Adoption Reform is Not Only Common Ground–it’s Pro-Choice

recently threw out a half-baked idea of paying pregnant mothers to
give up babies for adoption instead of having an abortion.

I admit there’s something creepy about the idea (which has been
mocked here, here, here,
and here,
for starters)  but I wanted explain what I’m trying to get at  — in the hope
that we collectively can come up with something better.

Improving adoption policy seems to be a logical plank in a
"common ground" agenda.  Pro-choicers ought to like giving women more
options. Pro-lifers have been advocating adoption aid for a while. In 2008, the
Obama campaign took a big step, too, adding
into the Democratic Party platform this new sentence
: "The
Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by
ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health
care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

Currently, government policy promoting adoption mostly focuses
on helping the adopting family not the birth mother. A family can get a $11,650
tax credit for adopting a baby – a provision that stimulates the "demand
side" but does nothing to change the calculus of a birth mother. The
policy tilt toward adopting parents over birth moms may flow from a lingering
sense that these women, or their boyfriends, are "bad" or

It’s time to purge that idea.   These women go through
tremendous sacrifice to carry a baby to term — to give it life — and should
be viewed as heroes not villains.

For the launch of this OnCommonGround forum, Corinna Lohser of the Spence-Chapin, a pro-choice adoption
agency, put forth some excellent ideas to help birthmothers, mostly focused on
building awareness about the modern adoption choice through education and
counseling.  Adoption laws have changed dramatically in recent decades and many
women don’t realize that they can decide whether they retain involvement in the
life of the baby or not.  Some may fear they’ll never see the baby again; some
may fear the future relationship and reject the adoption choice based on this
lack of information.  Birth mothers have more control than they used to, so
it’s not too farfetched to imagine pro-lifers and pro-choicers joining together
around a national public service ad campaign around correcting the public
perception of adoption.

Lohser also suggests
that family planning clinics are eager to get better at this:


"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."

Others have advocated vouchers for maternity homes.  These homes
used to be common-place in a pre-Roe era but have since become more scarce. The
idea would be to give a pregnant woman a voucher so she can choose the type of
program most appropriate for her and allow her to continue her education while
being in a supportive environment in which to continue her pregnancy.  This
would be most useful for isolated, teen mothers who need emotional and
financial support. We could also support birthmothers by replicating the laws
some states have allowing birth mothers to enforce open-adoption contracts so
adoptive families can’t disregard her wishes once the baby is born.

It was in thinking about how to help birth mothers that I
wondered about paying them if they choose to put a baby up for adoption instead
of an abortion. We’re asking them to go through the extraordinary sacrifice of
continuing a pregnancy knowing they might end up making the wrenching decision
to give her baby away. There are health risks. More important, there are deep
psychological risks. And yes there are even financial risks.  Women who carry a
baby to term may have to take sabbaticals from work or drop out of school.

If we as a society want women to consider adoption, shouldn’t we
help make it financially more plausible for that woman?   In a way, this isn’t
as radical as it seems. Adoption agencies and adopting families routinely pay
the medical bills for birth mothers and sometimes also provide money for
housing, maternity clothing and other expenses. Perhaps we could say that
expenses ought to include not just medical and clothing costs but economic
opportunity costs as well.  Yes, the government would be putting its thumb on
the scale in favor of adoption instead of abortion but it’s still up to the
woman to choose which path would be better for her.

After I floated this idea during my chat with Slate’s Will Saletan, I heard some, er,
criticism.  The blogger
"feminste," in a post she filed under the
"assholes" category, says my proposal is to "bribe women into
giving birth so that they’ll give the baby to a nice family."   Gloria
Feldt, in her post, "Possibly
the Most Idiotic Common Ground Discussion I’ve Ever Heard
," writes, "Remind me, how do you spell
"c-o-e-r-c-i-o-n"? How much money would it take to make you carry a
pregnancy to term against your will?"

Feldt’s comment implies that a woman would invariably prefer
having an abortion to placing a baby up for adoption,  For some women, that’s
undoubtedly true. But for women who choose not to parent and would prefer not
to have an abortion, is it really c-o-e-r-c-i-o-n to make it easier to do so? 
I bristle at the notion that it is sound family policy to give cash to nice
middle class adopting families but it’s necessarily bribery to help the birth
mothers who are often less well off.

Nonetheless, when I floated the idea I said that the words
"tasted bitter" as I said them — and in the end I admit the cash
payment ideas probably doesn’t make sense. Here’s why: I think the idea works
for a woman deciding between abortion and adoption, but doesn’t for a woman
deciding between raising the child herself and adoption. Under the second
scenario, we could slide into a 19th century world of poor women giving up
babies for cash, and regretting it for the rest of their lives.

But I stand by the idea that we should be making it much easier
for birth mothers to carry a baby to term and make adoption a more viable
choice for women confronting unintended pregnancy. And I disagree with the
apparent inclination of some on the pro-choice side to minimize the adoption
question entirely. "The real common ground is preventing unintended
pregnancy, and it is logically incorrect not to start with that
framework," writes Feldt.

Actually, that would be called "our team winning," not
"common ground."

Common ground usually does not occur because both sides equally
and enthusiastically agree on some set of policies. Some pro-choicers act as if
common ground involves pro-choice people agreeing with one another. Rather, it
happens when one side has some things they want very much that the other side
can <em>stomach</em>.  Pro-choicers really want prevention and
ought to be able to stomach adoption reform, especially since it means
expanding choices for women. Pro-lifers really want adoption reform and ought
to be able to stomach prevention especially since it’s the most effective way
to reduce abortion.  

The Obama people understood this when they negotiated the Democratic
platform. In a historic shift, they coupled a prevention oriented sentence with
one focused on  helping women who want to choose to carry a baby to term.  They campaigned
on that
and won countless votes from pro-lifers on those grounds. In
fact, one
quarter of the Obama coalition was pro-lifers

Pro-choice activists who minimize the importance of the adoption
part of the dscussion will make it much less likely that a broad coalition will
be built around prevention, just as pro-lifers will lose their chance to expand
access to adoption if they refuse to budge on family planning.

And because it’s always  easier to block ideas than to pass
them, pro-choicers who resist the common ground approach may well succeed.  I
believe, however, that would be a phyrric victory for pro-choicers, as it would
undermine Obama, force him to betray a quarter of his voters, cede the middle
ground to the pro-life community and dash efforts to mobilize the pro-life
public that supports expanded access to family planning (vs, the pro-life
establishment that does not) — all while expanding women’s reproductive
options. But hey, it’s their choice.


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  • invalid-0

    Great post. This is an interesting idea that could help bridge a gap. This would help make the natural choice of giving life more viable. Many of the increased contraception options proposed as common ground just help to further exploit women by making them more readily available to sex-on-demand from men. Contraception funding doesn’t help much for when the natural result of sex occurs unexpectedly. The choice of adoption would still be a difficult option, but this kind of legislation would help make the choices available to expecting mothers more even. As well as make adoption more socially acceptable.

  • invalid-0

    Consider that all work that has traditionally been done by women is expected to be given freely, and it is even implied that it is immoral to sell it.
    Women are unpaid for their household work and childrearing. Compensation for what’s commonly called the “hardest job in the world”is considered practically ludicrous in our culture.
    Carework for elders or others children is underpaid, and the rude irony is that most caregivers cannot care for their own children!
    Women are asked to donate their breastmilk, and those that try to sell it are shut down by the government.
    Sex work can be lucrative, but illegal or at least heavily tabooed.
    Why is it immoral to sell these things, but not immoral to rent out houses to people who can’t afford them, or sell food, or work in a prison, or as an advertising executive or a lumberjack?
    As someone who has carried three pregnancies to term I can attest- pregnancy is a lot of work! It is demanding physically and psychologically. It can be physically risky at times. Pregnant women are subject to intense workplace discrimination, often losing their job and not easily finding a new one once their pregnancy is known. To have a healthy baby requires a lot of research, good nutrition, and self-care.
    I think it would be fantastic if birth mothers could receive some compensation for the work of pregnancy, provided the program was designed in an ethical way and that there was also support provided to mothers who are choosing to raise children of their own.

  • invalid-0

    The problem I see here is that paying the women an economic bonus if they give their child up for adoption is coercive. Why not just help ALL pregnant women who need help without requiring that they pay for it with their baby?

    Another issue that truly needs to be looked into is the screening of adoptive families. There are horror stories in the news all the time about abusive, neglectful and just outright bizarre adoptive parents and those stories DO have an influence on women who are considering adoption. Adoption agency personnel need to be held to professional standards, there needs to be better oversight of adoptions out of foster care, and much better mental health screening needs to be done on adoptive/foster parents with less attention paid to whether they can pay agency fees.

  • invalid-0

    Feministe is a blog. The blogger who wrote the post is Jill. It’s also customary to link to the actual post in question, not a category list that will make the link more difficult to find in the future. If you want people to believe you’re arguing in good faith, following common blog ettiquette is the least you can do.

  • jodi-jacobson
  • invalid-0

    Paying a birth mother to place a child for adoption is called Child Trafficking and is illegal every where. Adoption has been shut down in Guatemala for this reason–birth moms receving money.

    Giving a tax credit to adoptive parents to pay for the cost of an adoption (average cost $30,000), makes sense. But what would make more sense, is to decrease the cost of adoption to make it more accessible to families. Who in the world can pay $30k cash???? Even most “nice, middle class” families can’t afford to come up with the $30k without take out a home equity loan, putting it on a credit card, taking out a loan or raiding the 401k.

    And forget building a family of 2 or 3 kids with that kind of cost.

  • crowepps

    Pro-lifers really want adoption reform and ought to be able to stomach prevention

    Saw Jodi’s response to this and came back and reread and I’ve got to say, this particular sentence jumped out at me as being pretty — weird.

    What is the underlying huge problem that Pro-lifers have with PREVENTION? Why is this something that they would have to ‘stomach’? Considering the high level of misinformation that’s out there I can certainly understand why people might have qualms about individual methods, but why is the IDEA of prevention of unwanted pregnancy something they aren’t already 100% behind?

    Can anybody on the ProLife side explain what possible moral ‘good’ there is in maintaining or increasing the number of women who are pregnant when they don’t want to be pregnant?

  • crowepps

    If the purpose of adoption is the best interests of the CHILD if would make more sense to give the $30,000 tax credit to the mother and see if that financial assistance would enable her to raise the child herself.  The assumption that the child would be better off in a ‘nice, middle class family’ is packaged with a stereotype of the biological parents that’s both outdated and insulting.

  • invalid-0

    I agree with Crowepps. Why not just help ALL pregnant women who need help without requiring that they pay for it with their baby? In some European countries, women get up to 3 years paid maternity leave. Then once they go back to work, they get subsidized quality childcare. Obviously, more U.S. women would consider having and raising their babies if the prospect weren’t so incredibly expensive and daunting. In this country, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise a child to age 18. That’s very expensive! And most American workplaces are very punitive toward parents who take time off to care for their children. Despite the law, there is still a lot of subtle discrimination against pregnant women (and women in general) in the workplace. Maybe more women who now choose abortion would choose to have and raise their babies if they felt their careers wouldn’t be completely wrecked by motherhood. We shouldn’t have to choose between our livelihoods and having a family. However, the government should not pay young women paltry sums to carry unwanted babies to term just so they can put them up for adoption. That would potentially set up a system where the young, poor and uneducated would choose to have baby after baby just to get the “adoption bonus.” That could very quickly lead to a surplus of babies being put up for adoption. Would there be enough good adoptive parents to raise them all? Or would we then begin encouraging foreign parents to adopt in this country? Economic incentives can have far-ranging and unintended effects. Be careful what you wish for.

  • invalid-0

    Not pro-life here, but I’ve heard a few arguments against it.

    We’ve all heard the religious right argue that increased access to contraception will lead to more sinful lives (no comments on if that would actually be the case). From the Catholic Church, though, there’s also another reason–anything that prevents biology from working as intended in this situation, removing the ‘hand of God’ from the process, is considered sinful. That eliminates all forms of contraception, except NFP which works with your biology. I paraphrase, “God gave you marriage, it would be selfish to say you’re not going to give him kids in return”. (I wish I was kidding, I actually heard something similar from a priest, though it’s been too long for me to quote his actual words).

    There were a couple other arguments for using NFP, but that’s the main one–that it works with your biology. I can possibly dig up some better info if you want, I know I still have some literature around here somewhere.

  • steven-waldman

    When RH Reality Check asked me to contribute to its new common ground site, it didn’t occur to me that RH Reality Check’s political director would then respond to my submissions by declaring that I am:


     “sensationalist, sexist, fickle and moralistic,”


     “oblivious or uncaring,” 




    Full of “individual and collective smugness”


    A member of “the cult of male pontificators” who views the abortion issue primarily as a “reason for having a job so I can blog”


    And –my favorite – a supporter of the “war waged by ultra-conservative religious and political forces for which Waldman serves as a paid flacky.”


    Who knew searching for common ground could be so much fun?


    After all your thoughtful criticisms,  you ask, “So Steve: What is your end goal?  Reducing the need for abortions? Or ensuring fewer women have access to abortion so your team can win? Please advise. I am confused.”


    First, my (somewhat idiosyncratic) view is that public policy would better reflect public opinion if it focused on making abortion  “safe, legal and early.”  This approach would focus less on the number of abortions than the gestational age of the fetus/baby being aborted. Here’s my article on the subject:—-a-new-way.html    In truth, this paradigm is mostly irrelevant to the current common ground discussions but it does not envision  “ensuring fewer women have access to abortion so your team  can win.”


    Second, I’m a journalist. I sometimes challenge activists on both sides, highlight information that’s useful to the debate and clarify issues so people can make informed judgments on the issue.  Not everything I write is about advancing a particular policy agenda; sometimes I try to stimulate thought, correct errors, tease out hidden agendas – and find common ground.


    One of the most amusing aspects of your post is that you actually mostly agree with me about the particulars of adoption. You wrote: 


    “I support making adoption available as an option for all women who need this option.  (Is that clear enough????)  I support high-quality non-stigmatized adoption services.  I support giving what birth parents and adoptive families who choose this option need to ensure that the children in question have safe, secure homes.  I think this option should be available to all women.”


    The main difference between your position and mine:  I believe that one reason for adoption reform is that some women would choose that option instead of having an abortion. You believe that adoption reform “is a good thing in and of itself” but wouldn’t affect the abortion rate and shouldn’t be connected to the abortion discussion.


    But we agree on the substance. 


    I know you’d rather not say you’re agreeing with me – what with me being  sensationalist, sexist, fickle, moralistic, oblivious, uncaring, demeaning and smug – but it seems to me that we may be guilty of finding some common ground.

  • steven-waldman