Did you know that November was National Adoption Awareness Month?
What did you miss? Unfortunately, not much.
That is a shame, because infant adoption deserves the focused attention of those of us who care about the best interests of children—and few are as passionate about the best interests of children as those in the pro-life movement.
Right after Roe v. Wade there appeared a popular bumper sticker: Adoption not Abortion. If only things were that simple.
Infant adoption was not simple in 1973 and is even less so today. In fact, it is an area of public policy on a par with abortion in terms of complexity—and emotional intensity.
Adoption is a field of work at the very heart of marriage and family—but it is a field populated and managed almost exclusively by liberal to left-leaning social workers, for whom the very definition of “family” is not much more than any group of people who share meals together. If any reader knows a pro-life social worker, please introduce me.
If any reader knows of a school of social work where even one professor is open to traditional understanding of life and family, let me know. Two decades ago, William Pierce, the late founder of the National Council for Adoption, and I were part of an effort to create a family-friendly school of social work. Sadly, that effort died aborning. I’m not aware that anybody else has taken it up —understandably enough, when faith-based higher education as we know it is facing possible legal extinction.
Faith-based adoption agencies are already being extinguished: Catholic Charities in Boston and Chicago and Washington, D.C., shut down their adoption offices when state legislatures required them to place children with same-sex parents. Rather than violate their faith, they simply closed their doors.
Which leaves mothers in Boston, Chicago, and D.C. who would like adoptive homes for their babies with fewer choices.
Not only is infant adoption a victim of political ideology, it is also a victim of literary license and sensationalism.
Most people who never think much about a given topic are susceptible to fleeting impressions. We know that: It’s why there are so many candidate ads on TV in the closing days of a political campaign, after all.
Think for a moment about the fleeting impressions our culture gives about infant adoption.
Unless people have had an experience of adoption, or a close relationship with someone who has been involved in one, their ideas about it likely are based on films like Philomena or headlines in grocery-store tabloids about abused adopted children of movie stars.
In that case, when they hear the words “infant adoption” they probably think of the lifelong anguish of birth mothers and the abuse of adopted children.
They wouldn’t know that adopted children strongly outperform their non-adopted birth peers; that adoption almost completely mitigates the effects of in utero drug exposure; that children adopted in their first year of life have the same ability to form secure emotional attachments as non-adopted children; or that adoptees are no more prone to aggressive anti-social behavior than non-adoptees.
This kind of information is good news—it’s not what makes the tabloids in the checkout counter.
They wouldn’t know that most birth mothers who choose adoption make careful plans—and have no intention of coming back to disrupt things; or that most birth mothers make the hardest decision of their lives because they want what’s best for their baby. Of course they grieve—as they should, and as professionals can help them to do. That is why coerced adoptions (like Philomena’s), or ones arranged without the help of professional counselors, are the source of so much pain.
Notice I have talked about “infant adoption.” That is the kind of adoption most immediately connected to the pro-life movement, but numerically it is only a very few of the adoptions in the country.
Interestingly, there is no government information about infant adoptions—because most of them do not go through the government. A woman who has decided to make an adoption plan does not surrender her newborn to a social service department; typically, she puts the baby directly into the arms of the adoptive parents she has chosen with the help of an adoption agency (like the ones that have shut down).
State departments of social services keep track of entry and exit from foster care systems, but in order to know how many infants are adopted, the National Council for Adoption asks every state’s keeper of vital statistics for information.
In 2011, the most recent year for which data exists, there were 18,068 private adoptions—i.e., not through foster care or public agency—of children under 24 months of age. Social workers call these “voluntary infant relinquishments.”
To put the 18,068 into context: In 2014 there were 50,644 adoptions of children of all ages through public agencies or foster care, and 6,441 adoptions from overseas.
But there were more than 18,068 unintended births in 2011. There were, in fact, 1.75 million births to unmarried women. And 1.2 million abortions.
For 1.75 million unmarried births to result in 18,000 infant adoptions means that a lot of potential infant adoptions did not happen.
In 2012, there were also 6,441 adoptions from overseas, and more than 61,000 babies conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Are these data points connected? They are.
To be continued….
Connie Marshner is a commentator and researcher on life and family issues in the Washington, D.C., area.