes in an hour times the 50K per minute rate for emotional pain and suffering.
Does that number sound crazy? Yeah.. but realitically.. the monetary proportion of what I ask for is still lesser than the emotional hell of living over 21 years without your child. You can’t pay women for this suffering. It’s cruel. You have to convince them that it’s a good idea and something they want to do! That’s what the National Council for Adoption does.

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posted July 6, 2009 at 11:39 pm

I couldn’t even make it through your article. You lost me at “heroes, not villains.”
As a woman who relinquished a newborn baby for adoption, I am neither a hero nor a villain. I am a human being. At the time of my daughter’s birth, I was a human being who desperately wanted to keep her child but had been convinced I was not a good enough mother for her. She was never in danger of being aborted. Had I not relinquished, I’d have parented, and we’d all have been just fine.
So the point of offering money would be what again? To save babies from abortion?
But all you’d really be accomplishing would be bribery to convince women in crisis that some more privileged woman is a better mother, destroying families in the process.
How did you decide that this is a good idea?

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posted July 6, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Okay, read your whole post. I think I’m more sickened. You’re confirming my belief that you view women in crisis pregnancies as pawns to be used in a game of pro-life vs pro-choice rather than as real human beings.
Please think about how you’d want your sister, daughter, wife treated if she were in a crisis pregnancy. Would you want someone shoving cash at her to give up her child? Would you want anyone even shoving adoption literature at her?

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Mary Kretzmann

posted July 30, 2009 at 11:15 am

It’s strange reading so many angry comments from people who are “pro-choice” who are so offended at giving women one more viable choice.
When people are so against a CHOICE – it makes it seem that you are actually simply pro-abortion. “Just make the pregnancy issue go away, please.” –
I thin this is a goo idea. No one is forcing it – just offering it as a CHOICE.
And – there is also pain about having an abortion…many women think of the baby that might have been for the rest of their lives. This world is not perfect…we can only offer CHOICES and hope the woman will find the option that is best for her.

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Mary Kretzmann

posted July 30, 2009 at 11:16 am

Typo fix:
I think this is a good idea. No one is forcing it – just offering it as a CHOICE.

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Your Name

posted September 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Please, before writing anything else about adoption, talk to mothers who have lost their children to adoption. Get involved in the fight for open birth records. Try to understand the pain an adopted person feels when blocked from learning their own identity.
Adoption is a complicated life experience that deserves to be addressed on its own – not as the easy solution to abortion, and not as a one-time event. Adoption lasts a lifetime, and for many that lifetime is one of pain. Please consider that and learn more about it before pitching this idea again.

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posted September 29, 2009 at 6:35 pm

To be honest, I am rather insulted that people keep tying abortion together with adoption. I am sick of hearing the two things constantly put together.
Did I have an unexpected pregnancy? Yes
Did I want an abortion? No – not in a million years.
I wanted my son. I have suffered years of depression for having him forcefully taken from me for being unmarried, young and not a millionaire. This might surprise you – his father wanted him as well but was duped out of his rights too. He even bought a farm but apparently that was not good enough for the Jesus brigade.
Is it any wonder that more and more people are dropping out of religion when they hear stuff like this? My family and my children have – including my son with whom I have reunited with.
In his view, God sent him to me, not anyone else.
What right have other humans to tear apart a family that God himself put together?

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posted September 19, 2010 at 11:46 pm

The assumption behind this idea is ridiculous. It may not financially profit a woman at this point in time to give a child up for adoption. But it also doesn’t cost any money. There’s no reason for a woman to refuse to give her child up for adoption if she genuinely doesn’t believe in abortion and genuinely doesn’t believe she’s the best parent for her baby. The demand for healthy newborns, especially white newborns, is so high in the United States that the second she so much as mentions publicly that she’s considering adoption for her baby, potential adopters will descend on her like vultures.
So, paying a woman to give her child up for adoption can’t be anything BUT coercion. Every woman who believes in adoption for her child is already exploring that option and doesn’t need to be bought off.
Adoption is not an alternative to abortion, anyway. The alternative to abortion is giving birth. Adoption is rather the alternative to parenting your natural child.
If you want to end elective abortion (I use that adjective for a reason, more on that in a minute) then you have to make it pay for women to PARENT their babies. They’re not getting abortions because nobody’s paying them for adoption. They’re getting abortions because the idea of adoption is UNTHINKABLE. If they did not believe that down in their bones they would not consider abortion at all.
It’s telling that the same people calling themselves “pro-life” (as if the rest of us are suicidal) also like to see the welfare system gutted as much as possible. This ensures there is NO way for disadvantaged parents to keep their babies. Anti-abortion activists should be shouting the loudest in favor of meaningful welfare reform that actually helps the people it purports to serve. So where are they?
And of course even if this comes to pass, even if parenting becomes a real option for the disadvantaged, that’s not going to end abortion. You do know abortion is done for therapeutic reasons as well as electively, right? And yet women seeking abortions for reasons of health or to save their lives are second-guessed at every turn. I’ve heard of women who had the baby die in utero and yet could not get it removed because that was an “abortion” and the nearest hospital happened to be Catholic-owned or the only available doctor was anti-abortion.
You want us to take you seriously and then you paint pro-choicers as fanatics in the face of all of this. I think you need to take a good hard look in the mirror. I don’t know how you live with yourself.

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posted November 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I agree with most of the article I must say. And we all so much hold onto our opinions based mostly on how we think things should be and not on experience, luckily, sometimes.
But there is so much information and it is so scattered around, that women don’t know where to turn.
I suggest the spead of information about the subject. A site I found very useful simply because it helps both birthmothers and adopting parents on every aspect, financial, emotional, making the right choice…
If these resources were more available, women in trouble would know where to turn for help.

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