Friday, February 01, 2013

On adoption and the deserving of life

Recently I wrote an article entitled Why You Can't Erase Women.  It got a bit of attention, and as generally happens when that is the case, it also generated some good discussion.  Interestingly, some in the pro-life camp were disappointed that I didn't use the other "a-word" in my piece: adoption.

Apparently this surprised people, which in turn surprised me, because I don't necessarily connect being anti-abortion with being an adoptive parent.  In fact, I actually bristle when adoption advocates say you can't be pro-life (!) if you aren't adopting (!), and I also bristle when pro-lifers casually throw the word adoption around--as if abortion is somehow only wrong because some other couple might want that baby.

So as I've been thinking through some of this, I wanted to essentially come clean here and say I didn't omit that word by accident.  I didn't unintentionally leave out a paragraph in my haste to hit publish, or experience a brain malfunction that resulted in such an egregious error.   

The truth is that I avoided the subject of adoption altogether, on purpose.  Because my article was about women, abortion, motherhood, and the dignity of the human person.  It wasn't about adoption.  Abortion would be a horrible atrocity if no children were being adopted.  And maybe this seems like an arbitrary distinction, but adoption is not technically a mother's alternative to abortion, anyhow. 

Relinquishment is.

Having four adopted children myself, I will tell you that the issues surrounding relinquishment (a birth mother legally forfeiting her right to raise her child) and adoption (a person legally accepting parental responsibility for a child not born to them) are complex, difficult, and downright messy. 

That's why it bothers me when adoption is casually suggested as an easy and obvious solution to the problem of abortion.  As if a child being relinquished is no big deal.

For those raising adopted children with ADHD, PTSD, or RAD, it's a very big deal.

For those who've had to place their adopted children in residential treatment, it's a very big deal.

For women who weep over the loss of the child(ren) they relinquished, it's a very big deal.

For children in the US foster care system legally cleared for adoption but who are never chosen, it's a very big deal.

So in spite of being an adoptive mother, I tend to avoid adoption sound bites when I'm discussing abortion.  While this sort of rhetoric may on some level seem logical (and is certainly sometimes appropriate), it can also belie a misunderstanding of what is actually at stake in the taking of a vulnerable child's life, and may indeed render a birth mother little more than an incubator.

Which was kind of Libby Anne's whole point about the anti-abortion movement in the first place.

Plus, does anyone really believe that feminists are pro-abortion simply because they don't know relinquishment is an option?

Or that women obtaining abortions are largely doing so because they're unaware that they could place their child for adoption?

The sad truth is that not all relinquished children in the United States will be immediately chosen by loving and capable adoptive parents--some languish in the system for years, and some will eventually emancipate.  Some are medically fragile and live out their days in state-run homes or NICUs.  But whether a child is "wanted" or not, that child, made in the image of God, retains the dignity and right to live.  Period.

Now of course I consider myself a staunch advocate for adoption--I really do.  An orphanage is no place for a person to grow up, and emancipating from the foster care system is, sadly, a recipe for failure.  Kids.need.families.  And it terrifies me to think about where my own four adopted children would be today, had their respective birth mothers not made the decision to relinquish.  Two of them would have died as infants, because they were quite literally starving.  Two of them happen to have Down syndrome and would most likely have endured horrible abuse and neglect throughout their short lives, due to social stigmas in their birth country.

So yes, relinquishment and adoption are an integral part of caring for birth mothers in crisis.  And they are an integral part of preserving the lives of countless children. 

But I can acknowledge this without potentially trivializing the immense cost (both to mother and child) of relinquishment.  I can acknowledge this without potentially trivializing the difficulties so many of our nation's adopted children face by virtue of having been relinquished, abandoned or neglected. 

More importantly, I can address the horrific realities of abortion without using adoption to prove it. 

Because, while my children are beautiful and exquisite examples of what happens when a woman chooses life and selflessness over death and convenience, and while they are an amazing testament to the redemption of God, their worth as human beings is in no way dependent upon having someone to raise them. 

They deserved life, whether or not they ever left that orphanage to be adopted. 


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