Forced Pregnancies

Adoption Supply & Demand and Money in Decisions to Dismantle Roe V Wade

Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Justice’s recent comments about adoption during oral arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization set off a firestorm of responses and op-eds.  Some focused on the irony of the American Right invoking “My body, my choice” regarding Covid vaccines and mask mandates. More outrage, however, was directed at adoption seeming to be presented as an easy or less painful “fix” for an unintended pregnancy than abortion.

The good news is it has gotten us talking about adoption, with three particularly good examinations of the issues have been written by Gretchen Sisson and Jessica M. Harrison, Anna North and Elizabeth Spiers. Sisson and Harrison echo the major conclusion of my 2008 book and which I have written about in my blog entitled FamilyPreservation, and in 2009,  again in 2015, and again in 2016: Family Preservation is not anti-adoption – not in the sense that anyone is advocating keeping children in harm’s way. It is placing stranger adoption as a last resort after all efforts to keep families intact have been tried. This third option – excluded by anti-abortionists – is preferable to adoption in that it eliminates the well document lifelong trauma of mother-child separation experienced by adoptees and their mothers.

Yet, even these wonderfully enlightening and important contributions miss from the enormous role that the exceedingly high demand for babies to adopt – and the money adopters are willing to pay – is at the root of and driving anti-choice legislation. Adoption is positioned as a solution or a choice, when it is, in fact, a major purpose of the destruction of Roe v Wade.


People adopt for a number of reasons, including starting or growing a family, inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy, legal acknowledgment of a parental relationship with a nonbiological child, or for humanitarian reasons. From approximately 1945 to 1973 the shame of the “sin” of extra-marital sex for women created what became known as The Baby Scoop Era (BSE) a time during which it is estimated that up to 4 million parents in the United States had children placed for adoption, with 2 million during the 1960s alone.  During this time, as now, class and socio economics played a huge role, hitting the poor disproportionately. American high school girls from middle and upper-middle class families were always able to obtain pregnancy termination either by going out of state or out of the country or by having a physician state that carrying the pregnancy would be detrimental to their physical or mental health. Wham-Bam: end of the “problem.”

Shame was a powerful and successful tool for many decades allowing adoption agencies to enforce strict qualifications for adopters who, of course, had to be married, and not too young or too old.  Some agencies restricted adoption to infertile couples and many served only couples of the religious background of the agency. It was what is known as a “buyers-market” with agencies trying their best to match eye and hair color of prospective parents with that of the relinquishing parents while social workers told clients they should not reveal to the child that they were adopted.

Over the course of the next decades, the tables have turned. Birth control became more accessible. Women no longer needed their husband’s permission to obtain contraception and pregnancy termination became more widely available. Additionally, single parenthood steadily became less stigmatized, to the point that singles now adopt. All of these social factors combined to drastically reduce the number of babies needing to be relinquished for adoption as compared to prior decades.

At the same time, women were attending consciousness raising groups and discovering there was more to life than being a wife and mother. Feminism began encouraging women to delay childbearing for graduate degrees and careers and women wanted it all: careers and motherhood. However, delaying childbearing played a role in increased rates of infertility. As the shame of pregnancy outside of marriage dissipated and less women felt the pressure to place children for adoption, the shame of infertility also dissipated and a huge reproductive technology industry grew to help those who suffered with treatments including IVF, for those who could afford the expense of multiple tries. An imbalance in the supply and demand of babies to adopt began.

It was thus that at this time in American history on ”Adoption not Abortion” became a common slogan on bumper stickers based on the misperception that women who did not want to be mothers would “choose life” ignoring the fact that abortion is about women’s reproductive rights. It’s a pregnancy option; an extension of contraception.  Adoption is about parenting, not being allowed to (in cases of involuntary termination of rights), or believing others could offer your child a better life. Very different things.

Currently, it is estimated that there are 36 couples vying for each baby placed, but it is likely higher when you factor in the number of same-sex couples added to the queue following gay marriage. More than 16,000 same-sex couples are raising an estimated 22,000 adopted children, four percent of all adopted children in the United States. The LGBTQ+ community is a large and powerful voting bloc.

These shifts changed adoption from finding homes for children in need to a mega-billion dollar industry filling a demand by those “desperate” to adopt and willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for white infants – domestic and transnationally – all of which do nothing to decrease the nearly half million children in state care, but all of which receive federal tax credits and equal admiration for “rescuing” children in need.

With shame no longer an influencing factor, Open Adoption became the new sales pitch, with vulnerable mothers not made aware that contact agreements are unenforceable.  Expectant mothers are told – and the public believes – that adoption will provide children a more stable and secure family. Why then are there untold numbers of fundraisers from bake sales to commercial donors, churches, and online crowd funding to help pay adoption fees? Meanwhile no similar efforts appear to help struggling families and help mothers and babies avoid the trauma of separation.

Either or Dichotomy and the Missing Component

Despite all advances since the 1970s, including changes in social mores and adoption practices, the binary bumper sticker sentiment of “Adoption no Abortion” remains the focus of The Right as expressed by Barrett, who said in December of 2021:

It seems to me that the choice, more focused, would be between, say, the ability to get an abortion at 23 weeks, or the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more, and then terminate parental rights at the conclusion.

Forcing women to remain  pregnant and hand over their child is Orwellian with shades of Atwood’s Gilead.  Where is the option to parent in this dichotomy?

Let’s be very clear: Adoption – being proposed as a solution – does absolutely nothing to reduce abortions, since adoption obviously can only occur upon or after the birth of a living baby.  If the goal was actually about reducing abortion we would be discussing early and continuing sex education, free birth control including vasectomies, healthcare for all, making childcare financially feasible, mandatory parental leave, increasing WIC and more stringent sentencing for rape.

In fact, the Dutch boast the lowest abortion rate in the world with complication and death rates from abortion almost non-existent. Instead of tightening restrictions and enacting limitations, they accomplished this by making abortion and contraception freely available on demand, free and covered by the national health insurance plan. Holland also carries out extensive public education on contraception, family planning, and sexuality. Rather than encouraging teens to have more sex, Dutch teenagers tend to have less frequent sex, and start at an older age, and the teenage pregnancy rate is 6 times lower than in the U.S.  We, however, try to resolve teen pregnancies and abortion with the same tactics that failed to end drug addiction – criminalization and “just say no.” Neither of which worked.

 Conflating abortion with adoption is a red herring and very offensive to mothers who have lost children to adoption, labeling them potential murders, and insulting to adoptees, who as a result of these artificially opposing choices are positioned to feel gratitude for being alive when in truth those who are adopted are no more likely to have been aborted than children born to married parents. Barrett’s flippant mention of legal abandonment via “Safe Havens” also shows disregard for the well-being of adopted persons who are left with no birth records to access even in states that allow it.

Cory L. Richards, former executive vice president and VP of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, wrote in “The Adoption vs Abortion Myth”, LA Times, 2007:

Politicians of all stripes, and whatever their position on abortion, should face reality.

Increasing the rate of completed adoptions, however valid on its own merits, is irrelevant to the abortion rate. And increasing the rate of newborn relinquishments, even assuming it could be done in an ethically and socially acceptable way, at best would be tinkering at the margins. Even if relinquishments doubled, and each one of them represented an averted abortion, it would make hardly a dent in the abortion rate.

It also ignores the effect accessibility of birth control has had on the declining birth rate and the obvious fact that less babies being born results in less babies for adoption.

The “Adoption not Abortion” campaign pits two of three options against one another, asking women to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea excluding the option of parenting when the fact is that most women (90% per the Turnaway Study) who are denied access to abortion chose to parent.

Unplanned, unintended, does not mean unwanted. Nor does it mean unfit to parent. Many surprise conceptions are happily carried to term by married and unmarried women and couples, including “change-of-life” babies born to women who thought they could no longer conceive. The blatant omission of the parenting option defies any claim that anti-choice is about saving the life of the “unborn.”  If  the goal was saving a life,  both adoption and the ability to raise a child be equally supported.

Adoptee, Elizabeth Spiers responded to what she describes as Barrett’s glib “adoption is some kind of idyllic fairy tale” while ignoring serious lifelong consequences of mother-child separation to both parties:

What Justice Barrett and others are suggesting women do in lieu of abortion is not a small thing. It is life changing, irrevocable, and not to be taken lightly. It often causes trauma, even when things work out, and it’s a disservice to adoptees and their families, biological and adopted, to pretend otherwise in service of a neat political narrative.

 Marshall H. Medoff, Dept. of Economics, CA State, likewise found:

Abortion or relinquish an infant for adoption are not considered to be substitutes by women with unwanted pregnancies and that for poor women with unwanted pregnancies either an abortion or raising an infant is preferable to relinquishing an infant for adoption.

Kate Livingston, Ph.D., a birth parent and educator of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, points out an even more concerning aspect is the implication:

 . . .  that with the termination of parental rights, that experience is over. But I know that the termination of parental rights in adoption is only the beginning of a very complicated and ongoing, changing, lifelong experience that impacts not only me — the decision maker — but my relatives, my family, not to mention my child who was placed for adoption, and so on. One pro-life communication strategy is to push the idea that abortion has long-term impacts. That abortion can produce grief and loss and regret, and it can have a health impact. But you don’t see that kind of language when they talk about adoption.

My four decades of researching adoption separation and loss confirm that the loss of a child to adoption is an irresolvable, lifelong limbo without the finality of death and often results in PTSD.  The trauma, guilt and grief experienced by mothers who lose children to adoption are universal and do not dissipate over time.  I was one of the original members of Concerned United Birthparents in the early 70’s and in 1979 co-founded the original Origins, a support group for women who lost children to adoption. I met and networked with hundreds and hundreds of mothers helping them deal with their regrets, grief, hopes of reunification with their child.  Precious few ever considered aborting. Some were simply opposed to it; others did not know they were pregnant until it was too late to consider it. The vast majority, as Gretchen Sisson, Ph.D., who studies abortion, adoption, and reproductive decision-making in the U.S. found were either hoping or planning to have the resources to parent:

It is nine times out of ten a function of lack of financial resources that leads to the adoption. And for those people, when I ask how much money would you have needed to parent, if you intended to parent, it is usually a very small amount of money, under $5,000. And that is a reflection of our overall lack of social investment in families and parents.

 None of these findings are new:

  • In 1866 Dr. John Condon reported in the Medical Jr. of Australia that:

“A most striking finding . . .  is that the majority of these women reported no diminution of their sadness, anger and guilt over the considerable number of years which had elapsed since their relinquishment “A significant number actually reported an intensification of these feelings, especially anger. . . a very high incidence of pathological grief reactions which have failed to resolve although many years have elapsed since the relinquishment.”

  •  In 1994, Michelene K. Davidson, wrote in Family Systems Research and Therapy:

“Sometimes the best a birthmother can do is to remain in denial and numbness for the rest of her adult life, unconsciously encumbered by her silent sorrow.”

“The relinquishing mother is at risk for long-term physical, psychological, and social repercussions.”

“Birthparents experience a loss that is nearly unparalleled in society.”

All of this research and more ignored. Rather than enter into a coemption of which loss is greater, which causes more or longer lasting trauma, let us concede both ways to lose a child are grievous. Why then promote one over the other while offering no support for the option of parenting in which there is no loss?

Barrett is mother of seven, two of whom were adopted from Haiti, a nation which has received its share of scrutiny and criticism when missionaries rushed after a 2010 earthquake grabbing up children for adoption who were not orphaned. Indeed, one of Barrett’s children was reportedly adopted following that earthquake.

She admits that forcing women to continue to remain pregnant against their will in order to give away their child, as Handmaids for others’ children, is “an infringement on bodily autonomy” but she and other proponents ignore the emotional rejection that is felt by the fetus in utero of such mothers. Maternal mortality has been rising in the US for 20 years, and the most recent data places us 55th in the world when it comes to the safety of childbirth and 10th out of 10 comparable countries in a 2018 study of maternal deaths. Those who propose forcing women to remain pregnant ignore that with 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019, forced pregnancies are barbaric, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment that risks a woman’s life for no crime.  Who will pay the medical bills for women forced to continue a high risk pregnancy?  Who pays the lifetime of medical bills for the child and a lifetime of caregivers?

It’s shameful and egregious that at a time when Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, The Netherlands and Scotland are issuing apologies for forced adoptions – and it is in process in the UK – the U.S. is encouraging them. It’s the same reason the U.S. is one of the only countries that allows surrogacy: MONEY!

Behind the Curtain: Follow the Money

Is it religious dogma that creates anti-choice mind-set or are Evangelicals and other anti-choice cheerleaders in actuality political pawns?  Is it about saving lives or about punishing women thought to be sinful or simply irresponsible while continuing in the 21st century to discount men’s role in copulation and conception – even that which is incestuous, abusive, adulterous, totally inappropriate because of power imbalances, or out and out felonious?

Or, is there something else entirely at the very foundation of the “adoption not abortion“ cries?

The truth is always found by following the moneyIn 2009, prior to Guatemala closing their international adoption programs as a result of high rates of corruption, I visited to support four mothers on hunger strike. They represented hundreds whose babies had been abducted and trafficked for adoption. Taken by subterfuge or at gunpoint by former drug cartels who found child trafficking for adoption more lucrative and with less chance of being arrested.

There are an estimated 135 – 140,00 children adopted per year in the U.S. each at fees of approximately $15-50,000 each, depending on race, age and health. The industry market statistics, however, set the total figure of the adoption industry at $19.1 billion, compared to the Cola industry which is a mere $8.92 B.

With the exception of adoption from foster care and step-parent adoption . . . all infant adoption domestic and transnational is privatized and entrepreneurial. Adoption agencies are businesses with overhead and employee salaries to pay.  For-, not-for, and non-profit are all just tax categories. All are dependent upon the transfer of custody of children for their livelihood. And In America, all adoptions require an adoption attorney: stepparent, second parent, foster care, transnational, private/independent, or through an adoption agency. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is a national association of approximately 460 attorneys who practice, “or have otherwise distinguished themselves”, in the field of adoption law.  Four hundred sixty attorneys who depend on adoption for their livelihood from adoption and thus have a stake in redistributing babies to those who can pay the price tag.

There are no guardians ad litem protecting the best interest of the children being transferred. Nor are there separate attorneys representing the interest of original families. There are only paying adopters and those profiting and the child commodities being transferred. Meeting a demand and financial gain far outweigh best interest of children. Lawmakers and judges also have a stake in generating votes by passing legislation which makes adoptions happen quicker and easier for the paying customer, knowing the large number of their constituents – estimated at 2 million – who are eagerly hoping to adopt including the LGBTQ voting bloc.

The current demand for babies that far surpasses the dwindling number of babies being placed for adoption has brought with it a desire to reignite and reverse historic gains for women’s reproductive rights turning women into brood stock for affluent recipients in a process I have dubbed Reverse Robinhoodism, updated to include affluent gay men, along with infertile affluent women, who seek to exploit women down on their luck, turning them into unpaid surrogates by denying them the opportunity to opt out of an unintended pregnancy even if it resulted from incest or rape.

Adoption race-based price list

Struggling mothers and families in crisis have no agency which is why affordable daycare is once again facing the chopping block. As Gretchen Sisson and Jessica M. Harrison note: “Support for adoption is one of the most enduringly unifying issues in American culture and politics.“ Being pro adoption as however, sounds warm and fuzzy and wins votes by making lawmakers look like they care about saving orphans and rescuing kids from abuse. But the reality is that there were 125,422 children in care  waiting to be adopted in 2018 while the demand for infants remains and grows with 62% of children placed with their adoptive families within a month of birth. Infants are the gold standard prize.

Anti-choice offers one option – adoption.  No choice to parent. Opposition to abortion is thus not about saving unborn lives but about maintaining the livelihoods of those who depend on keeping women as cash cows producing highly sought commodities for the approximately 1-2 million couples and singles “desperately” waiting for and willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for white infants. Pregnancy termination reduces the infant adoption assembly line and the billions of dollars it earns those depending on it.

Mirah is author of two internationally acclaimed books, more than 200 published articles, and cited in twenty professional journals having been researching, writing and speaking about American and global child adoption, restoration of adoptee rights, as well as contract anonymous conception and surrogacy since 1980. More at her website and Wikipedia. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.