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If Roe falls, adoption may become 'replacement' for abortion. One adoptee argues it shouldn't

A mother holds her child. I (Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)
A mother holds her child. I (Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images)

With abortion rights on the verge of collapse, some conservatives have acknowledged that pregnant people will need more support.

For some conservative politicians and anti-abortion advocates, that means increasing services – and one key solution is increasing adoption.

When Justice Samuel Alito wrote the leaked draft of his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, he cited the conservative argument that someone who places a newborn for adoption today will likely find the baby a good home because of high demand.

In a footnote, he cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from 2008 describing the domestic supply of infants available for adoption as “virtually nonexistent.”

That got the attention of writer and adoptee Aimee Christian. She wrote an essay for NBC News saying that adoption is no solution if Roe falls.

“Roe is about privacy,” Christian says. “It has nothing to do with pregnancy, birth, or parenthood. … Adoption is not a substitute for abortion because of the repercussions of forced pregnancy, forced birth and forced surrender of a child.”

Meanwhile, for journalist Gabrielle Glaser, author of a history of adoption called “American Baby,” the push for adoption over abortion has strong historical echoes.

Her book details the mid 20th-century, when abortion was illegal and many unmarried women were forced to give birth in shame and secrecy, then hand over babies in closed adoptions.

During that period, the “Baby Scoop Era,” there was little sex education or birth control. Some 4 million American women, mostly unwed, were forced to give birth to and then give up babies, says Glaser.

“The period before Roe, the decades between the end of World War II and 1973, really can show us a lot about what a post Roe future might look like,” she says.

Interview Highlights

On Justice Amy Coney Barret’s claim that allowing women to give away babies takes away the pressure of forced motherhood

Aimee Christian: “The trauma of pregnancy and the very trauma of forced birth, it doesn’t do away with not having to raise a child. My birth mother, for example, who I met when I was 26 years old, never really moved past this emotionally. … And it affected the rest of her life. And it affected me and the rest of my life. And that is incomparable to the trauma — if there is trauma — of abortion.”

On Christian’s own abortion later in life

Christian: “Other people talked to me about it and said that I should give my child the chance that I was given. And that made me think of when I was growing up: People asked me if I was grateful that I wasn’t aborted. And … that’s a rhetorical question. Of course, I’m grateful I wasn’t aborted, but if I had been aborted, I couldn’t answer that question. What I am grateful for is to be alive and to be able to be an activist for women’s rights and to be an adoptee saying that I’m proudly pro-choice.”

On the Republican claim that less abortion will lead to more adoption

Gabrielle Glaser: “I think today we know the difficulties of adoption, the lifelong grief that birth mothers face. The lifelong anxiety and wondering that many adoptees live with the rest of their lives. So this is not just a simple transaction that we can fill in the blanks and say, ‘Oh, place your child, put your baby in a safe haven, no questions asked. Everything will work out fine.’ We know better than that.”

On the 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that said the U.S. has a low “domestic supply of infants” 

Glaser: “I know that the demand for infants in particular is extremely high. I did see a statistic – and I would take this with a grain of salt because it came from a lobbying group in Washington – but it suggests an incredibly lopsided ratio of prospective parents who are seeking to adopt and the number of babies who were surrendered each year. I think I saw a number that said around 20,000 and the number of people seeking to adopt is roughly a million.”

On the decreasing shame and stigma around adoption in general

Glaser: “There are a lot of wonderful, integrated open adoptions in which adoptees are very aware of who they come from, who is raising them [and] what it means to come from a large, expanded, blended family. I think if it’s done right, it can be a wonderful thing. But the key message to that is doing it the right way with the adoptee’s heart in mind.”

On whether adoption should be a priority if Roe ends 

Christian: “I don’t think anybody should be coerced into giving up their child. I’d much rather have us have services that actually help these mothers keep their children. But in the cases of women who absolutely are sure they cannot keep their child, then I think we should help them as much as possible. I’m not sure that adoptions will increase.”

On if having more resources would have made a difference for Christian’s birth mother

Christian: “Most birth parents are young, under-resourced, don’t have health insurance. Perhaps they’re lacking education. And I absolutely think that if they had different resources and their situations were different, then the families and these stories would turn out differently.”

Julia Corcoran and Todd Mundt produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Francesca Paris adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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