Adoption and The Nation

I have been pondering a piece by Kathryn Joyce that appeared in The Nation in the last week or so….

It is often difficult to speak meaningfully about adoption, as the issues are so clouded by ideology. I have long said that this is an area that generates a huge amount of heat, mainly because there are obvious implications for the status and rights of adults, particularly women. For what it’s worth, I would characterise myself as progressive on most issues, and a fairly regular reader of The Nation. I found the Joyce article to partake of the kind of ideologically-based resistance to adoption that one also finds in the intercountry adoption debate. It is hard to counter without taking up many pages; this being a blog, I will try to sketch out what is so problematic about this kind of writing.

Joyce writes about “crisis pregnancy centers” set up by Christian agencies, which, in aiming to steer women away from abortion, also end up steering them towards adoption; in her view, coercing these women in that direction. Just fyi, I know nothing at all about the agency she is writing about, Bethany. I have no first hand knowledge of any of the Christianity-based agencies she references.

I do think that Joyce takes several stories–I won’t call them anecdotes–and generates from these an entire anti-adoption theory that is simply not justified. But her writing taps into a sense among political progressives that adoption is part of the right wing worldview and is passe in societies where women have greater access to freedom and information.

Joyce states that the Christian agencies coerce women “far more than other adoption agencies,” but tells us nothing about these other agencies. She relates the extremely negative experience of women who are being pressured by the Bethany agency to relinquish their children for adoption–about these stories, again, I have no knowledge or information. They may well  be true, and as such would represent reprehensible behavior by those acting in this coercive way. But the writer’s problem is not just with Bethany or other Christian adoption agencies. It is with adoption itself as a part of negative women’s history. She repeats the often heard notion that in recent years the adoption “industry” has turned to finding homes for childless couples, rather than the other way around. (This is one of the persistent themes in writing against international adoption.) She refers to the fact that mothers who were persuaded to give up children for adoption in the period before abortion was readily available (pre- Roe) as suffering “lifelong guilt and depression.” It is hard for me to understand why mothers who chose abortion would not also be, in quite a different way, plagued by feelings of guilt and depression as well. It may not be PC to say so, but isn’t this a problem?

Joyce objects to the fact that many, even President Obama, assume that adoption represents some common ground on the issue of abortion–that adoption may be a viable alternative to and prevent abortions. But why shouldn’t this be true–as long as the process does not involve the sort of unfair and completely (in my view) unlawful coercion described in Joyce’s examples?

It seems to me that Joyce is using very much warranted and correct antipathy towards a right- wing view that some mothers may not be worthy or qualified to raise their children in order to denounce and renounce adoption in general–and this I find unfair and even illogical.

She sums up the anti-adoption view of adoption agencies as part of  “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.” A look at the global facts of children’s lives makes clear to me that this is an extremely simplistic and distorting view of things; yet this ideological position is one that has to be confronted–as I tried to do in my 2003 article on this subject in the international context.

More later!


2 thoughts on “Adoption and The Nation

  1. Hi again Sara,

    Thank you for articulating so clearly here and elsewhere on your blog the problems with the adoption debate!

    I haven’t had a chance to read the story in The Nation yet, but I did want to mention some history I recall about the Bethany agency that you might find interesting. A few years ago one of their branch offices made news for turning down prospective adoptive parents who were Catholics for being “non-Christians.” After the bad publicity, Bethany had to back away from that position and accept the family.

    In your previous reply to me, you’d asked about the children who were caught in the 2001 adoption “scandal” in Hyderabad, India. To my knowledge, there was/is no official policy or systematic approach on the part of the state government as to the care of the children who had been slated to go abroad. Some were adopted domestically, some weren’t. No one has had to publicly account for their fates. In at least three cases, the Chief Justice’s bench of the High Court granted guardianship to foreign families even after a different bench had issued an order to shut down intercountry adoption from the state. Even so, the AP government refused to release the children to their foreign guardians and the families gave up; at that stage, the legal battles had already been going on for years.

    Haseena’s orphanage, St. Theresa’s Tender Loving Care Home, is still caring for nearly 30 little girls who are now all about age 10, even though several staff members were convicted of crimes related to the scandal; their appeals have been sitting in the High Court for years. The nuns continue to pay for the running of the institution and the government is of course happy to have them do so. Many in India and the US have been hoping, perhaps naively, that some of these girls from TLC might still go to their foreign families when the political climate calmed down. The Congress party, which currently has the upper hand, is seen as more friendly to adoption, but just last week the AP Chief Minister was tragically killed in an accident, so any progress on the adoption front has probably been lost (though honestly, I don’t thing the “progress” was anything more than wishful thinking). The whole situation is so confusing and chaotic that it defies description. It’s the perfect example of what you’re talking about in terms of government lack of accountability. It breaks my heart, for I know so many of these children personally…

    • Hi, Sharon–Thanks so much for yours! After reading your message, I looked back at the old news reports to remind myself of what you went through several years ago…You were personally at the heart of the ideological storm. It is incredible that the press, so eager to describe that kind of conflict, virtually never go on to describe conditions of life for the children concerned. The paradox at the heart of adoption “exposes” is that there is an assumption that the children involved can simply go back to a nice and secure life. As you know well, that is often not the case at all. Can you imagine what the future holds for those left in government-run institutions?
      All the best–Sara D

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