Adoption as an Alternative

Adoption as an Alternative
People sometimes ask me, "Aren't you happy that you were adopted?" or they tell me I should be grateful that my birth mother in China decided to carry out her pregnancy. In all reality, abortion and adoption aren’t black-and-white issues, and either choice isn't an easy one for a woman to make.

Content Warning: Mentions of r*pe, and incest


On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively stripping women of their federal protection and right to abortion. This ruling came a month after Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion was circulated, leaked, and eventually published on Politico. In his initial draft opinion, it was revealed that the court had voted to overturn the 1973 ruling calling Roe "egregiously wrong" and then writes saying that there is no constitutional right to seek an abortion. Based on the draft, it was evident that Alito's companions: Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett were all in favor of throwing Roe out. Though draft opinions are not final decisions, the sweeping 6-3 conservative majority stayed true to the leaked document. Within the hour of the ruling, abortion opponents and supporters descended upon the Supreme Court's steps. Some denounced the ruling while others played celebratory music. Whether there are tears of joy, anger, or fear, many women in "trigger law" states had their right to an abortion stripped away. Now, women must look for alternatives and many of them are easier said than done. Adoption may be one of those alternatives, but it is not the solution.


A common argument for anti-abortion supporters is that life begins at conception, and in the event, the mother cannot care for the child - just put the baby up for adoption. These advocates see adoption as the better alternative for women who cannot or do not want to support a baby. Elizabeth Bartholet, a law professor at Harvard University and an outspoken advocate of adoption, said, "It’s ridiculous to say it’s no problem to eliminate abortion — just place the kids for adoption." However, to just "place the kids for adoption" oversimplifies the implications of the process of forced childbirth and adoption.


The act of carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth isn't an easy task, and adoption isn't exactly an easy choice. Based on a 2017 study conducted by Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, 91% of women who were forced to carry to term decided to parent. Only 0.5% of births in the US currently end in adoption and birth mothers who chose to give their babies up report feeling anxiety, depression, and grief. According to that study, financial strain appears to be the major reason to give a child up for adoption, not because it was the first choice. Sisson discovered from adoption agencies that women who relinquished their babies for adoption were in their twenties, receiving public welfare, and earning less than $5000 a year. These women were also more likely to be people of color and unmarried. Another study that Sisson conducted in 2015 also supported the notion that women would have preferred to parent their babies but due to financial instability, they felt that adoption was the only viable option for them. Adoption may seem like a viable option for some women, and it will be, but it won't be one for all women.


Contrary to Justice Amy Comey Barrett's beliefs, who is an adoptive mother herself, adoption isn't the end-all-be-all solution to prevent abortions. "It’s just not the reality," said Ashley Brink, manager of a clinic operated by the abortion-rights group Trust Women in Wichita, Kansas. "It’s undermining people’s decisions and choices and ability to control their lives and their futures." Pro-life supporters frame adoption as a win-win for mother and child, when in reality it is anything but. Adoption can be traumatic for birthmothers like Hunter or Bri C. and they experience extreme grief and anxiety after putting their child up for adoption. "It threw me completely off. I didn't know what to do with my life anymore. So many times after visits, I would go home and cry until I burst blood vessels in my eyes," she said. Not to mention, adoption can be a traumatic life-long experience for adoptees as well. "Relinquishment is traumatic for adoptees, even for adoptees who had a good adoption experience," said Joanne Bagshaw, a psychology professor at Montgomery College in Maryland who also works as a therapist with other adoptees. Her adoptee clients often tell her that they deal with "lifelong issues of feeling abandoned,” as well as “a lifelong search for identity."


Women choose abortion over adoption because for some, carrying a pregnancy to term could be fatal, and for others, they believe that they shouldn't have to carry a child they do not want, especially in the instance of rape or incest. Some studies have even shown that for some women, abortion is safer than childbirth. Researchers discovered that women were about 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of an abortion, and these findings directly contradict some state laws that imply that abortions are high-risk procedures. These findings are also significant because according to The Commonwealth Fund, the US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. Not only that, but another study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that black women are also three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts. Although pregnancy discrimination is illegal, it remains widespread.  Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg wrote in a 2018 investigation, "Many of the country’s largest and most prestigious companies still systematically sideline pregnant women." Another study by Guttmacher conducted in the early 2000s revealed that one-third of women seeking abortions considered adoption taboo concluding that "it was a morally unconscionable option because giving one’s child away is wrong."

I was adopted from China in 2005. The province that I was from, Jiangxi, restricted abortion access in 2018. Guidelines stated that women more than fourteen weeks into their pregnancy must get signatures from at least three medical professionals approving that an abortion is medically needed. Otherwise, those women must carry the pregnancy to term. These guidelines come after Chinese officials search for ways to deal with an aging population and low fertility rates as a result of China's decades-long one-child policy. Chinese women voiced concerns about these guidelines, one user on Weibo wrote, "What is the purpose and basis of this policy? The reproductive rights of women in this country seem to be a joke." These remarks eerily mirror what abortion advocates in the US have been saying since Alito's draft opinion was released.


People sometimes ask me, "Aren't you happy that you were adopted?" or they tell me I should be grateful that my birth mother in China decided to carry out her pregnancy. In all reality, abortion and adoption aren’t black-and-white issues, and either choice isn't an easy one for a woman to make. "Adoption is a very hard decision, and I think a lot of women know that intuitively. And our research on women who do relinquish their parental rights shows that this is not an easy choice, and it has a lot of adverse outcomes," Sisson said. "We see a lot of grief, a lot of mourning, a lot of trauma for the women who go through relinquishments." My birth mother chose to give birth to me, and for that, I am grateful because I'm living an amazing life in America with my parents. However, if she chose to terminate her pregnancy, it wouldn't matter to me because I wouldn't be here and she would've made the best choice for herself. The root of this argument isn't about adoption versus abortion. It's based on women's personal autonomy and their right to privacy. A woman's choices about her body is her own business and no one else's. Women need more choices, not fewer. Both adoption and abortion are life-changing choices that shouldn't be dictated by anyone else but that woman.


Whether a woman is willing to carry out a pregnancy to term, in any circumstance, or if she wants to get an abortion, it is her choice. The Guttermach study showed that 74 percent of women sought an abortion due to education or work responsibilities, 73 percent couldn't afford a child, and 48 percent didn't want to be a single mother. The reasons for a woman getting an abortion can be multiple, diverse, and often interrelated to each other based on that woman's situation. Women who choose adoption should have the power over their reproductive rights without financial limitations. Adoption will be the answer for some but, it won't and it can't be the only option. Either way, pro-life or pro-choice, political promotion of adoption in lieu of abortion is unfounded in the reality of a woman's bodily autonomy.


Editors: Amshu V., Siyeon P., Chris Fong Chew, Hailey H.

Photo Credits: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / For The Washington Post via Getty Images file