State Sen. Eddie Lucio, the lone Texas Democrat to vote for an omnibus anti-abortion bill that is expected to shut down all but five abortion clinics in the state, has begun a new crusade against reproductive freedom in the state: He wants to compel Texans to complete a three-hour course on adoption before they can legally obtain an abortion.
Lucio’s state-mandated adoption class would serve as another barrier between Texans and safe, legal abortion—pregnant Texans must already undergo a state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound and wait 24 hours between that ultrasound and their procedure. But is three hours really enough time to cover the reality of the adoption process, and to address, in even a limited way, the lifetime of both positive and negative consequences that people involved in adoption experience?
RH Reality Check spoke to adoption researchers and adoptive parents who expressed deep concerns about the bill, wondering how a legally complicated, emotionally trying process like adoption could be responsibly reduced to a three-hour lecture or online video course.
Lucio originally filed his adoption bill during this summer’s second special legislative session. The first version would create a course solely focused on adoption; the second version, which he filed during the third special legislative session, expands the course to include “a pregnant woman’s option to place her child for adoption,” “women’s health before and during the pregnancy,” and “available resources for pregnant women and their children.”
Texans seeking abortion are working, now more than ever, against the clock. As of September 1, abortion after 20 weeks will be illegal in the state. Lucio’s bill would require Texans to take the three-hour online course less than 30 days, but more than 24 hours, before their procedure. For Texans without home Internet access, or the ability to travel to a state health department office, this poses another hurdle: Do you watch the pre-abortion adoption video at your local public library? Do you stay three hours late at work and use company equipment to view the course? Will abortion providers be able to screen a video course, or provide equivalent in-clinic instruction?
None of that may matter to Lucio, since his stated goal is not to better inform pregnant Texans of their many options, but to specifically persuade them to choose adoption.
“It is my hope that, when presented with more information on adoption resources and services available, more pregnancies can be carried to term,” the senator said in a statement released by his office in July. But his use of the passive voice is deceptive. Pregnancies aren’t just “carried to term” in some amorphous entity that produces new babies for adoptive parents. There is a real, living person carrying that pregnancy, and there is no guarantee that person will be the perfect image of the beatific, courageous martyr so often portrayed by (largely religious-affiliated) adoption agencies.
Take, for example, the language on this “Adoption Option” page from the Gladney Center for Adoption in Forth Worth, one of the most powerful adoption agencies in Texas:
It is a loving and courageous plan made because you are able to put your child’s needs before your own, knowing that he/she deserves something more than you can provide at this point in your life.
The Gladney site goes on to warn pregnant people they may feel “grief and loss” if they choose adoption, but it assures them that, in the end, “this pain is someday replaced by strength.”
In fact, the birth parent experience is one of the least studied aspects of adoption research, which itself is already limited, according to Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). In her doctoral research, she spoke to 62 birth parents in 25 states who had placed children for adoption between the early 1960s and 2010.
Sisson said that many of the birth parents she spoke to “really come out completely traumatized,” adding that she doesn’t use the term lightly. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement of the damage that can be done,” said Sisson, particularly in closed adoptions, wherein birth parents are prevented from learning what happens to the children they place and have little to no say in choosing the families who will raise their children. Even in open adoptions, birth parents’ rights vary state by state; in Texas, for example, Sisson says that adoptive parents are not legally required to adhere to open adoption agreements.
“Living after an adoption, life can be harder for a woman than living after an abortion,” said Sisson. She said she believes it’s inappropriate for the state to present one option as inherently better than another, especially when adoption ”is just as much about separating a family as it is creating a family.”
Sisson’s point was echoed by Dawn Scott, a board member at Adoption Knowledge Affiliates (AKA) in Austin, a secular nonprofit organization that provides support and education to adopted people, adoptive parents, and birth parents. An adoptive parent herself, Scott said AKA does not have an official position on Lucio’s proposed bill, but that in her experience, it would be very difficult for the complicated reality of adoption to be conveyed in a three-hour course.
“It’s hard to hear, over the years … some of the sadder sides of it, because my family exists because of adoption,” said Scott. She says AKA recognizes that adoption situations are ”always brought together by somebody’s losses,” and that facing that particular reality is a vital part of understanding the grief and joy that can come from the adoption decision.
Indeed, adoptive parents RH Reality Check spoke to—including a woman who called herself “one of most pro-life people you’ll ever speak with”—were profoundly skeptical of the idea of government-mandated adoption counseling.
Tricia Neerman—the above-mentioned “pro-life” adoptive mom—adopted her 7-year-old daughter from China and said that she personally thinks “encouraging adoption is absolutely wonderful.” If more birth parents chose adoption, she said, she and her husband “would probably have more children, plain and simple.”
Neerman said she “admires” the idea behind Lucio’s bill, but she doesn’t think a three-hour adoption class is appropriate for people who have already chosen to seek out an abortion.
“You’re not going to force someone to change their mind by putting them in a room for three hours,” said Neerman. “We’re already making them go through a sonogram and now a three-hour course? To me that almost seems tortuous a little bit.”
Of the individuals interviewed, the person most in favor of government-mandated adoption counseling is a Fort Worth woman named Amy Wilson, who placed two of her children for adoption when she was in her early 20s.
Wilson, who says she knows “a lot of people” who regret their abortions, sought out a Christian crisis pregnancy center’s assistance with her adoption decision because she “had a really strong feeling that there was a bigger plan for [her] child.” She said that after visiting an abortion clinic, the idea that a person could end a pregnancy with a pill “terrified” her. Wilson likes the idea of a mandated adoption education program, which she believes would mean “more time where a woman has to really let it sink in, what she’s doing.”
But Gretchen Sisson at UCSF said that, according to her research, most people who decide to place a child for adoption rarely consider abortion to be a viable option in the first place. Put simply, adoption is not an alternative to pregnancy, but an alternative to parenting.
Indeed, most of the time, Sisson said, the choice made is between parenting and adoption, not abortion and adoption. And only a very few birth parents make the decision to place a child for adoption at all. Sisson says that fewer than 1 percent of all women will place a child for adoption, and a new study from UCSF conducted between 2008 and 2010 found that among people who were denied abortions, 90 percent chose to parent their child, not place it for adoption.
That fits with Wilson’s experience during one of her pregnancies. She was seven-months pregnant, intending to parent her child, when she decided that it wasn’t the best decision for her or her baby.
“I was planning on parenting in the beginning, and as I got to seven-months pregnant, it wasn’t going to be best for the child,” she said. Today, she says she’s happy to be part of both of her children’s lives though open adoption and “can’t imagine them not being around.”
Wilson says she felt the crisis pregnancy center she worked with “wasn’t pressuring” her, and gave her information “without persuading [her] to do one thing or another.”
Nevertheless, Wilson does hope that a state-mandated adoption education course could change an abortion-seeking person’s mind: “I think there needs to be a video or something that makes your brain go to that level where you’re out of the mindset where it’s, ‘Let’s just get it taken care of and that’s it.’”
For now, with the Texas legislature finally recessed after three special sessions, Sen. Lucio told Texas Public Radio that he and his staff are working on shoring up support for the bill’s next iteration in the 2015 legislative session. If the bill does make it into law, Dawn Scott with Adoption Knowledge Affiliates said she hopes her organization can bring a non-partisan, secular view into developing the course.
“Three hours is not enough,” said Scott, “but three hours is long if you’ve already made the decision.”