From the moment I listened to the argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, I had a hunch that we were about to have a cultural argument over adoption. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is herself an adoptive mother, asked Jackson Women’s Health attorney Julie Rikelman about so-called “shelter laws,” state laws that allow women to safely surrender custody of their newborn to the state without fear. sentence or prosecution.
Why did Justice Barrett bring up the shelter laws? For a specific legal reason. Here is the key extract:
[B]oth Roe and Casey focus on the burdens of parenthood, and as you and many of your friends focus on the ways that forced parenting, forced motherhood, would hinder women’s access to work and equal opportunities, it also focuses on the consequences of parenthood and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why are shelter laws not addressing this problem? It seems to me that he concentrates the burden much more narrowly.
There is, without a doubt, an impairment of bodily autonomy, you know, that we have in other contexts, like vaccines. However, it doesn’t seem to me that pregnancy and then parenthood are part of the same burden.
To put the question in plain language, the question is what burden can state require a woman to wear. Barrett states that there is an impairment of bodily autonomy during pregnancy, but if no state of the union requires parenthood, then the Roe deer/Casey the focus on the burdens of parenthood is shifted?
She was not claiming that adoption is the response to abortion. She did not claim that giving up a child’s rights was simple, easy or painless. She was doing a close legal investigation. But I knew it wouldn’t be read narrowly, and this was not. She faced charges like this:
Beyond Justice Barrett’s unfair criticisms, I feared to see a wave of comments highlighting the difficulty and trauma of adoption, and we made. At every turn, the difficulties of adoption were highlighted. But what about its wonders? And his joys? The last thing we should take away from our country’s debates on abortion is that adoption is a problem.
As my longtime readers know, I myself am an adoptive father. Coincidentally, my Sunday newsletter last week told our family’s adoption story. I’m not going to respond out of indignation, however, as there is an important discussion to be had here. Adoption can indeed be traumatic for mother and child, and there has been manipulation and coercion in adoption, particularly (but not exclusively) in past years.
But that’s not the end of the story. Far from there. American adoptive families are instruments of love. Adoption is a beautiful thing, and it’s a beautiful thing in part because it brings hope and love out of trauma and pain.
Let’s talk about trauma and pain first. Our pastor told us when we adopted, “Every adoption begins with a breakdown. Each adoption breaks a deep and deep natural bond or is the result of a bond already severed by death, abuse or abandonment. Yes, adoptive families build their own deep bonds, but because of this breakup, the adoption movement should see adoption as a last difficult choice for a mother, not an easy or light first choice.
Therefore, special attention should be paid to pieces that describe the reasons why mothers abandon their children for adoption and the consequences of this choice. Write in the Washington post, Gretchen Sisson underlines the feeling of “sorrow” and “resignation” that many women feel after having given their children up for adoption. She points out that the “most common reason for abandoning children” is “money”.
Sisson also explains how the cultural disgrace of illegitimacy has too often been used as a stick to force women to abandon their children. Such an important act, especially one born out of shame, cannot help but have a profound and often catastrophic impact on a mother’s heart.
Write in the New York Times, Elizabeth Spiers told her own story and described a similar reality. She was adopted into a loving family, but later reunited with her birth mother, a woman named Maria who is heartbroken over the years they have missed. “Adoption is often as traumatic as the right thinks abortion,” she writes, “if not more, because a woman has to give up not a piece of cells, but a fully formed baby that she has lived with. for nine months. “
It can all be true. This is why an ethical, responsible and compassionate pro-life movement works powerfully to ensure that parents can raise their children, and if it is impossible or unwise for both parents to get involved, then it is working hard to ensure that mothers can raise their babies safely and financially.
Moreover, the very idea that poverty – in this nation, of all places – could be the factor that prompts a mother to separate from her child is and should be a clear call to action, both private. and public, designed to facilitate family formation.
And yet, in the midst of all this pain, why is adoption still so beautiful? Why is this a great joy in the life of our family? The answer lies in Spiers’ own essay. It contains these interesting phrases:
As anyone who has fathered a human will tell you, there is a big difference between the fourth week of pregnancy and the 40th. By 40th grade, you know your baby’s regular rhythms as he kicks and moves. When I woke up, my son would wake up soon after and I would feel him roll over and stretch, or less pleasantly, jam his precious little foot into what looked like my cervix. This is one of the paradoxes of pregnancy: Something alien is usurping your body and robbing you of nutrition and energy, but you are programmed to joyfully activate it and you become hopelessly protective of it.
Write down the keywords. “Babe.” “Son.” “Precious.” It refers to a person, a human being who deserves to live, to be loved, to be cherished, when it is only a “block of cells” and when it is fully formed.
Each adopted person, whether the adoption process went as smoothly and happily as possible or was marked by layers of deep pain, shares a common characteristic. They are alive. They are here. If it sounds too basic and mundane to celebrate, it isn’t. Who can put a value on life itself?
You know from last week’s newsletter that my adopted daughter’s story is full of pain and loss. I wish she didn’t have to endure these hardships. But I can’t imagine our family and our community without her. We love him more than we love our own life. She is a light.
None of this is utilitarian. These are not net benefits. We are not proposing adoption as an alternative to abortion to save the next Jonas Salk or the next Winston Churchill. And we don’t offer adoption as an alternative because the pain of abortion is more than the pain of abandoning a child.
Instead, adoptive parents reach out to children because they love their children. They are inherently worthy of this love, regardless of their gifts and talents. Freely surrendering a child to new parents is also an act of deep love, and it is worth bearing burdens for those we love.
Adoption stories are not about “saving” children. Stories of the Savior can be dangerous and create foster families for grief. It’s about loving children. Indeed, a pro-life movement that is not built on a foundation of love for mother and child is not at all a pro-life movement at all.
A credible pro-life movement – a movement that changes culture enough to largely end abortion, rather than simply gaining enough power to ban abortion – is a movement that struggles with all difficulties and all the intense challenges of unwanted pregnancies. He recongnizes the two fear and uncertainty in mom’s heart and the humanity of the child.
A credible pro-life movement is mobilizing in favor of mothers and children in the private and public spheres. He thinks creatively about how to use public policy to enable America’s poorest families to raise children without fear or desire. He also understands that even the best public policies are flawed and that there is no real government substitute for personal care and the concerns of neighbors and friends.
And that said too, to every mom, if you really can’t take care of your child, then without judgment or conviction, we know there are families who will. In fact, they will be privileged love your child — because your child is created in the image of God, and all of God’s children should have homes.
One more thing…
Before the adoption controversy erupted, I had planned to write about something very different: deconstruction. It is a term with many meanings in the evangelical context, but it primarily refers to the process of critically reassessing your faith, often in response to deep pain and harm inflicted by the church.
As we say on the pod, we are absolutely overwhelmed with your response. Last week the podcast peaked at number three in the religion and spirituality category at Apple (briefly overtaking Joel Osteen!) I’m incredibly grateful.
If you haven’t listened yet, please try it. This episode is getting real, as they say, and I hope you find it both informative and encouraging.
One last thing …
We are officially free from Thanksgiving. It’s Christmas season, and that means Christmas music. I’d love to read your suggestions, but let’s start with a great folk anthem first. It’s “O Holy Night”, and it’s one of my favorite versions: