Adoption Beat

September 10, 2009

Tired of warm, fuzzy coverage?

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 12:44 am
Tags: , ,

Recently several eye-opening articles have breathed fresh air in media coverage of adoption among them is an article in The Nation entitled “Shotgun Adoption” by Kathryn Joyce, which appeared on September 14.

Articles like this one mark a distinct departure from the typical coverage of adoption and they do not appear with any frequency. According to the magazine “Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.” Those who have long lamented the media’s superficial coverage of adoption issues were gratified by the coverage but the question remains, why should a private charity be needed to underwrite journalistic enterprise.

Read the story at:

The typical media treatment of adoption is more likely to be a saccharine story of an adult adoptee locating his/her family of origin. Not that these stories are not touching; and they do serve to make a case for adoption reformers’ contention that women who surrender a child to adoption were never promised confidentiality and most did not want it. A typical story of this ilk can be found at full of reportorial errors and lacking balance because a general assignment reporter does not do his homework.

Writing in The Nation, Joyce masterfully employs narrative as she describes a 32-year-old pharmacy technician, pregnant and unmarried who sought support from Bethany Christian Services, a faith-based organization that has found adoption to be such a profitable undertaking that it is the nation’s largest adoption agency. Masquerading as concerned Christians seeking to support young women who must make difficult decisions, Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) prey on women at a desperate time coercing them into choosing adoption.

CPCs offer of free housing and medical care is, to pregnant women willing to sign away their children. Bethany christian Services is not the only CPC to emply techniques akin to those of abusive spouses, namely to isolate the pregnant woman from friends and family. Bethany placed this young woman in the home of a “shepherding family” whose job it is to reinforce her decision to place the child for adoption, a decision that allows Bethany to profit.

CPCs that have sprung up around the country in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade are, today, funded largely by $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds, a legacy of the Bush administration’s payback to right-wing Christian groups who supported his election. Despite the fact that a number states have rejected this funding because of the strings that come with it and despite campaign promises to stop federal efforts to impose a religious agenda on Americans financed by their own tax dollars, the trend continues.

Joyce writes: “The National Abortion Federation estimates that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women graphic antiabortion films. 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, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.”

Bethany promised this young women that her medical bills would be paid but never mentioned that they were not planning on shelling out the money. They helped her to apply for Medicaid to make those payments. Guess what? She could have applied to Medicare without the agency’s assistance and without surrendering her child.

A child that is still an abstract concept is very different than one that is a reality. This mother’s maternal instincts kicked in after she gave birth. She had second thoughts, intensified no doubt by the fact that South Carolina is not one of the 17 states that recognize open adoption in its statutes. When she wavered Bethany swept in to the recovery room coerce her into going through with the adoption. And they rushed her through signing relinquishment papers, scooped up the child and took the mother out of the hospital before she was even discharged.

Once Bethany had the child, the mother was discarded. Joyce recounts that after weeks of trying to reach a Bethany post-adoption counselor she finally reached the woman who had “shepherded” her into surrendering her child only to be brusquely dismissed.

Lest the reader think this is an isolated case, Bethany is ranked poorly by birth mothers on a website that rates agencies: Since the article appeared in The Nation, the website has gone offline but the information can still be found cashed. Not only did mothers who surrendered a child give it a thumbs down but several adoptive parent observed that these (birth) mothers were subjected to coercion.

This is not a new phenomenon. Anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that instances of coercion in adoption stretch back to approximately the same time period that records were sealed in many states – the late 1930s and early 1940s. Adoption historians refer to the period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s as the “baby scoop” era. For more information about this period of adoption practice in the USA, see Ann Fessler’s, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.

“… Single motherhood was so stigmatized that at least 1.5 million unwed American mothers relinquished children for adoption, often after finishing pregnancies secretly in maternity homes. The coercion was frequently brutal, entailing severe isolation, shaming, withholding information about labor, disallowing mothers to see their babies and coercing relinquishment signatures while women were drugged or misled about their rights. Often, women’s names were changed or abbreviated, to bolster a sense that ‘the person who went away to deliver the baby was someone else’ and that mothers would later forget about the babies they had given up. In taking oral histories from more than a hundred Baby Scoop Era mothers, Fessler found that not only was that untrue but most mothers suffered lifelong guilt and depression.” [Quoting from Joyce’s article]

When Maryland reform activists first began to lobby the state legislature for adult adoptee access to their own records (a matter of course before January 1947 when records were retroactively sealed) an experienced social worker testifying before the judiciary committee reminded the legislators that adoption was about “finding a home for a child who needs one, not about finding a child for a couple who wants one.”

In reality, adoption has not been practiced according to that standard in the USA since the late 1930s. Roe v. Wade might have signaled a kinder, gentler industry since unmarried pregnant women might have gained more power in the process except that, at about the same time, birth control became widely available and single motherhood gained social acceptance. The result was a shortage of healthy white babies available for adoption, the commodity that fueled a profitable and largely unregulated industry.

Why is it then that it has taken 30 years for the mainstream media to recognize that there is a story here? Or that it is potentially as big a story as Enron, Blackwater or the Downing Street memo? Child trafficking is, after all, a momentous social issue. Why is it that adoption is distorted by being used to describe the purchase of a Cabbage Patch doll or euated with rescuing a pet from the animal shelter? The issue is far more complex and the media has done a substandard job, in the main, of covering this aspect of life in America.

The Nation, the Puffin Foundation and Kathryn Joyce have done a stellar job of putting adoption in perspective.


1 Comment »

  1. This is a great post and The Nation published a great article. I hope we are starting to see some change in the way the mass media portrays adoption.

    Comment by Triona Guidry — September 18, 2009 @ 2:31 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: