Stoking Fire: The Adoption Movement’s ‘Supply Crunch’

“Evangelical interest in adoption emerged in the last ten years,” writer Kathryn Joyce begins. “It’s framed as an abortion alternative, a way to save women from ending unwanted pregnancies. Crisis pregnancy centers make adoption their secondary message: Don’t just choose life, choose adoption.”

And that’s just the tip of the evangelical adoption iceberg.

“Evangelicals paint a picture of a worldwide orphan crisis, with hundreds of millions of children who can be rescued,” Joyce continues. “For some it also fulfills a Great Commission mandate,” a way to bring a heathen child into the Christian fold.

Joyce and I are sitting in a quiet Queens, New York, café discussing a report, The Adoption Crunch, The Christian Right, and the Challenge to Indian Sovereignty that she wrote for the Massachusetts-based organization Political Research Associates. It’s a fascinating document.

In it, Joyce describes what she calls the “adoption cliff”: the steep drop-off in international adoptions, from 23,000 a decade ago to just 9,000 in 2013. It’s a decline she attributes to a wave of scandals involving the acquisition of babies and their subsequent adoption by relatively well-heeled U.S. households. “In Guatemala,” Joyce wrote, “strong Western demand for adoptable infants led to an influx of foreign cash, and unethical actors procured the supply—sometimes using coercive payments or outright kidnapping. … As a result, a number of adoption agencies—including some of the largest—have been bankrupted or forced to close.”

Not surprisingly, this has caused many people wishing to adopt—evangelical Christians as well as the non-religious—to turn their gaze to adoptable kids living in the 50 states. The problem? According to Joyce, “Domestic infant adoptions began dropping exponentially after the legalization of abortion and the increased acceptance of single motherhood that began in the 1970s.”

These facts, of course, have made adoption difficult for evangelicals. Nonetheless, groups like the Christian Alliance for Orphans and Rick Warren’s Saddleback mega-church are so hopped up on saving the parentless that they miss no opportunity to urge their brethren to “reflect God’s heart” by taking in a needy child.

The reality, however, is that many adoptive parents do not want a child—they want a baby or infant. So what to do about the dearth of adoption-ready newborns? Joyce reports that adoption advocates have begun pushing to streamline the process to make it “better, cheaper, and faster” for would-be parents. “In Texas,” Joyce wrote, “they propose to do so by demanding that women seeking abortions undergo hours of mandatory adoption counseling.”

In addition to state initiatives, Joyce explains that there’s also been momentum on the federal level. The Children in Families First Act (S. 1530 and H.R. 4143) has collected an unusually broad roster of sponsors: liberal Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) alongside conservative Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Trent Franks (R-AZ). According to a website supporting the bill, if passed CHIFF will “put in place laws and systems that allow for international adoption as it is a necessary and appropriate way to meet the needs of children who cannot find homes domestically.”

If you think it sounds pretty vague, you’re 100 percent correct.

What’s more, Joyce says that she worries about changes in adoption policies more generally. She cites the case of Baby Veronica as a key example.

As you likely remember, in the fall of 2013, Cherokee Nation member Dusten Brown was forced to relinquish his biological daughter, Veronica, to Matt and Melanie Copabianco, a white South Carolina couple. The case was extremely fraught since Brown had previously indicated that he wanted to abrogate his parental rights. Brown’s ex, Christina Maldonado, took Brown at his word; after giving birth to Veronica in 2009, she put the child up for adoption, and the Copabianco’s raised Veronica for the first two years of her life. Although Brown regained custody of Veronica in 2011—shortly after being discharged from the Army—two years later the Supreme Court reversed the decision and Veronica was sent back to the Copabiancos’.

While this is admittedly an oversimplification of the numerous twists and turns in the case, at its core is an important question: Was Veronica, whose biological dad was willing and able to rear her, really in need of adoption? Secondly, if we say we want fathers to be more involved parents, how can we allow paternal rights to be so cavalierly dismissed?

Then there’s the issue of race.

“The Baby Veronica struggle introduced a relatively new element to the story of rising demand and decreasing supply,” Joyce wrote in the report. “How do adoptions from Indian country factor in the equation?”

According to Joyce:

Maldonado initially sought to omit Brown’s identity from adoption paperwork, fearing his status as a Cherokee tribal member would impede the adoption. Adoptions of Indian children are governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that gives tribes a say in Indian children’s custody. Enacted in 1978, ICWA was ostensibly passed to keep Native children within their families by regulating child custody procedures for children who are eligible to be registered members of recognized tribes.

That the Copabianco family emerged victorious made many wonder whether the ICWA was worth the paper it had been printed on. But the decision did more than this—it turned media attention on the 36-year-old law itself. As was predictable, numerous right-wing pundits and their evangelical pals used the Baby Veronica decision as an opportunity to argue that the ICWA was outdated. In a bow to so-called compassionate conservatism—that is, in light of the many Native babies and youngsters living in poverty—they posited that the statute needed to be revised, if not tossed completely. At stake, they said, was the noble task of saving thousands of boys and girls from deprivation and want.

Left unaddressed in the clamor was the reason the ICWA was passed in the first place: The enormous number of Native kids who were removed from their homes by public and private social service agencies during the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the American Indian Child Resource Center charges that at the time of ICWA’s passage, “the adoption rate for Indian children was 8.4 times greater than for non-Native children. … The American Indian family was being separated at a rate greater than any other culture in the U.S.” The belief that white people “knew better” was at the heart of this appalling piece of American history—history that involved “civilizing” Native children by pulling them out of their families of origin.

Joyce speaks carefully, and makes clear that she does not want to overstate the dangers inherent in the evangelical adoption movement. At the same time, she calls the outcome of the Baby Veronica case extremely troubling. “There’s been an interesting alliance between the people who were most excited about the outcome of the Dusten Brown/Baby Veronica case and people who are making adoption into a religious calling,” she said. “My concern is about what this could portend for adoptions from Indian country since there is such a huge demand for babies to adopt.”

It’s something that should concern us all.

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  • fiona64

    I maintain that all of these people clamoring that “there are no children to adopt,” whilst ignoring that tens of thousands of children in the US alone age out of the system without ever having permanent homes really need a wake-up call. No one is owed the contents of some random woman’s uterus … and they are most particularly not owed the perfectly healthy Caucasian male neo-nate that most such people are demanding. These people don’t want to parent; they want an infant as a fashion accessory.

    • auntbec

      I wish I could “like” this more than once. I couldn’t agree more.

    • lady_black

      Which is why they do not deserve any child at all. Children are not ornaments and status symbols.

      • Ella Warnock

        Amen. “Precious babies” before birth, objects to be owned afterward. Hardly an example of “pro-life” consistency.

        • Theodoor Westerhof

          There is nothing inconsistent about being both Pro-Life and Pro-Slavery, nothing inconsistent about that at all, you have to grant that.

  • purrtriarchy

    American babies are sold to well off overseas couples. The adoption industry is entirely about selling to the highest bidder

    And black babies sell for 20-30k less than white babies. If there is a shortage, its one of not enough pristine white infants to go around.

  • lady_black

    I wonder if this is the motivation of the anti-abortion movement. Profit from more saleable babies.

    • goatini

      Wonder? I’ve known this for 30+ years.

  • goatini

    Words cannot describe how I despise the billion-dollar global human trafficking adoption mill syndicate.

  • Suba gunawardana

    As I always said, the forced-birth philosophy has one of three motives: Profit, Pleasure, or Control. I have yet to meet a forced-birther who doesn’t fall into one of these categories (or more).

  • Clarepl

    When Brown agreed to give up his parental rights, it was with the understanding that Maldano would be raising Veronica. Once he found out that she had lied and in fact had no interest in raising the child herself then he made it clear that he did. But it was too late. Although he never provided informed consent he did provide uninformed consent and sadly, that was enough. Veronica was forcibly taken from her father, stepmother, sister, grandparents and a wonderful extended family after twenty months and forcibly “adopted” by the Capobiancos in South Carolina because (although the U.S. Supreme Court found that there were multiple other problems with Veronica’s initial placement with the Capobiancos)…. they found that I.C.W.A didn’t apply to her case. The South Carolina Supreme Court used this as an excuse to force the “adoption” thorough and she was taken just a few days after her fourth birthday. Dr. Phil and the repellent Troy (the locater) Dunn were heavily involved.

    • lady_black

      I’m not sure I can agree with that assessment. One doesn’t “conditionally” sign away parental rights, and someone should have explained that to him. Signing away paternal rights with “the understanding” that the mother would be raising the child is meaningless. If she subsequently relinquishes the child, or the child ends up in foster care because of abuse/neglect concerns, he has signed all his rights away. He’s in a worse position than having custody removed by judicial action. That can be reversed. Something you did voluntarily, yes, they really are going to believe you meant it, and hold you to it. Brown has nobody to blame but himself.

      • Clarepl

        Yo’re certainly right that he was tricked and if he had done some research, it wouldn’t have happened and yes, he should have been less trusting and taken more responsibility from the beginning. But I still think it’s very sad that a four year old child (who had been living with her natural family for twenty months) had to be taken away like that. A best interests hearing was carefully avoided or you can be sure she would never have been taken. He’s paying for his mistake but Veronica’s also paying for his mistake. I certainly wouldn’t want to have my life torn apart because someone sucessfully pulled one over on my father, even if it really was partly his fault that he was fooled.

        • lady_black

          She went back to the people who had raised her for the first two years. She should never have been taken from them in the first place. I’m sorry that he feels that he was “tricked.” For what earthly reason did he want to relinquish his paternal rights? Didn’t want to pay support? I apologize if that seems cold. These people were not strangers to Veronica. They were raising her when (for whatever reason) he couldn’t be bothered.

          • Meagan Farley

            Court documents show that Mr. Brown thought that all he was agreeing to was allowing the mother to have sole custody of the child. He said that she repeatedly asked him to do this and he thought he was giving her what she wanted and that he would still have a role in the child’s life. He had no idea she planned to give the child up for adoption and she intentionally withheld this information from him. As for the reason the child was raised by these people for the first two years of her life; her father was in Iraq serving our country! He was informed of the adoption a mere days before being deployed to war. He gave his father power of attorney so that his parents could take care of his daughter until he came back. A carefully orchestrated effort was made to strip him of his parental rights and to move forward with the adoption without his consent. These are actions I cannot condone as I believe that adoption should be done with honesty and integrity.

          • Shineon83

            —Nope. I’ve read the court documents. Brown was NOT “tricked” —his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, and wanted to keep the baby. Brown REFUSED to contribute anything to her medical expenses–or for child support. It was at this point she decided to give the child up.
            —-According to SC court records, it was Brown ‘a refusal to help with medical costs that sunk his bid to get his bio-daughter (under US paternity law, a father who refuses any financial help to a pregnant partner has already abrogated all future rights to the child). Brown tried to rewrite history—unfortunately for him , he left a paper trail….

          • Clarepl

            You’re all about revenge. Veronica never did anything wrong. She was almost four years old! Everyone remembers being four but very few people remember being two. This was a tragedy. A child sold to two sick, entitled, rich, depraved freaks who don’t deserve to be anywhere near her or any other child. Your kind of talk is what I expect to debate on a far right site, not here. Veronica is more than what the Capobiancos paid for. She is an individual with a family and had a right to live peacefully with them, aware of her heritage and her family.

          • lady_black

            I assure you I am not “all about revenge” nor am I right-wing. I’m to the left of the Dali Lama. And in general, I’m not a huge fan of adoption because it is, and has always been corrupt. But here are the legal facts. Intentionally or unintentionally, the father signed away his rights. If the mother misled him, that’s unfortunate. Buyer beware. As a general principle, you don’t sign documents without reading them. And when it concerns something as precious as rights to a child, any document should at least be checked by a lawyer. This isn’t meant to be a defense of misleading him. The world is full of people willing to take advantage of any given person, that’s a fact. I thank him for his service to his country. I hope the adoptive parents will be good to the little girl.

      • John H

        I don’t think that’s true – I’m pretty sure (after some Googling) that misrepresentation concerning the terms of a contract (including some cases where the misrepresentation pertains to the context in which the contract is signed and not necessarily the actual words of the contract) CAN (though doesn’t always) void the contract. State statutes may also differ with respect to what conditions constitute misrepresentation, but this is a matter that would need to be sorted out by a judge – it can’t be immediately dismissed becasue someone signed zir parental rights away.

    • Shineon83

      —-Um, boy do u have your facts WRONG (and it makes u look quite foolish, to boot)….Veronica WAS, at the age of almost two, “ripped out ” of the loving arms of the parents and extended family that
      had raised her since her birth–/but those arms were NOT those of Brown & his kin—they were the arms of the couple that had adopted her–the Capibiancos. In addition, Brown, in his great concern for his daughter’s welfare, chose to disregard the warnings of seven separate child psychologists –who urged him that it is very damaging to “cut off” all contact with the only parents she had ever known…..Daddy did just
      that: no phone calls, letters, etc.

  • Clarepl

    Not to belabor the point too much (sorry… I’ve followed this story for two years). Please note that this article is from Adoptive Families Circle, demonstrating that even among people who are generally in favor of traditional adoption, the Capobianco “adoption” is recognised as a case where things went very, very wrong…

  • fiona64

    That is *exactly* how I would reform the system, to be honest.

    “What, you don’t want a developmentally delayed 2-year-old girl? You wanted a perfectly health male neo-nate? Then you don’t really want to parent, do you? After all, you might have given birth to a develomentally delayed female infant … what would you have done then? Next!”

    • lady_black

      They remind me of folks who used to call me when I was breeding cats, asking for a kitten to replace their previous cat who had been run over in the road. Needless to say they didn’t get one of mine to have the same thing happen.

    • Shineon83

      —-So sad… many of u slamming so many people you don’t even know—-and their motivations. You obviously don’t know too many seriously faithful people (of any faith–not limited to Christians).
      —-Most of the members of my family have adopted dearly loved children—none were adopted as infants, all have physical/mental handicaps (and none were “lily white”) The joy my autistic son has brought to MY life (and I
      Hope I’ve brought some to his) would be useless to explain to so many angry, judgemental people (as so many on this site seem to be).
      —Financially, the costs associated with their care have at times been daunting, but emotionally…they have been priceless. We are people of faith; the rage and assumptions I’m hearing about people you
      Folks don’t even know is a bit frightening…..Try actually getting to KNOW some of the people you’re so recklessly denigrating —THEN make your comments….

      • fiona64

        Sorry, while I do know some couples who have adopted developmentally delayed older kids (all of them, BTW, gay couples that you so-called “serious people of faith” think should not be allowed to adopt), I have seen far more shopping around for the perfect infant and then decrying the fact that there “are no children available for adoption.

        And, in the *decades* that I’ve been a pro-choice activist, I’ve lost track of the number of people who have said that “there’s a deserving infertile couple out there who wants your baby.”

        The sad truth is that adoption outside of the foster system is a for-profit racket. I am personally glad that you chose to adopt foster children with disabilities … but believe me, you are in the minority.

        You might try taking your own advice, BTW … actually look around at how adoption mills fronted by CPCs operate, and at how many kids age out of foster care without ever being adopted (the AFCARS stats are available on line). Then, come back and apologize … because I’m dead right all the way around.

      • cjvg

        Women are not commodities that should be forced to supply “needed” babies for adoptive families, THAT is the anger you are hearing!
        If you adopt kids that need families, great, but do not suggest that other women owe it to potential adoptive families to carry unwanted pregnancies to term so there will be enough supply to chose from!

  • Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy

    The profits made by the adoption industry in the USA ( 13 billion and counting annually) SHOULD be a major concern for anyone who believes in children, the rights of mothers, the rights of fathers, reproductive justice, or any form of justice. Children are being separated form their families for profits with no thought of the life long risks for both the now created adoptees and the original families. Best interests of all means the amount of profit created by and for the adoption industry. They are nothing but overpriced middle men and the CHIFF bill is nothing but the “adoption agency bail out” bill.

  • Shineon83

    Ridiculously simplistic arguments (and article ). First (and MOST importantly), “Baby” Veronica is LESS than 1% (look it up) “Cherokee” –the child has more GERMAN heritage than she will EVER have “Native American”—Brown (who is also a blue-eyed, pink-cheeked man ) used the Native kids” law as a tool to adopt a child he had already SIGNED his RIGHTS AWAY on (the author mentions as “troubling” the adoption of a child the father “wanted?”—Did she actually READ the legal briefs on the case? I did. Mr. Brown was not in the LEAST confused about which “forms ” he signed –he even specified (in writing) that as long as he wasn’t liable for any child or pregnancy support he relinquished all rights to his daughter —Not until MONTHS after her birth did he “change” his mind……Whar does the author suggest? Ripping kids out if the arms of their adoptive parents whenever a bio-mom/dad changes their mind??? Real healthy.
    —-Sounds as if the author thinks abortion beats the hell
    out of adoption—-sick…..

  • Kiplin

    Stress during pregnancy impacts fetal development. The more we learn about genetic/epigenetic development, the more we are coming to understand that Child Abuse started with your GREAT GRANDMOTHER’S mental health, substance use/abuse, chemical exposure, diet, etc. and each generation afterwards further impacts the development of the potential child. If you are under stress, you are already abusing your child… And what could possibly be more stressful than knowing that you’re going to carry a child to term that you will then “Give Away”? A child that you know will haunt you your whole life and might come knocking at your door 20 years later asking you why you “Abandoned” them to someone else.

    Even when you have an adoption set up at birth, as the case in that film “Juno” that so many people point to as a Pro-Adoption/Anti-Abortion film, we KNOW the statistics regarding the outcomes of adoption on the mental and physical health of the child.

    Addiction rates are MASSIVE in adopted children, even in otherwise healthy homes.
    Mental Illness rates are MASSIVE in adopted children, even in otherwise healthy homes.

    Depression, Bonding Problems, Inability to Maintain Healthy Intimacy, Abandonment Issues, Drug Abuse, Alcoholism, etc. etc. etc.


    Babies are sponges… They absorbed birth mommy’s depression, stress, anxiety, etc. in the womb and they absorb the knowledge that they’re not adopted mommy and daddy’s child during childhood…

    By choosing adoption, you are saying “I’m too selfish and afraid to abort, so I will knowingly birth my child and give it a life of suffering, mental illness, and/or addiction that will haunt ME my whole life because I never know when that doorbell ring will not be a neighbor but the child I abandoned.”

    The Anti-Choicers maintain a narrative that adopted children live happily ever after and will grow up and not repeat the same patterns of their birth parents but WE KNOW that children of adoption are far more likely to have unplanned pregnancies!

    I’d post links to support everything I’m saying but when I do, my comments never get posted because they need to be “Reviewed” to make sure they’re not SPAM…

    You should watch BBC Horizon “The Ghost in your Genes” about how trauma impacts genetic/epigenetic development. You should check out the Time Magazine Article on how stress impacts mental health of children… There is an endless list of articles, studies, etc. on how women that get pregnant without intending to begin to abuse their children at conception and impact the health and welfare of their great grandchildrens genetic/mental development.

    But I digress… Never let it be said that the Anti-Choicers ever let reality or data get in the way of their narratives.