Adoption is often thought of as a good, politically-uncharged alternative for women who are pregnant, but feel that for whatever reason they cannot raise a child, and do not want to have an abortion. Think again. Kathryn Joyce at The Nation has an article entitled “Shotgun Adoption” which exposes the horrific lengths that the anti-choice movement will go to in order to deprive women of their autonomy.
Joyce recounts the story of Carol Jordan (a pseudonym), a single woman who, upon becoming pregnant and deciding against abortion, visited Bethany Christian Services, a crisis pregnancy center in South Carolina which offered free counseling. Bethany, it turns out, is also the nation’s largest adoption agency. Over a series of five counseling sessions, the staff at Bethany told Jordan that adoption was a win-win situation, as well as the only right choice for her. A counselor then encouraged Jordan to move into one of the center’s “shepherding family” homes, where she was placed with a family who referred to her as one of the center’s “relinquishing mothers,” despite the fact that Jordan had not yet decided whether she would give up her child for adoption.
At the home, Jordan had contact only with the center, and spent her days sifting through letters and photos from hopeful couples looking to adopt her child. Joyce notes that today, the “birthmother letters” are on Bethany’s website: 500 couples who pay $14,500 to $25,500 for a domestic infant adoption, vying for mothers’ attention with profuse praise of their “selflessness” and descriptions of the lifestyle they can offer.”
Jordan selected a couple who then attended the birth, along with her counselor and shepherding mother. The day after the birth, Jordan’s counselor surprised her with the information that fully open adoptions were not legal in South Carolina, so Jordan would never receive identifying information on the adoptive parents. By Joyce’s account, “Jordan cried all day and didn’t think she could relinquish the baby.” When she shared these feelings with her shepherding parents, and asked if she could bring her child to their home, they “refused, and chastised her sharply.” When she shared them with her counselor, the counselor brought the sobbing adoptive parents into her recovery room, and told her that if she didn’t give up her child now, “she’d end up homeless and lose the baby anyway.”
Jordan ended up signing the relinquish papers the next day. Distraught, Jordan quickly lost more than fifty pounds in the weeks after her surgery, but when she sought post-adoptive counseling from Bethany, the only person she was able to reach was her old shepherding mother, who had cruel words for her. “You’re the one who spread your legs and got pregnant out of wedlock,” she said. “You have no right to grieve for this baby.”
Although Jordan’s experience with Bethany may sound like a horror story, Joyce is very clear that Jordan’s experience is not exceptional, and Bethany centers are not the first and most certainly not the only crisis pregnancy centers who perpetuate this disturbing trend.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), the nonprofit pregnancy-testing facilities set up by antiabortion groups to dissuade women from having abortions, have become fixtures of the antiabortion landscape, buttressed by an estimated $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds. The National Abortion Federation estimates that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women graphic antiabortion films. While there is growing awareness of how CPCs hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to “choose life” but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.
This is not a new trend, however. During the “Baby Scoop Era,” the period between 1945 and 1973, single motherhood was so stigmatized that “at least 1.5 million unwed American mothers relinquished children for adoption.” Many of these adoptions were coerced, and the coercion was often brutal, “entailing severe isolation, shaming, withholding information about labor, disallowing mothers to see their babies and coercing relinquishment signatures while women were drugged or misled about their rights.” There was a demand for these children, and thus unwilling mothers were forced into supplying them.
Joyce argues persuasively that currently, the circumstances of single mothers who visit CPCs are not so different than they were during the Baby Scoop Era:
Such enthusiasm for Christians to adopt en masse begins to seem like a demand in need of greater supply, and this is how critics of current practices describe it: as an industry that coercively separates willing biological parents from their offspring, artificially producing “orphans” for Christian parents to adopt, rather than helping birth parents care for wanted children.
Today, there are at least 251 crisis pregnancy centers in Pennsylvania, some of which receive government funding. This means that every day, women all over the state are receiving advice from “counselors” who are treating these women as incubators rather than human beings. It is important than women in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country know the truth about the function of these centers, and the anti-choice propaganda that they perpetuate.