Putting the Option in Adoption

On May 17th, President Barack Obama delivered a commencement speech at Notre Dame, an independent Catholic university. In the speech, he repeated his now familiar call for common ground in the national abortion debate. Re-framing the issue, not as political one, but one that seeks, above all else, to ensure the health and well-being of women and families: "Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let’s reduce unintended pregnancies. Let’s make adoption more available. Let’s provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term."

It appears that these are not just hollow words and promises, but a policy stance that the Obama Administration is prepared to act upon. Obama’s newly re-envisioned White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White Council on Women and Girls have been formally tasked with making adoption more accessible, among other common ground goals.

A recent Gallup poll found that the economy has prompted 1 in 10 married women to delay pregnancy. Feedback from the National Abortion Federation and from several large U.S. adoption agencies suggest that women are considering alternatives to parenting in greater numbers as a result of very real financial and employment concerns.

Still, the number of women facing unplanned pregnancies who choose adoption continues to hover around 1%, prompting a number of related questions: "Why are these numbers so low?" "What exactly does it mean to ‘make adoption more accessible?’" And how do those of us who work in and advocate for reproductive health and justice go about accomplishing this lofty, yet crucial goal?

The Adoption Access Network, a fledgling national coalition which includes family planning and abortion providers, patient-centered adoption resources, professional and academic medical associations and other stakeholders, believes that it has an answer. It begins with a focus on the woman confronting unintended pregnancy. Much of the rhetoric and policy proposals that have been put forward in recent years in the hopes of making adoption more accessible have focused on supports for those interested in adopting. While these solutions, such as adoption subsidies, and expedited adoptions from foster care are a vital piece of the puzzle, women facing unintended pregnancies and their families have been largely left out of the conversation thus far.

The Adoption Access Network proposes a three-pronged approach that addresses issues ranging from individual patient interactions to systemic change.

1.  Public Education: Adoption needs to be reintroduced to the public. The perception of adoption by most Americans is stuck somewhere in the 1950s. The reality of adoption is very different indeed. Members of the public deserve to be educated about the newer, brighter reality of adoption which centers around choices for the birth mother about the adoptive family and how much contact she will have with the baby as he or she gets older. Women must feel confident that they can access further information and services from reputable, patient-centered sources if interested. A targeted national social marketing campaign in addition to local grassroots efforts can help accomplish this goal.

2.  Professional Training: 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. The result is that women facing unintended pregnancies may not be aware of adoption as an option and may hold onto misinformation or their own biases because there is no professional to counter these beliefs.

The Adoption Access Network partners clinics and community health centers with adoption resources that meet the Network’s standards for patient-centered care to help develop "adoption fluency" among health care providers who care for women confronting unintended pregnancy. This partnership ensures that women are given access to adoption as an option with as much value as any other and that those who choose to explore adoption further have the support of a network of agencies that are steadfastly committed to ensuring her rights are protected and that she has ample time and opportunity to make the very best plan for herself and her family.

3.  Referring with Confidence: The Adoption Access Network has organized a growing national network of adoption resources that fit standards for patient-centered care. Those included in the Network are proponents of  reproductive choice; employ an empowerment model that encourages the birth mother’s autonomy and participation in choosing an adoptive family and creating an adoption plan with a level of openness that she is comfortable with; offer a diverse pool of prospective adoptive families for birth mothers to choose from; and provide lifelong access to post-placement counseling and other services for both the birth and adoptive families.

Adoption access is about reproductive justice in its most basic form. Women facing unplanned pregnancies have a right to accurate, unbiased information about the adoption option. As service providers, we have a responsibility to ensure that women who choose to explore adoption further have the support and guidance of agencies that will advocate for them throughout this lifelong process. They should not be forced to sacrifice comprehensive, patient-centered care simply because they choose adoption. Nor should they feel compelled to choose one option simply because the providers and systems they sought care from were not prepared to give them comprehensive information about every option available to them.

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  • invalid-0

    It’s great, but I feel my conservative friends and priest would notice first thing on the web site that the people in charge don’t seem to be from the conservative evangelical community. I am guessing, unfortuately, that Common Ground ran into refusals all around from consevative evangelicals to help and cooperate in this endeavor. Common Ground should go forward anyway, because it is the right thing to do.

  • invalid-0


    Glad you think common ground should move forward! As far as evangelicals, check out David Gushee’s piece on this site– he’s an anti-abortion evangelical Protestant who is on board with common ground, as are other leading anti-abortion evangelicals like Joel Hunter, Ron Sider, Sam Rodriguez, and Richard Cizik. Certainly not all, but there are some key and committed common ground evangelicals, so don’t count them out!

  • invalid-0

    can be found here… or you can click on the ‘All’ link in the Latest Common Ground Posts on the main common ground page or in the right bar of this page.

  • invalid-0

    According the FactCheck.Org, Obama and the majority of Democrats voted against the Family Adoption Tax Credit in 2007. What hypocrisy from people who say they want “common groun” on abortion and desire to make it “safe, legal, and RARE.” The $11,000-deduction that the bill allows really helps middle class families–like my wife and myself–who are in the process of adoption and for whom the process entails very much financial sacrifice. On this issue, Obama and the Democrats have not been our friends and the concern is now that he will not renew the Republican enacted tax credit in 2010.

    Join me in fighting for adoptive families and children and against Democrats who say one thing and do another.

  • progo35

    I’m an Evangelical and I support common ground on this issue. In fact, after all the discussions on this site in which adoption has been painted as an oppressive institution that hurts women and children, it’s nice to see a piece about pro choice people trying to help women who want to place for adoption. I think that John has a good point. Unfortunately, Obama said a lot of things in that speech, including supporting a conscience clause for dissenting health professionals, that, sadly, are not supported by his actions. Hopefully, this will change, as he and other pro choicers have a great opportunity to do good in this area.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • steven-waldman

    “Much of the rhetoric and policy proposals that have been put forward in recent years in the hopes of making adoption more accessible have focused on supports for those interested in adopting. While these solutions, such as adoption subsidies, and expedited adoptions from foster care are a vital piece of the puzzle, women facing unintended pregnancies and their families have been largely left out of the conversation thus far.”

    Corinna, why do you think this is?


  • invalid-0

    John, if you have a link to that FactCheck.org page, I’d appreciate looking at it. My own search of that site came up empty.

    Also, looking at the senate.gov site, it indicated that Obama was a no-show on the two votes I could find related to the adoption tax credit.

    It is unfortunate that so many Democrats voted against the credit and a bit surprising. Thanks for raising the issue and good luck with your adoption.

  • invalid-0

    “employ an empowerment model that encourages the birth mother’s autonomy and participation in choosing an adoptive family and creating an adoption plan with a level of openness that she is comfortable with”

    Changes in the law so that the adoptive parents can’t jettison the birth mother as soon as the adoption is final might help here. At the present time, there is nothing available to help the birth mother to enforce that level of openness if the adoptive parents decide it’s ‘not in the best interests of the child’.

  • invalid-0

    This data, which John has posted in quite a few different threads in this forum, isn’t accurate. The Democrats did not vote in 2007 “against the adoption tax credit” but instead against making the credit permanent, leaving in place the normal sunset provision so that the credit will expire in 2010 IF NOT RENEWED. The credit is currently in place, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be renewed next year. This sort of inaccurate, partisan, ‘the sky is falling’ post is precisely the type of thing that makes it difficult to find common ground.

  • invalid-0

    Unfortunately, Obama said a lot of things in that speech, including supporting a conscience clause for dissenting health professionals, that, sadly, are not supported by his actions.

    The conscience clause allowing professionals to refuse involvement in abortion has been part of federal law for doctors and nurses for 30 years. I’m not sure why you think Obama rescinding Bush’s presidential order which would have guaranteed jobs for those who had no intention of performing them by restricting federal funds for healthcare to employers who need to make sensible hiring decisions would have any effect on the conscience clause.

  • invalid-0

    I worry that women will not be told the truth about the true life long consequences of adopting and that people with a vested financial interest will run this adoption network thing.

    Extending the tax credit isn’t the answer. Taking the money out of adoption is.

  • invalid-0

    I’ve always been anti abortion but please don’t go around telling young woman “open adoption” is the answer to everything. Yes, there are people who will scruptulously honor all their promises even though legally they are required to do nothing. But, there are also many, many who will promise anything to get custody of a healthy newborn then tell the natural mother to get lost. Then there are the thousands of birthmoms trapped somewhere inbetween. Technically on good terms with the adopters but knowing they don’t get what they were promised and afraid to ask for more because they have no rights and may up losing everything. Suicide rates, depression etc is actually higher among women who lose children to adoption than it is to those who abort, and more than half never have another child.

  • invalid-0

    Bluntly, those who are adopting are ‘good people’ and there is no conflict in providing them with help but that is not the stereotype of birth parents. Women facing unintended pregnancies are incorrectly assumed to be promiscuous teenagers who are stupid and selfish, the fathers are careless and irresponsible, and the decision to give their baby for adoption further stigmatizes them as ‘bad parents’. There is great reluctance to providing help because it is considered ‘rewarding teenagers for having sex’. There’s an interesting report here:


  • invalid-0

    There are only 13 states which have any laws whatsoever that help enforce ‘open adoption’. Personally, I think people who insist that they must be able to exclude the birth parents because they NEED to have the baby to think of them as the ‘real parents’ have some mental health issues which should be dealt with before they’re allowed to adopt.

  • invalid-0

    Where do you get your data on suicide rates among women who place their children for adoption?

  • invalid-0

    In fact, there are a number of state laws, NY being one, that have recently given birth parents the option of making the post-placement contact agreement a legally binding one–so, if either party is not abiding by the terms of agreement (e.g. it says that there will be visitation 2x per year and the adoptive family is not holding up their end of the bargain) then either party can take it before a judge and the adoption could theoretically be disrupted.

  • invalid-0

    There need to be similar laws in all states, with enforceable provisions, and there needs to be a recognition that the “best interest of the child” includes remaining in contact with their biological parents so that adoptive parents who cut off or interfere with contact can’t preempt that argument. Certainly that contact can be stressful for children in the short run just as visitation is in divorce cases between biological parents, but in the long-term children are better off with as many caring adults involved in their lives as possible.

  • invalid-0

    I think that the goal of the Adoption Access Network and related projects is precisely to ensure the participation of agencies that have made a commitment to advocate for the birth mother, and this explicitly means NOT telling her that open adoption is the answer to everything, because you’re right, it’s not–the adoption process is an incredibly difficult one, filled with grief and heartbreak that will last a lifetime.

    As a colleague of mine shared just yesterday, when working with women facing a crisis pregnancy who are uncertain about whether they will terminate, place for adoption, or parent–as providers we should be helping them to explore which type of loss they feel will be manageable for them personally. At the agency I work for we are very proud that close to 7 in 10 birth mothers that we work with ultimately make the decision to parent–because adoption is not the right decision for many, and because our social workers work tirelessly to ensure that women who can parent, and parent well are supported in making the decision to do so.

    As for birth moms involved in open adoptions in which the adoptive family goes back on their agreement, cuts off contact or otherwise stops her from seeing her child–this is very rare, especially with agencies that are truly committed to the open adoption philosophy…it is actually much more common for the birth mothers to back off, to lose contact, etc (perhaps because it is too painful for them or because their life is too chaotic to maintain an ongoing relationship).

  • progo35

    Well, for starters, it could be that pregnancy resources don’t focus enough on adoption as an option. For instance, Heather Corinna’s associated site, Scarlateen, provides a ton of information on abortion, including links, stories, and resources, but only one or two links to sites on adoption. PP has the same issue in terms of it’s advocacy. Usually, we hear about advocacy for abortion rights, but not a whole lot in terms of adoption rights.

    I also think that there is a continuing idea that people who give their children up for adoption do so for selfish reasons. For instance, I remember that when I first heard from my birth father, people expected me to be angry at him and to feel abandoned. A lot of people told me that they would be angry if their biological parents gave them up for adoption and then tried to contact them. I didn’t feel that way at all, but I think that that attitude is due to not understanding what adoption really is, which is an incredibly difficult decision typically made out of love for the child involved and a desire to give him or her a better life. This may impact how the rights of birth parents are addressed.






    "Well behavWed women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • invalid-0

    On 6/20 anon anon asks “Where do you get info on suicides among women who place children for adoption?” Thanks for asking that. I’ve had no internet for a few days so, sorry for the delay. First please see http://www.exiledmothers.com/adoption_facts/effects_on_mothers.html especially the section on 1982 “Relinquishment and maternal complications” The whole site is actually very worth reading and the kind of information you won’t find in the mainstream press ever.
    And for a very specific story regarding suicide see http://remembercindy.com regarding Cindy Jordan

  • invalid-0

    Corinna asks, with regard to the less that 1% who relinquish their children for adoption, “”Why are these numbers so low?”
    Duh. Obviously because they don’t want give away their children. They love them.
    They want to raise them themselves.
    Is that really so very hard to understand?

  • invalid-0

    Ah, yes, “the newer, brighter reality of adoption” is, in part, to provide mothers who have lost a child to adoption with “lifelong access to post-placement counseling.”

    The latter quote kind of sums up adoption. Any way you slice it adoption is horribly traumatic for many mothers. Pushing more separation of mothers and babies is simply deplorable.