September. 2, 2009
We like to say that abortion opponents care about what happens to babies only until they're born. Well, turns out we might be wrong. In many cases they do care what happens post-partum -- far, far too much. In "Shotgun Adoption," a truly chilling investigative report in the current issue of the Nation, "Quiverfull" author Kathryn Joyce reveals that so-called (and taxpayer-funded) crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) often have an extreme-Christian agenda even more corrupt than using false pretenses and scare tactics to pressure women to continue challenging pregnancies. That is: They don't just coerce women to have children. They coerce women to give their children up.
"Once you say you won't kill [the baby], they ask, What can you give it? You have nothing to offer, but here's a family that goes on a cruise every year."
Give the children up, that is, so that they can grow up in a "good" Christian family.
"While there is growing awareness of how CPCs hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to 'choose life' but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves ... or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies," Joyce writes. "Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children."
Critics call this "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." Some go so far as to call CPCs "adoption rings" with, as Joyce summarizes the charge, "a multistep agenda: evangelizing; discovering and exploiting women's insecurities about age, finances or parenting; then hard-selling adoption, portraying parenting as a selfish, immature choice."
Joyce tells the story of Carol Jordan (pseudonym), a 32-year-old woman who answered a CPC ad and found herself at Bethany Christian Services, which, as it turned out, is the nation's largest adoption agency -- and which is ranked poorly by birth mothers on adoption Web sites, where adoptive parents also express concern about coercion they witnessed.
There, a counselor convinced her that adoption was a "win-win," Joyce writes. Jordan "wouldn't 'have death on her hands,' her bills would be paid and the baby would go to a family of her choosing in an open adoption. [The counselor] suggested Jordan move into one of Bethany's 'shepherding family' homes, away from the influence of family and friends."
Yes: "shepherding family," and no, we don't mean she was sent to live with her grandfather in the Alps. Jordan wound up with a family in Myrtle Beach who -- hovering, it seems, like the weird neighbors in Rosemary's Baby -- referred to her as a "birth mother" even though, while committed to continuing the pregnancy, she was still on the fence about adoption. The agency sent scrapbooks of letters from hopeful parents. "'Once you say you won't kill [the baby], they ask, What can you give it? You have nothing to offer, but here's a family that goes on a cruise every year,'" Jordan recalls.
Jordan did choose a couple. They attended the birth. But -- despite Bethany's promise -- she would never find out who they were. "The next day, the counselor said that fully open adoptions weren't legal in South Carolina, so Jordan wouldn't receive identifying information on the adoptive parents," Joyce writes. The baby was summarily relinquished. "Five days later, she used her last $50 to buy a Greyhound ticket to Greenville, where she struggled for weeks to reach a Bethany post-adoption counselor as her milk came in and she rapidly lost more than fifty pounds in her grief."
When Jordan called Bethany's statewide headquarters one night, her shepherding mother answered, responding coldly to Jordan's lament. 'You're the one who spread your legs and got pregnant out of wedlock,' she told Jordan. 'You have no right to grieve for this baby.'"
Is adoption history repeating itself -- with an extreme Christian agenda? Let us not forget the "Baby Scoop Era" from 1945 to 1973, when at least 1.5 million single mothers were indirectly or directly -- and often cruelly -- coerced into giving up their children, often after a stint in a "maternity home" (which have also come back). It was a time, Joyce notes, when "the cultural shift that followed World War II switched the emphasis of adoption from finding homes for needy infants to finding children for childless couples." And when adoption rates plummeted post-Roe, up rose the religious right -- and CPCs along with them. Joyce cites legal complaints about adoptive coercion starting as early as 1983.
"A lot of those moms from the '50s and '60s were really damaged by losing their child through the maternity homes," says a woman who helped her son win a legal battle against a Christian agency to undo a coerced adoption. "People say those kinds of things don't happen anymore. But they do."
The question that has stuck with me (besides "Why am I not surprised?" and "Hmm, why are these agencies not seeking out 'hard-to-place' existing children?") is this: What's the agenda behind the agenda? Well, it's not hard to connect certain dots. First, there's the notion of single motherhood, for anyone who is not Bristol Palin, as a threat to the "proper" two-parent Christian family. There's also the conservative Christian effort to promote embryo donation as "embryo adoption," not only as a bolster to fetal "personhood," but also (it occurs to me now) to steer available embryos toward conservative Christian families. There's "race panic." (Ah: That answers my second question.) And of course -- speaking of Michelle Duggar -- there's Quiverfull, the extreme Christian movement determined to create, by birth or adoption, as many "arrows" as possible to prepare for battle in the culture war. So, if you ask me, these people are not just coercing. They are recruiting.