Why Many Adoptive Parents, Experts Are Skeptical of Texas Adoption Video Proposal


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.”

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  • Renee Lynne Davies

    “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.”

    As an adult adoptee, you know what I’d love to know? Why no one EVER speaks to ADOPTEES about ADOPTION ISSUES.

    It’s supposed to be all about us. That’s the claim. Our “best interest.” But we’re never included, we’re never consulted, we’re never considered. There is no seat at the table for us. We’re treated like possessions. Everyone talks ABOUT us as if we’re Cabbage Patch dolls with no rights, no thoughts, no opinions, no consideration.

    We’re not babies forever, nor do we ever cease being adopted. We live adoption all our lives, and every single one of us is affected, to varying degrees, at various stages of life, by the damage caused by starting out losing everything everyone claims is supposed to be more important than anything: Our mothers, our families, our identities, our identities, our heritage.

    And for the record, and even though you didn’t ask, I can tell you I would NEVER subject a child to adoption. I believe it’s much kinder, much more responsible, to terminate the development of a clump of cells than to give away one’s living, breathing, feeling baby to strangers.

    But of course, abortion doesn’t add to the profits of the $13 billion a year adoption industry. Which brings me to my second point: I’d LOVE to know how much of the push behind this bill has been orchestrated by Texas’ own Gladney Center For Adoption, one of the largest, most profitable, and most politically powerful adoption agencies on the planet. Maybe that’s something you could look into, RH Reality Check?

    • http://www.facebook.com/pearlbrady Pearl Equality Brady

      Thank you very much for your thoughts. I do find it very odd that adoption stories are rarely told from the point of view of an adult adoptee.

    • fiona64

      Thank you for speaking out. I have several friends who are adoptees, and was engaged at one time to an adoptee. Every single one of these friends has spoken eloquently and emotionally about the sense of abandonment that they feel once they learn that they were adopted. My former fiance never wanted to know anything about his birth mother; he was very angry about being surrendered. As a result, I actually know more about her than he does; his mother told me the story.

      Thanks also for mentioning the reality that adoption is a huge money-making concern for these CPCs and the religious agencies with which they are affiliated.

      Finally, it amazed me that these “put the baby up for adoption” types don’t seem to care that there are already in excess of 100K kids available for adoption *right this minute* in the USA (per AFCARS stats). They always tout some fictional “friend who’s on a waiting list to adopt” and then respond with nothing but stunned silence when I ask why that “friend” hasn’t bothered to adopt any of the currently available children.

      • HeilMary1

        Also, I’ve come across reports of shady adoption operations that sell kids into prostitution rings, medical experiments and organ harvesting. Many Catholic orphanages profit from renting their kids for big pharma experiments.

    • Valde

      According to pro-lifers, children = property. It’s kind of sick. Women and children are things to be owned, nothing more.

      • colleen2

        That is what they mean by ‘Biblical values’.

        • Valde

          Yeah, read this:

          http://www vice com/read/the-ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-000300-v20n8

    • Angel13

      As a birthparent and adoptee, I’d like to recommend a book I read recently that I
      found really helpful called “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade” by Ann Fessler. I found it really interesting (and enraging) as I didn’t find much difference between my experience in 1990 and that of women prior to Roe v Wade. Adoption being portrayed as a “choice” a birthparent makes can be quite dishonest.

      Agreed that the effect of adoption on the adoptee is rarely discussed. When
      I was 5 years old I told another friend that my real mom gave me away because
      she didn’t want me (in ear shot of my mom). My mom sat me down and told me how my birthmom really loved me and wanted a better life for me and that’s why she gave me away. Que the lifelong guilt for abandoning my birthmom. When I got
      pregnant I didn’t even consider parenting my child as I was sure I didn’t deserve it (nerd alert- I hear Yoda in my head saying “adoption – f*ck with your head it does”).

      I was reunited with my daughter a few years ago, and found she thought she was here because of pro-life views on my part. It was devastating to think she grew up thinking she existed as a result of an ideology. I took friends to get abortions after her birth and never even blinked. The reality is that when someone is pregnant and didn’t plan it, none of the options available are great.

      So, last bit and then I’ll stop. While I think adoption should be an option for people, the real conversation should be first on how to prevent unplanned pregnancy and then how to best assist those girls/women/couples that have an unplanned pregnancy. By assist I mean help them through what ever choice they make. Yeah, I’m a first time commenter. Sorry if it shows!

      • cjvg

        Thank you for sharing this, I had not heard about this perspective before
        (how an adoptee could feel “unworthy” to parent her own unplanned child)

        For those of us not personally acquainted with the emotional aspects of adoption these are important points of view that need to be told!

      • L-dan

        Thank you for this.

  • FauxClaud

    I do not have an issue with using Gretchen Sisson as a source for birth mothers points of views because I know she HAS spoken to many of us and does understand the depths of the trauma due to adoption losses, I have to agree with Renee; talking about adoption without asking the only true experts, the adult adoptees, is a disservice to education on any adoption issue. And I am also SURE that there is a connection between the Senator and Gladney. I’m looking for it and I am sure it’s just buried under a political gift, or an endorsement or maybe an adopted grandchild or niece. Follow the money, it always leads to the true motivations. And it’s NOT what is best for women or babies.

  • skorupi88

    I love your reporting and exposure on this issue in Texas, Andrea, but I take issue with the POV of the consumers, APs, which are suspect on this topic. Andrea, ask adult adoptees how they feel about adoption. Ask for their experiences. Give them a platform for their voice. They were never a party to the contract that is Adoption. This is the most important part of the adoption transaction and they are never allowed to take part in public discussions concerning this topic.

    • Andrea Grimes

      Hi! Thanks for your input, and know that I’m working on this presently.

  • Jessica Burde

    As an adult adoptee and a parent, this disgusts me. I am glad I was adopted, it was the right decision for my birth parents and provided me with a better life then I would have had otherwise. I am glad I have my life and my birth mother did not choose abortion.

    But this is wrong. There are huge, huge issues with the adoption industry, there are huge issues with the abortion industry and those who are trying to shut it down.

    Laws about abortion should be made only to help the mother make the best decision and there is no one size fits all, not to try and force her into a decision that someone else thinks she should make. And adoption is not something to walk into lightly. It isn’t something to wave in front of a woman’s face “You can be a better, stronger, more awesome person and arrange an adoption!” No – it doesn’t work that way.

    And one thing that is hugely missing from this discussion – the role of the birth father.

    A woman does not require the father’s agreement to abort, however the father’s agreement is required to arrange an adoption. How many of the women forced to sit through this BS will have no chance of arranging an adoption b/c they have no way of getting the father’s agreement?

    I would love to see wider information on adoption available. The place to make it available is to both parents, BEFORE a person becomes pregnant.

    • L-dan

      An excellent point, re: fathers.

      I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any exceptions. So, at one extreme, are they going to make rape survivors sit though this? And toss the cherry on top of “and now go ask your rapist to sign off on an adoption?”

      *shudder*

    • HeilMary1

      In my tri-state area, lost birth fathers are “notified” by court ordered legal notices published in newspapers. I know this because I prepare some for publication. Do the dads actually read these tiny print ads? I doubt it and many are living in Latin America, Africa or Asia.

      • MrsGreene

        And how mortifying for the poor woman in that circumstance, having to have her personal trauma advertised in the legal section of the newspaper.

  • Suzie Kidnap

    don’t think for a second that this texas brainwashing bill hasn’t been in the works for some time.

    it came up during the first special session, that texas was “not doing enough for adoption.”

    they have probably had this in bill form for some time, and have been waiting for the right time to introduce it.

    i would like to know if these materials are the same ones already in use inside CPCs; materials that were developed using federal funds via the Infant Adoption Awareness Act.

    i have already written an open letter to davis, farrar and van de putte about an amendment to this bill. you can read that letter here.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/texas-womens-coalition/an-open-letter-to-senators-davis-and-van-de-putte-and-representative-farrar/454582594640201

  • DMolloy

    So basically they want to start stealing babies from the unworthy and giving them to better parents just like Franco and the Catholic church did in Spain.

    • C.H.

      Just the white babies.

      • HeilMary1

        Don’t you know? — the non-whites are perfect as lab rats or slave laborers! Just ask the stolen Native American survivors of residential “boarding schools” here and in Canada.

    • Guest

      Start?

    • HeilMary1

      I suspect Catholic hospital baby stealing has been happening here and globally too. Spanish nuns and their medical staff got away with their massive crime by targeting twins — they told the mothers only singletons were born or that the stolen and sold twins died.

  • Carrie Nance

    I’m not adopted but was surprised at this bill entered into the Texas legislature. It seems unethical considering how many kids are in the foster care system. Per a quick search, there were 26.6K children in foster care in 2011 Teas. Even more interesting is that 289K were being cared for by grandparents. Only about 5K kids were adopted out of foster care. And of course the real travesty are the children who are kept but then abused.

    It seems important that this kind of data is made public. The anti-choicers keep touting that they would stop thousands of abortions each year and seem to think many of those unwanted pregnancies would simply be converted into adoptions. But this is a false hope.

    I can’t link the PDF here but it’s a quick click to childrensdefense.org and search “Texas 2011″ to see the data I referenced above.

    There are about 80K abortions in Texas each year. I heard one anti-abortion mouthpiece mention he thought the recent abortion bill would lead to 55K more births per year. If all of those children were transferred into the foster program, the numbers would be insanity. And of course these are the same people who want to cut familyservices, health care and other pro-family policies from state and federal budgets. If they haven’t proved that the charities and churches can fix the current foster and adoption issues, how can we trust them to take care of them when there’s even more?

    • Lyra Belaqua

      Because they think that if all da baybeez were born, all the problems would magically go away.

    • MrsGreene

      Bekuzzz…who keeeers whut happuns to baybeez aftur they’s borned. Duh. Sigh. As a birthmother myself, I am still suffering the impacts of relinquishing my child 30 years later. And we had a “fairytale” situation–I chose the family, adoption agency was very supportive, adoptive mom and I got to be very good friends. I know my daughter is suffering as well. She lost her mom to cancer last year and is expecting her own first child. She has withdrawn from me completely, and I know she is grieving that her mom will not be there for her and wants nothing to do with me right now. I understand completely and don’t feel hurt at all. I do feel sad that I will never be as close to her child as my other grandchild, who I have more contact with.

  • txcg

    The Evan B. Donaldson Institute studies everything about adoption. http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/index.php Talk to Executive Director Adam Pertman and you will get unbiased, objectively gathered data about adoption. As a Search Angel since I started my own reunion search in 1976 and a board member of Adoption Knowledge Affiliates, AKA, I am well entrenched in the adoptee community. I echo the sentiments of others that adoptees should be asked about adoption experience and how it affects adoptees. AKA has a great conference, this year Nov 8/9 and the keynote this year is speaking on “preverbal trauma” and how it affects the adoptee and how others involved in the adoption process are also affected. If you want to learn, come to Austin, Texas and learn!

  • Bonzai

    “In fact, the birth parent experience is one of the least studied aspects of adoption research,
    which itself is already limited”. And study of adoption effects on
    adoptees is even more limited, when we’re the ones most affected. What
    we do know is that adoption is a huge trauma for the child and causes
    developmental PTSD, permanently altering brain development and function.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3pX4C-mtiI&list=FLKPazCTaKgqo4GVKaAEbyQA

  • Valde

    from the article: 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.

    Anti-choicers don’t care. I have pointed this fact out, and I am just told that these women are selfish, that it’s not about them, it’s about the pwecious baybee, and maybe they should have thought about this before they ‘spread their s1ut legs’ etc.

  • PixieCorpse

    “But is three hours really enough time to cover the reality of the adoption process..?”

    No, no, and Hell no. But deep down, that’s not the point of the exercise. The point of the exercise is to throw one more hurdle between a woman and her rights so she won’t get that abortion so many people find unthinkable. If you went through this “class” before an abortion, you just spent three hours thinking of your embryo as a born child–someone else’s, but nevertheless born..

    Of course, if the adoption agencies do score any babies that way, they’ll be gravy, won’t they? Very valuable gravy. (I wonder what percentage of such babies would end up in private adoptions rather than foster care? I’m guessing one hundred.)

    We do not now, nor have we ever, truly begun “to address, in even a limited way, the lifetime of both positive and
    negative consequences [faced by] people involved in [the] adoption experience.” We could, but no one seems to want to. There’s too much money changing hands. There’s too much emotion involved, almost all of it felt for the couple who wants a baby so much, less for the relinquishing mother or the child him/herself. Any change to adoption, even a positive one like open records, tends to be seen as a threat to it.

    This bill is obscene. Don’t ever change, Texas. Keep the faith that a woman is a child who doesn’t understand embryos develop into babies if left alone, a creature who can’t be trusted to make her own decisions even when consulting a (very possibly male) doctor.

  • grantal

    I am an adoptee of the 50′s. I was told that my birth mother who was only 18 as well as the sperm donor 18 as well. The sperm donor did not want to marry my birthmother and she was from a strict catholic family. She was put in a “home” for pregnant unwed mothers to be. until I was born and swept away to a catholic orphanage. Luckily I was adopted out quickly after six weeks of waiting to make sure I was healthy. (my adopted parents had lost the first baby they were to adopt before they even got to pick her up! I was born the same day she died..
    I have always felt a deep loss and anytime I see any child, human or animal ripped from their mothers it tears me up inside. I still don’t know for sure if my birth mother would have kept me if the situation had been different.
    The worst part is that it was society’s pathetic laws and fears (religious I nature I am sure) that took me from my natural mother. They had NO RIGHT to preach to my mother or anyone else’s and many times I wish she had aborted me.
    This is why I will ALWAYS be pro-choice. I have lived the reality of adoption.

    • L-dan

      Thank you for sharing this. *virtual hugs* I agree that the entire forced-birth argument on adoption is utterly simplistic. *Just* have the baby and put it up for adoption. As if pregnancy or adoption are simple enough for ‘just’.

    • HeilMary1

      I wish I had been aborted instead of staying with my unfit birth parents, but I can imagine your searing loss and I’ve seen it in animals — a neighbor arranged for our local animal shelter to spay and neuter a stray mother cat and her litter that had been visiting our back yards. The mother was fixed and returned to our neighborhood, but her kittens were kept for adoption. She came to my yard looking for her babies and let out the most painful wails of grief! I then felt awful for helping my neighbor separate them “for their own good”.

      • liberaldem

        Would you rather those cats have been left on their own, and the adult female unspayed so that she might have produced yet another litter of kittens that might have died or lived very short lives? It is sad that the mother cat and kittens couldn’t have been fostered so that she could have weaned the kittens naturally, but in my humble opinion the kittens may be in better homes.

        • fiona64

          As a humane society volunteer, I thank you for these words. Yes, it is always preferable to bring in mama and kittens together, but it’s not always feasible. TNR is sometimes the most appropriate choice for a very difficult feral mama.

          • liberaldem

            Thanks. I know that it’s not always possible to socialize and place adult feral or community cats.
            On the subject of adoption, I really appreciate the comments here from adult adoptees.Getting their perspective on adoption is really valuable, and one that I have not seen very often, if at all.

        • HeilMary1

          You are right that stopping the miserable breeding cycle of feral cats is important. Too bad that the anti-choicers who recognize this need for animals don’t see the same urgency for humans!

          My neighbors and I have have fed these feral cats and our shelter is great with its TNR services. It would have been better if this mother cat was kept with her 6-8 week-old kittens a few more weeks. I kept another mother with her litter for 12 weeks and they were then ready for splitting up for adoption (the mother kept shunning and hiding from them to avoid nursing).

  • HeilMary1

    That kind of targeted rejection is very hard to live with.