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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Is adoption the answer?

Years ago, I asked a class of "pregnant and parenting" teenagers in East San Jose about how they saw their choices. Abortion was out, several girls said. Most were Mexican-American and Catholic. They said a baby is a gift from God, and you don't turn down God's gifts. (Of course, girls who choose abortion don't end up in these programs.)

Not one was considering adoption. They said it was "selfish," an abdication of responsibility.

I said that some people see adoption as unselfish, putting the baby's needs before their own desires. They were surprised by that idea, considered it and rejected it.

I'd been invited to the class because the girls were upset about an op-ed column I'd written citing three factors that determine whether a child will grow up in poverty. If a mother finishes high school, marries and turns 20 before having her first child the risk of family poverty is 9 percent, a new study showed, compared to 91 percent for unwed teenage mothers who did not finish high school. (A version of that known as the "success sequence" -- graduate, get a job and get married before having a child -- is even more predictive of avoiding poverty.) The girls were trying to earn their high school diplomas and some planned to marry their boyfriends. They thought they'd be OK.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, who's written about foster care and child protection, wants to promote adoption as a loving, responsible choice for girls and women with unplanned pregnancies.

Adoption has been declining for decades as single motherhood "lost its stigma" and abortion became easily accessible, writes Riley.

In a 2019 piece for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan laid out the statistics:
Though exact estimates for all women are hard to come by, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that among never-married women, about 9 percent chose adoption before 1973, when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. (The figure was higher for white women: 19 percent.) By the mid-1980s, the figure had dropped to 2 percent, and it was just 1 percent by 2002, the last year the CDC data captured. In 2014, only 18,000 children under the age of 2 were placed with adoption agencies. By comparison, there are about 1 million abortions each year.

Even "crisis pregnancy centers" encourage women to keep their babies rather than place them for adoption, Riley writes. "This is one reason why so many families are waiting to adopt — between 1 and 2 million, by some estimates."

International adoptions are down too as more countries put barriers in place.

In the post-Roe environment, "some women will undoubtedly be more careful about contraception or make more use of Plan B," Riley predicts. "Others will cross state lines to procure abortions in states where they are more readily available."

But it's likely more women will bear a child they're not prepared to raise. Adoption should be presented as a "viable and even empowering option early on," she writes.

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