Meet the New Anti-Adoption Movement The surprising next frontier in reproductive justice
- BY EMILY MATCHAR
For a long time, Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy thought of herself as an adoption success story. Pregnant at 18 from an affair with her boss, she denied the pregnancy until her coworkers began to notice.
Too far along to get an abortion, she looked up an adoption agency in the Yellow Pages and found herself agreeing to move to Boston and live with a host family until she gave birth.
Her son, who she calls Max (his adoptive parents gave him a different name), was born in November of 1987 and handed over to a couple Corrigan D’Arcy had only seen in photos. And that was that.
She told herself she’d done the smart thing. She’d given her son a two-parent family of means. It wasn’t until more than a decade later that Corrigan D’Arcy, by then married and the mother of three more children, began to rethink what had happened.
By having her move to a new state while pregnant, she felt the agency was purposely isolating her from friends and family who might have helped her. Though she knew who her baby’s father was, the agency told her not to tell him she was pregnant.
She could have sued him for child support—he was a wealthy lawyer—but the adoption agency didn’t talk about that, only about the hardships she would face as a “welfare mom,” should she keep her child. They called her a “family-building angel” and a “saint” for considering adoption. “It was crazy subtle, subtle, subtle brainwashing,” she told me recently.
Adoption has long been perceived as the win-win way out of a a difficult situation.
An unwed mother gets rid of the child she’s not equipped to care for; an adoptive family gets a much-wanted child. But people are increasingly realizing that the industry is not nearly as well-regulated and ethical as it should be. There are issues of coercion, corruption, and lack of transparency that are only now being fully addressed.
The past decade has seen the rise of a broad and loose coalition of activists out to change the way adoption works in America.
This coalition makes bedfellows of people who would ordinarily have nothing to do with each other: Mormon and fundamentalist women who feel they were pressured by their churches, progressives who believe adoption is a classist institution that takes the children of the young and poor and gives them to the wealthier and better-educated, and adoptive parents who have had traumatic experiences with corrupt adoption agencies.
Some women, like Corrigan D’Arcy, blog their stories. They run message boards with names like “First Mother Forum” and “Pound Pup Legacy,” full of tales of bitterly regretted adoptions.
They hold retreats for birthmothers and adoptees.
They’ve formed several grassroots activist organizations, including Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform, Origins-USA, and Concerned United Birthparents. Some call themselves adoption reformers. Others prefer terms such as “adoption truth advocate.” A few will come straight out and say they’re anti-adoption.
They want, among other things, a ban on adoption agencies offering monetary support to pregnant women. They want to see laws put in place guaranteeing that “open” adoptions (where birthparents have some level of contact with their children) stay open.
They want women to have more time after birth to decide whether to terminate their parental rights.
These activists have become increasingly loud of late, holding prominent rallies, organizing online, and winning several recent legislative victories.
Reproduce justice activists tend to focus on rights to contraception and abortion. But these adoption reforms are equally important when it comes to men and women having full control of their destinies.
Adoption in America has changed vastly since the end of the so-called “Baby Scoop Era” in the early 1970s, when many pregnant young women were “sent away” and their babies offered up for adoption as a matter of course.
Thanks to legalized abortion and a drastic lessening of the stigma against unwed mothers, the number of babies available domestically has been shrinking since the mid-’70s.
Fifty years ago, about 9 percent of babies born to unmarried women were placed for adoption. Today that number is 1 percent.
All in all, there are about 14,000 domestic infant adoptions a year, comprising only about 15 percent of U.S. adoptions. (The rest are from the foster care system, or are international.)
But for young women who do find themselves pregnant and unmarried, the pressure to choose adoption is still present.
Much of this pressure still comes from organized religion.
Andrea Mills, 38, has placed four of her children for adoption through the Mormon Church’s LDS Family Services program over the past 13 years. Mormonism forbids abortion, considers premarital sex taboo, and frowns upon single parenthood.
When Mills initially voiced uncertainty about adoption, the counselor handling her case insisted it was her best option, saying “This is what God wanted.” The nation’s 4,000-odd “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice organizations, are often affiliated with evangelical Christian maternity homes and Christian adoption agencies. “Pregnant? Scared?” their ads ask on billboards and in bar bathroom posters; “We can help.”
Even non-religious adoption agencies practice what some say is subtle coercion. Agencies offer pregnant women financial assistance—for rent, groceries, medical bills, maternity clothes, even cellphones. Some even offer college scholarships for women who go through with adoptions. Agencies frequently warn women about a “post-abortion syndrome” of lasting depression and guilt, though mainstream medical organizations dismissed these warnings. (Adoption, on the other hand, is known to cause “a sense of loss that is all-encompassing,” says the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.) Adoption counselors are frequently adoptive parents themselves, which puts them in a less-than-neutral position.
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