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!