The latest round of anti-choice laws has sparked more right wing rhetoric about adoption. For decades, anti-choice crusaders have presented adoption as an alternative to abortion, urging pregnant people to make the “loving choice” and give their babies up for adoption. Even on the left, adoption is often treated as the ultimate sacrifice, as somehow more loving and giving than terminating a pregnancy. There’s tacit agreement among both sides that adoption is good for everyone. It increases the supply of available babies to infertile couples and reduces the need for abortion clinics. Notice that the well-being of the pregnant woman figures nowhere into this equation, and that the baby is a commodity, not a person.
For people who want to give their babies up for adoption, it has always been a viable choice deserving of support. But encouraging more women to choose adoption discounts the humanity of both woman and potential baby. Moreover, Republican anti-choicers consistently support legislation that makes adoption harder, more grueling, more traumatic. Of course, that’s exactly the point; no one on the far right really cares about the well-being of women and babies. Adoption can never replace abortion in a society that values human life, or the well-being of women and babies. Here’s why.
Pregnancy is Deadly—and Abortion is Much Safer
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the wealthy world. Every year, hundreds of young, healthy women who did not have to die succumb to preventable, treatable pregnancy conditions and low quality medical care. The U.S. is the only country in which maternal mortality is rising, such that it is now less safe for a woman to give birth today than it was for her mother decades ago.
It doesn’t matter how healthy a person is in a broken maternity care system. It doesn’t matter how well they research their doctors, or how strongly they advocate for themselves. In our collapsing maternity care system, every pregnancy is potentially deadly. Asking a woman to give her baby up for adoption is asking her to risk her own life so someone else can take her baby.
Giving Birth is Often Traumatic and Debilitating
Maternal mortality is just a slice of the problem. Surviving birth is not enough. Every year, 50,000 women are disabled by childbirth, or nearly die of complications. One in three women describe their births as psychologically traumatic. Even wealthy women struggle to get the support they need after giving birth. Women who give their babies up for adoption may get no help at all, leaving them to live with the aftermath of birth trauma and adoption.
The far right has done all they can to ensure that bad providers are not held accountable for injuring or killing birthing people: tort reform, opposition to pushes for more and better informed consent, relaxed hospital and clinic regulations, and more. They don’t care about protecting people who elect to carry their babies to term because, to them, these people aren’t people at all.
Adoption is Traumatic
In the early weeks of pregnancy, when the overwhelming majority of abortions occur, the fetus is just an idea. As the pregnancy grows and develops, most mothers build a relationship with their baby. By the time the baby is born, that baby is very much a person to the mother. Women who give their babies up for adoption suffer through 9 months of pregnancy, hours or days of childbirth, and then give up the baby they’ve grown to love to an uncertain future with strangers. Many describe the day they relinquish their babies as the worst and most traumatic day of their life.
Numerous studies have documented years of depression and anxiety in the aftermath of adoption. One found that 79% continued to experience depression and anxiety. Another found an attempted suicide rate of 21%. Another found that 63% contemplated suicide. Eighty-five percent of women in one study said they were mislead about adoption.
Rates of trauma and other mental health issues after abortion are much lower—similar to, or even lower than, those of the general population. Being denied an abortion, however, correlates with a higher risk of a range of mental health issues.
Even if we completely disregard the well-being of the mother, many adoptees have feelings of trauma or regret about their adoption, too. Adoptions are complex, and while they can give a child a chance at a good life, they can also put a child in an uncaring or abusive family who has enough money to navigate the adoption system. Even when a child feels loved by their adoptive parents, cultural transitions, identity issues, attachment disruptions, and grief can make adoption a difficult experience.
Carrying a Baby to Term is Expensive
The U.S. has the most expensive maternity care system in the world—even for women with good insurance. A healthy, uncomplicated birth costs tens of thousands of dollars. Even a brief NICU stay can push that number into six figures. And postpartum care visits usually cost several hundred dollars out of pocket each for a person without insurance. Medicaid thresholds for pregnant people are low, which means that people who can’t afford to pay their doctors may still be ineligible for Medicaid.
The birth costs are just a small fraction of the real costs. There are maternity clothes, time off of work, care and accessories for the aches and pains of pregnancy, pregnancy discrimination at work, the cost of childcare when a pregnant mother has to attend prenatal visits, and so much more. While adoption agencies may help with some of these costs (usually the least meaningful, such as maternity clothes), it’s rare for them to cover them all. And even when they do, they don’t cover the cost of lost earnings, lost opportunities, and workplace pregnancy discrimination.
The right has steadfastly fought every intervention that could reduce the costs of giving birth. Childbirth is a punishment for the wrong sort of person, and they don’t want to see that change.
There is No Guaranteed, Paid Parental Leave
Even the healthiest pregnant person is going to need time off of work. A person may be unable to drive for weeks after a surgical birth, and even an uncomplicated vaginal delivery requires weeks of recovery. Factor in the trauma of the adoption itself, and most adoptive parents are looking at a much longer recovery. While large workplaces do have to give new parents unpaid time off, the U.S. mandates no paid parental leave. Even for a middle class person with significant savings, unpaid parental leave can decimate their finances. For less well-off women, giving birth can be a path to poverty.
Republican leaders have vocally opposed paid parental leave. They care about fetuses for exactly as long as they remain inside the mother. Once the mother gives birth, she’s on her own.
It’s not an accident that many of the barriers to healthy, safe, affordable birth were erected by the very leaders who claim to care so very much about babies. Anti-choice sentiments have never been, will never be, about protecting life. The suffering of people who give birth is the goal and the point.