Opinion

Amy Coney Barrett’s View: Adoption, Not Abortion

To the Editor:

Re “I Was Adopted. I Know the Trauma It Can Inflict,” by Elizabeth Spiers (Opinion guest essay, Dec. 6):

Justice Amy Coney Barrett indicated during the Supreme Court hearing that a mother’s option to give a baby up for adoption at birth meant that abortion was not necessary.

In 1954, my mother, a single mother of three young children, had no other option than to do just what Justice Barrett proposes. After losing her job because of the pregnancy, she took refuge with her mother and, several months later, gave birth to a child whom she gave up that very day. I was a child of 6 and remember being told she lost the baby.

The consequences of my mother’s pregnancy and the baby’s adoption profoundly affected my mother and us children. She was traumatized by the pregnancy and the necessity of abandoning a child — especially so after caring for us. She felt ashamed, stigmatized and less able to protect her existing children.

The anti-abortion movement demonstrates only the most blinkered, shallow understanding of the term “life.” It ignores the welfare, health and security of those already living. Yes, life is precious. The act of giving birth and caring for a child constitute the most profound and consequential of human responsibilities. For all these reasons, we must protect the right to abortion.

Anne Matlack Evans
Napa, Calif.

To the Editor:

Adoption is an inadequate alternative to abortion for even more reasons than Elizabeth Spiers explains. Before Roe v. Wade my wife and I adopted in Chicago a Black newborn daughter in 1968 and a 2-month-old son in 1971. We celebrate the happy family they helped to create.

In 1968 our adoption case worker told us that about 300 Black children a day were put up for adoption in Chicago by mothers from around the country, and no more than 10 percent of these children were ever adopted. They went into orphanages or foster care instead. At that time darker or male Black children were even less likely to be adopted.

By 1971, even with abortion available in some states, Black children who weren’t adopted immediately after birth had a greater chance of being left in the foster-care system. Black mothers who cared deeply about what would happen to their children if they were put up for adoption (as did the parents of the two infants who joined our family) were rightly fearful of the traumatic and inadequate care they would receive if fostered.

Were Roe v. Wade to be overturned, adoption would not be a realistic alternative to abortion for many babies born into single-parent and/or poor households, and foster care systems would be further overwhelmed.

David Leonard
Kennett Square, Pa.

To the Editor:

Justice Amy Coney Barrett thinks safe haven laws are the solution to unwanted (or unsafe) pregnancies. She lives in a Catholic ivory tower.

When I was a freshman in college, I got pregnant. Unfortunately, this was in 1966, long before abortion was legal anywhere. I was trying to get an illegal abortion (I never wanted children), but when my widowed mother found out, she sent me to a home for unwed mothers in Texas (we lived in California). To avoid the “shame” she hid my pregnancy from all our friends and family.

After I gave birth, she toyed with the idea of adopting the baby herself (it didn’t occur to her how she’d explain that), until I told her she would have to choose me or the baby. She chose me, but when I came home, she withdrew my support for college and kicked me out of the house to support myself.

So, Justice Barrett, safe haven laws aren’t the solution. An unwanted pregnancy can destroy a future, a marriage or even a life.

Karen Kempler
San Francisco

To the Editor:

As an adoptive parent, I didn’t like the title of Elizabeth’s Spiers’s essay, “I Was Adopted. I Know the Trauma It Can Inflict,” and I didn’t want to read it, but I’m glad I did. I find myself in agreement.

We are fortunate to know our son’s birth parents. While they were sure that placing their child for adoption was the right thing to do, it was incredibly hard for them. We went to the hospital for the placement ceremony two days after he was born. We stood there — the birth parents and my husband and I — and choked out a few words while the baby cried in a bassinet. Then we picked up the baby and took him away, and they went home without him.

Even as my heart filled with love for this new child, it was breaking for the pain and loss I saw on the birth parents’ faces. Justice Amy Coney Barrett acts as if it’s no big deal to put your baby up for adoption. Being pregnant when you don’t want to be is a horrible quandary. Whatever path you choose, it is traumatic.

Ann Whitfield Powers
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

The birth mothers of all three of our now adult children have tearfully told me that they hope their child “doesn’t hate” them for placing them for adoption. They are racked with guilt and have been for decades. Our children have wondered over the years why they were placed for adoption, but not their older or younger siblings.

As our daughter told us at about 10 years old: “Face it, I’m a mistake and so are my brothers. No one gives up a baby unless they are a mistake.”

Have we been thankful for our wonderful family and the extraordinary sacrifice their mothers made to trust us with their most valuable possession? Yes. Are our kids glad we are a family? Yes. Is adoption the fairy tale of how “lucky” our children are? No it isn’t. We are the lucky ones who do our best to help our kids understand that they are not mistakes. And they do believe that eventually. For their birth mothers, we can only reassure them.

Adoption is a blessing beyond belief, and it is also fraught.

Mary Kelly
Denver

To the Editor:

Forty years ago, when I was 19 and pregnant, I chose to give up my child for adoption. I remain happy with that choice. If you think that makes me a “right to lifer” you are missing the point. Since Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an adoptive mother, seems unaware of the other side of the adoption story, I would like to share my experience.

Even when you choose to place a child for adoption, it is still a very painful process. There are the months of well-meaning advice, tears and sorrow of family and friends; months when your bulging body cannot be hidden from the prying eyes and the satisfied whispers of the self-righteous. The morning sickness that makes it impossible to go to work. The doctor’s appointments and social worker appointments and unemployment office appointments. All before giving birth.

After going through childbirth, if you are lucky enough to have competent care and to survive (because there are still too many who don’t), you leave the hospital alone. Your body knows you have given birth and it wants you to be looking for that baby. You walk into a room with that feeling like when you’ve forgotten your glasses. There are tears. There are jags of tears and “what ifs” even when you aren’t forced to place a child for adoption.

Because, to be clear, that is what the justice is suggesting — not that a woman would make the choice to go through the pain of relinquishing her baby.

I made it through it all, and remain happy with the outcome, because I had a choice.

Ann Crosbie
Carlsbad, Calif.

To the Editor:

As an adoptive mother who has spent the past two decades listening to adult adoptees and thinking and writing about adoption, I’m stunned at how often adoption is oversimplified and misunderstood, as it has been by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

In many ways, my family is the “model adoptive family” — in reunion with birth relatives, happy and well adjusted, open in discussing feelings. But for years my kids cried themselves to sleep wondering why their birth mothers “gave them away,” while their birth mothers and siblings express anguish and sadness at missing large chunks of their children’s lives.

Adoption is a huge, profound event with never-ending ramifications. To pretend it’s an easy and uncomplicated alternative to abortion is naïve.

Jessica O’Dwyer
Tiburon, Calif.
The writer is the author of “Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir.”

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