Research support was provided by the Puffin Foundation Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
Carol Jordan, a 32-year-old pharmacy technician, was living in Greenville, South Carolina, in 1999 when she became pregnant. She’d already decided against abortion, but she was struggling financially and her boyfriend was unsupportive. Looking through the Yellow Pages for help, she spotted an ad under “crisis pregnancies” for Bethany Christian Services. Within hours of calling, Jordan (who asked to be identified with a pseudonym) was invited to Bethany’s local office to discuss free housing and medical care.
Bethany, it turned out, did not simply specialize in counseling pregnant women. It is the nation’s largest adoption agency, with more than eighty-five offices in fifteen countries.
When Jordan arrived, a counselor began asking whether she’d considered adoption and talking about the poverty rates of single mothers. Over five counseling sessions, she convinced Jordan that adoption was a win-win situation: 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. She suggested Jordan move into one of Bethany’s “shepherding family” homes, away from the influence of family and friends.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), the nonprofit pregnancy-testing facilities set up by antiabortion groups to dissuade women from having abortions, have become fixtures of the antiabortion landscape, buttressed by an estimated $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds. 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 guided Jordan through the Medicaid application process and in April moved her in with home-schooling parents outside Myrtle Beach. There, according to Jordan, the family referred to her as one of the agency’s “birth mothers”–a term adoption agencies use for relinquishing mothers that many adoption reform advocates reject–although she hadn’t yet agreed to adoption. “I felt like a walking uterus for the agency,” says Jordan.
Jordan was isolated in the shepherding family’s house; her only social contact was with the agency, which called her a “saint” for continuing her pregnancy but asked her to consider “what’s best for the baby.” “They come on really prolife: look at the baby, look at its heartbeat, don’t kill it. Then, once you say you won’t kill it, they ask, What can you give it? You have nothing to offer, but here’s a family that goes on a cruise every year.”