Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why the Conflation of Adoption and Abortion Isn't Really Helping Anything

Some activists in the reproductive justice realm, on both sides of limiting or expanding access to abortion, tend to shy away from reforming adoption policies and critically discussing adoption.  Some may have very strong opinions that they believe adoption is an option for unplanned pregnancy but lack an understanding adoption's impact on those who live it.  If their primary definition of adoption is that it serves as an alternative to abortion, they may be hesitant to question or change adoption policies, or may support bad policies, based on how they feel it may impact abortion issues.  This brings me to ask the obvious question.  Shouldn't people active within the abortion debate expand their knowledge of adoption itself, within the framework of serving the needs of children, before forming their opinions?

Yes, there are women who become pregnant and do not wish to have an abortion and also do not wish to parent.  However, when this becomes every woman's story, we've created a stereotype.  With stereotypes, we overlook the needs of women who have abortions for reasons relating to health and pregnancy, or who have unplanned pregnancies but wish to keep the babies born to them.  When we make policies based on stereotypes, we run the risk of being oblivious to the net effect of a policy on the real people that our perception of an issue did not take into account.

The fact of the matter is, just because a given policy covers adoption does not mean it will address abortion issues.  While there may be areas of intersection, completely conflating abortion with adoption may result in the formation of adoption policies that are also not what people impacted by adoption need.  Therefore blindly supporting something that carries the "adoption" label because you're passionate about the abortion debate is ill-advised.

Just a few U.S. based examples of questionable efforts aimed at increasing infant adoptions include (1) bills that seek to limit the time period when adoption consents can be revoked, (2) campaigns that cherry-pick through research with questionable methods in order to portray one view of adoption, and (3) long-standing policies in some States that allow mothers to be asked to sign adoption consents before birth or shortly after birth.

These efforts likely do contribute to an increase in adoption.  Encouraging expectant parents to make irrevocable decisions before they've held their child for the first time, or shortly thereafter, does not allow adequate time for parents to make a decision or change their minds.  Campaigns that use isolated findings from less-than-credible research to make claims like "100% of birth mothers choose the level of openness in their adoptions," which defies the actual statute in every State, may encourage adoption simply by inspiring a false reality.

When it comes to issues of informed consent, adequate time to make lifelong decisions, and  respecting the right of children to be raised by their biological parents if and whenever possible, we have to have a deeper understanding of adoption itself to make good policy choices.  When adoption's only story is a "solution" to another social issue, questionable campaigns and policies may not get the scrutiny they deserve.

If we don't properly scrutinize, we run the risk of not only missing our goal but causing problems simultaneously.  For example, the bi-product of the abortion-adoption conflation equation has caused many Pro-Life advocates to oppose the right of adult adoptees to have access to their original birth record.  The idea is, that mothers of adoption are so highly likely to want to hide their connection to adoption, they would sooner have an abortion if they can't be guaranteed that the birth record will be sealed.  Adoptees are told they cannot be treated equally as a necessity to solve another social issue. 

Yet when States defy this stereotype and change policies to treat adoptees equally, their abortion rates go down.  In fact, abortion rates went down by 25% in Oregon after it passed its historic adoption law.  This is just one area where it's been proven that the abortion-adoption stereotype is simply not a foundation to good policy.

The moral of this story is: abortion and adoption are not two versions of the same decision.  Having an understanding of abortion issues does not mean you automatically have an understanding of adoption issues.  Having an understanding of adoption issues does not mean you automatically have an understanding of abortion issues.  Every issue involving the lives and welfare of human beings deserves attention and not to be understood by stereotypes.  We must always seek to understand how issues intersect and how intersection may intensify or complicate issues human beings may face.  But realize that having a stance on abortion does not give you everything you need to know about adoption--there's still much to learn.  Education is the vital key to change in every institution.