In my family’s diverse experiences with adoption, I have witnessed firsthand how today’s “culture of death” has adversely affected the public’s perception of adoption. We need to rehabilitate adoption as a healthy, pro-life life alternative, not only on a societal level, but within our own families and, indeed, within our own hearts.
Over the course of a few decades, the terrain for childless couples and others seeking to adopt a newborn child has changed dramatically. While there used to be many babies here in the United States available for placement, today there are long, discouraging waiting lists, leading many couples to adopt children from overseas.
Thirty years of legalized abortion as well as increased recourse to abortifacient contraceptives have contributed mightily to this dramatically changed landscape, but the causes run even deeper.
Adoption is rarely presented as a positive alternative for a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. One is hard pressed to find a news report, TV show, or movie that puts adoption in a favorable light. Instead, one more typically finds an unfair portrayal, based on an exceptional “horror story,” held up as the reality.
Even without the bad press, adoption is a daunting proposition today. It's an onerous, expensive, and at times intrusive process for adoptive parents. And given the legal and societal hoops that a birth mother must jump through in order to place her child in an adoptive home, it's understandable that a seemingly “quick and easy” abortion would be a tempting option.
Many single mothers today are counseled to raise their children themselves even when there are obvious reasons to opt for adoption. Then, a few years later, the mother decides (or the courts decide for her) that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Whose heart wouldn't go out to a five-year-old who has been raised in such an environment? Such a child has already received severe if not permanent psychological injury and will be much more difficult to place in an adoptive home.
One of the mantras of pro-abortion advocates is that a woman should be able to exercise a certain autonomy with respect to her body. We intuitively see both the truth and the limitation of such an assertion. The developing child is absolutely yoked to and dependent upon the mother's body. Even so, any ultrasound will clearly show where the mother's body ends and the baby's begins.
When I married Maureen, the two of us truly became one (cf. Gn 2:21-24). Yet when one of us needs surgery, there never seems to be any confusion as to which one of us is to go under the knife. After all, despite our marriage covenant, we still are two distinct persons.
Unborn children are persons with God-given dignity. The Catechism teaches that every child is a gift (no. 2378). No one has a “right” to a child, such that he or she may be considered one's property, let alone merely one's uterine tissue.
When abortion is avoided, a potential tragedy has been averted. But that circumstance alone does not ensure that those involved with the decision have a proper attitude toward this new life. Too often we encounter the mindset that the child is “mine” in an absolute sense, such that the same woman who once seriously considered abortion rejects adoption out of hand because she could never “give up” her baby.
In past generations an unmarried woman who conceived out of wedlock quietly left town before the pregnancy became public knowledge, and then the child was placed in an adoptive family. In many instances, all the societal guilt for the sexual misconduct was unfairly laid upon the woman. God's healing mercy and love often were not made as manifest to the woman in the “crisis pregnancy” as they should have been.
There is no longer the same stigma attached to pregnancy out of wedlock. After all, society no longer upholds the moral law in sexual matters, as schools now distribute condoms, not disseminate commandments. In keeping with the title of Hillary Clinton's notorious book, people today look to the “village,” not to the family, to raise our children. Surely we need societal supports to assist parents in their vocation parishes, schools, and the like. But a village without fathers is a recipe for disaster. There is indisputable data pointing to the severe obstacles facing a child who is raised without a father. The obstacles include a much greater risk of poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, physical and emotional health problems, poor performance in school, criminal conduct, and sexual activity and pregnancy during the teen years.
Many women have heroically raised their children as single moms. Some have been required to do so because of abandonment, spousal abuse, and other irresponsible behaviors on the part of men.
However, single motherhood as a conscious choice, à la Murphy Brown, is decidedly not pro-child or pro-woman even in the best of “villages.” Rather, it entails buying into the lie that a household without a husband or father is a preferred choice of lifestyle. In truth, it liberates and empowers neither mother nor child.
It's tragically ironic that a woman who courageously decides that adoption is in the best interest of her child is often made to feel that she is a “bad mother.” In reality, true love is selfless and sacrificial. In some situations, the greatest act of love a mother can make might be to allow her child to be raised in a loving, intact family with a mother and a father.
Grandparents have an important role to play in all of this. It's easy for pro-life sentiments to get intermingled with the understandable desire for grandchildren as well as the desire to prevent their daughter from suffering the loss of “giving up” her child. This could lead to mixed messages that actually make it more difficult for their daughter to choose adoption.
God showed us His love by sending His Son to save us and to truly make us His adopted children (cf. Gal 4:4-6). Within the human family, adoption uniquely reflects the Father's love, as it builds families, encourages generosity, and heals human brokenness.
I think that's a pro-life message that everyone can live with.
© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the publisher of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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