Abortion Alternatives: Considering Adoption as an Alternative to Abortion

Pregnancies don’t happen in a vacuum. They have context.

Defending the context of pregnancy may seem a little trite, but that idea is often contested by women’s choice advocates when they hear adoption presented as an alternative to abortion. The essential point they want to make, is that more focused attention should be paid to particular choices that occur in the course of a pregnancy, not the overall course itself.

We’re going to discuss some of the differences between those two perspectives, and try to build a rational case for presenting adoption as one of the alternatives to abortion based on simple cause-and-effect choices. To be clear, as a newborn and infant adoption agency, of course that’s what we advocate. We think that our perspective is valid, fair, and does consider the health and welfare of birth mothers. We don’t think our viewpoint is the antithesis of ‘choice’ at all, nor does it come from some radical fringe. In fact, we feel our viewpoint advocates the choice that leaves unborn infants alive through birth, and unwanted infants offered to qualified and eligible adoptive parents.

Whether that seems reasonable or extremist to you or not, you may be curious to know more about the context of pregnancy and how the idea of context challenges the rhetorical approach of abortion advocates. So, let’s consider the question at hand.

Is adoption an alternative to abortion?

Critics of adoption like to say, strictly speaking, that the answer to that question is no. The typical argument asserts that giving birth is the alternative to abortion—a reproductive choice—whereas adoption is the alternative to parenting—a parenting choice—and they are two different decisions that happen at different stages of a pregnancy. First a woman must decide whether or not she wants to, or is capable of going through the process of reproducing. The reproductive choice must be made first, and only after that decision has been made, does the question of parenting or adoption enter into the matter.

Those who favor this argument tend to feel like there valid criticisms to voice against adoption, and that endorsing adoption as one of a few abortion alternatives is a case of putting the cart before the horse. We disagree. Even though it’s certainly true that a birth mother must first commit to carrying her pregnancy to term, and then give birth before she can take action on the decision of whether or not to actively be a parent or give a child up for adoption, it’s a perfectly legitimate question to consider during pregnancy. Both the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the National Women’s Law Center, list adoption as an alternative to both abortion and becoming a teen parent. Knowing that the possibility of adoption exists could prove very influential in the birth mother’s decision of whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term and then give birth. Like all the other critical circumstantial factors a woman must consider during pregnancy, especially if her desire to be a parent is in question, adoption is a possibility that could influence her conduct during the course of the pregnancy.

It may be true that certain individuals, like mothers who gave their babies up in the past and later regretted the decision, may have valid criticisms based on what they experienced. We agree that their voices should be heard, and their criticisms should be considered to inform improvements to adoption processes. Ultimately though, the particular criticisms pose absolutely no threat to the general validity of adoption. What they do, however, is treat pregnancy and childbirth as isolated, singular events. We think that perspective is reductive, and inaccurate.

Unwanted pregnancy, adoption, and abortion are irreversibly linked in a continuum of possible choices.

Since 1973, the year The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of abortion in the landmark case Roe vs. Wade, the number of adoptions has declined. Some people blame the legalization of abortion for the decline in adoption. At the same time however, abortions are showing current declining trends as well. In 2008, 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion and 60 percent ended in birth (excluding miscarriages). That’s a seven percent drop since 2001, when 47 percent ended in abortion and 53 percent ended in birth.

Right now, nearly half of pregnancies in the U.S. are considered unintended; a rate that is considerably higher than what most other developed countries report. Statistically, unintended pregnancy rates are highest among poor and low-income women. And even in spite of widespread education and access to contraception, unintended pregnancy percentages have increased slightly.

Abortions are expensive. And because statistics show that poor women living below the federal poverty line are the ones who have the highest incidence of unintended pregnancy, abortion may not be a choice that’s available to them. Adoption, on the other hand, doesn’t cost birth mothers anything. In fact adoption agencies take responsibility for the well-being of birth mothers during the course of their pregnancy. Yes, it means they must already have decided, either by choice or by circumstances beyond their control, to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth.

We can’t blame the decline in adoption on an increase in abortions because abortion is declining too. Sharp declines in teenage pregnancy over the past few decades is probably a major factor in low adoption and abortion numbers. But, there are probably many other factor we don’t know about right now.

What we do know is that there were still 1.06 million abortions performed in 2011. We also know that about one in eight married couples experience infertility. Many of those who want families in spite of medical challenges look toward adoption as a possible solution. Infertile couples think of adoption as an alternative to childlessness. For them adoption is the only reproductive choice.

Pro-choice vs. Pro-choices

Adoption may not be a perfect solution in every case. At least it’s a good-faith attempt at doing what’s best in both the long and short term for every person involved. Yes, it can be messy and complicated. There can be regrets, and residual trauma down the road. Some birth mothers report carrying a sense of loss with them for a long time afterward. But, women who elect to terminate their pregnancies early report experiencing the same things, and in many cases turn to alcohol and drug abuse to cope with the pain.

There’s even a documented set of psychological aftereffects known as Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). It isn’t formally acknowledged by the psychology or psychiatry communities, but it is commonly reported. PASS includes symptoms like guilt, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, suicidal thoughts, and self-destructive behaviors.

Those who criticize adoption tell stories of messy, complicated, sometimes painful experiences. In adoption cases residual trauma may not just go away overnight, but it can be coped with over time. To us that sounds just exactly like life. At least it’s life, and the infants who might have been aborted are at least given the chance to grow to adulthood and make their own choices eventually.

If anything the statistics we’ve cited, all of which came from the Alan Guttmacher Institute—the research branch of the largest abortion provider in the U.S., Planned Parenthood—demonstrate that unintended pregnancy, and pregnancies of any sort, do not happen in a vacuum. They follow a chain of cause–effect decisions that follow, one-from-another, along a narrative arc. Like it or not, the story of pregnancy, childbirth, and life-and-death decisions takes on a life of its own. It doesn’t end at the abortion clinic any more than it ends at the adoption placement hearing.

What that tells us is that ultimately, the problem with anti-adoption philosophy, is that it advocates one person making one choice that terminates continuum of possible choices that flow consequently from the unwanted pregnancy forward. Choices stop right then and there. The pain doesn’t stop there, however. The only thing abortion really terminates is the opportunity to do right by every soul involved, in both the long term, and the short term. Contrary to what pro-choice rhetoric implies, abortion is a choice that ends choices. It’s the one choice that can’t be course-corrected later.

Our perspective it this: If it’s fair to call adoption a possible solution to infertility, then isn’t it equally as fair to advocate adoption as one of the alternatives to abortion? Yes, for infertile couples or those who find themselves dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, there may other choices available. It may also be true that none of the choices are perfect solutions. That’s life, and that’s what we’re talking about here. Life. In many of those cases, in the context of messy, complicated, imperfect life, adoption really is the best, and most decent choice for everyone involved. It’s the choice that preserves choices, and preserves hope.

To learn more about whether or not the circumstances of your pregnancy might make you consider adoption as an alternative to abortion, please contact us at our toll-free number, 877-74-ANGEL