Shotgun Adoption | The Nation


Shotgun Adoption

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In recent years, the antiabortion push for adoption has been taken up as a broader evangelical cause. In 2007 Focus on the Family hosted an Evangelical Orphan Care and Adoption Summit in Colorado Springs. Ryan Dobson, the adopted son of Focus founder James Dobson, has campaigned on behalf of CHFS and Unruh's Alpha Center. Last year 600 church and ministry leaders gathered in Florida to promote adoption through the Christian Alliance for Orphans. And a recent book in the idiosyncratic genre of prolife fiction, The River Nile, exalted a clinic that tricked abortion-seeking women into adoption instead.

About the Author

Kathryn Joyce
Kathryn Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption and Quiverfull:...

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Such enthusiasm for Christians to adopt en masse begins to seem like a demand in need of greater supply, and this is how critics of current practices describe it: as 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.

In 1994 the Village Voice investigated several California CPCs in Care Net, the largest network of centers in the country, and found gross ethical violations at an affiliated adoption agency, where director Bonnie Jo Williams secured adoptions by warning pregnant women about parenthood's painfulness, pressuring them to sign papers under heavy medication and in one case detaining a woman in labor for four hours in a CPC.

There were nineteen lawsuits against CPCs between 1983 and 1996, but coercive practices persist. Joe Soll, a psychotherapist and adoption reform activist, says that CPCs "funnel people to adoption agencies who put them in maternity homes," where ambivalent mothers are subjected to moralistic and financial pressure: warned that if they don't give up their babies, they'll have to pay for their spot at the home, and given conflicted legal counsel from agency-retained lawyers. Watchdog group Crisis Pregnancy Center Watch described an Indiana woman misled into delaying an abortion past her state's legal window and subsequently pressured into adoption.

Literature from CPCs indicates their efforts to raise adoption rates. In 2000 the Family Research Council (FRC), the political arm of Focus on the Family, commissioned a study on the dearth of adoptable babies being produced by CPCs, "The Missing Piece: Adoption Counseling in Pregnancy Resource Centers," written by the Rev. Curtis Young, former director of Care Net.

Young based the report on the market research of consultant Charles Kenny, who questioned women with unplanned pregnancies and Christian CPC counselors to identify obstacles to higher adoption rates. Young argued that mothers' likelihood to choose adoption was based on their level of maturity and selflessness, with "more mature respondents...able to feel they are nurturing not only their children, but also, the adoptive parents," and "less mature women" disregarding the baby's needs by seeking to parent. He wrote that CPCs might persuade reluctant women by casting adoption as redemption for unwed mothers' "past failures" and a triumph over "selfishness, an 'evil' within themselves." Though Young noted that some CPCs were wary of looking like "baby sellers," he nonetheless urged close alliances with adoption agencies to ensure that the path to adoption was "as seamless and streamlined as possible."

Young was speaking to a larger audience than the FRC faithful. Care Net runs 1,160 CPCs nationwide and partners with Heartbeat International to host a national CPC hot line. Kenny is tied to the cause as a "Bronze"-level benefactor of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), the most prominent adoption lobby group in the country, in the company of other benefactors like Bethany; Texas maternity home giant Gladney; the Good Shepherd Sisters, a Catholic order serving "young women of dissolute habits"; and the Mormon adoption agency LDS Family Services.

The federally funded NCFA has a large role in spreading teachings like these through its Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program, a Department of Health and Human Services initiative it helped pass in 2000 that has promoted adoption to nearly 18,000 CPC, school, state, health and correctional workers since 2002. Although the program stipulates "nondirective counseling for pregnant women," it was developed by a heavily pro-adoption pool of experts, including Kenny, and the Guttmacher Institute reports that trainees have complained about the program's coercive nature.

In 2007 the FRC and NCFA went beyond overlapping mandates to collaborate on the publication of another pamphlet, written by Kenny, "Birthmother, Goodmother: Her Story of Heroic Redemption," which targets "potential birthmothers" before pregnancy: a seeming contradiction of abstinence promotion, unless, as DelBalzo wryly notes, the abstinence movement intends to create "more babies available for adoption."

Even as women have gained better reproductive healthcare access, adoption laws have become less favorable for birth mothers, advancing the time after birth when a mother can relinquish--in some states now within twenty-four hours--and cutting the period to revoke consent drastically or completely. Adoption organizations have published comparative lists of state laws, almost as a catalog for prospective adopters seeking states that restrict birth parent rights. Among the worst is Utah.

Jo Anne Swanson, a court-appointed adoption intermediary, has studied a number of cases in which women have been lured out of their home states to give birth and surrender their children under Utah's lax laws--which require only two witnesses for relinquishments that have occurred in hotel rooms or parks--to avoid interstate child-placement regulations. Some women who changed their minds had agencies refuse them airfare home. And one Utah couple, Steve and Carolyn Mintz, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the director of their adoption agency flew into a rage at a mother in labor who'd backed out of their adoption, and the mother and her infant ended up in a Salt Lake City homeless shelter. Many complaints have been lodged by birth fathers who sought to parent their children but were disenfranchised by Utah's complicated system of registering paternity.

Utah isn't alone in attacking birth fathers' rights. From 2000 to 2001, a Midwestern grandmother named Ann Gregory (a pseudonym) fought doggedly for her son, a military enlistee, to retain parental rights over his and his girlfriend's child. When the girlfriend became pregnant, her conservative evangelical parents brought her to a local CPC affiliated with their megachurch. The CPC was located in the same office as an adoption agency: its "sister organization" of eighteen years. The CPC called Gregory's son, who was splitting his time between home and boot camp, pressuring him to "be supportive" of his girlfriend by signing adoption papers. The agency also called Gregory and her ex-husband, quoting Scripture "about how we're all adopted children of Jesus Christ."

What followed, Gregory says, was "six weeks of pure hell," as she felt her son and his girlfriend were "brainwashed" into adoption. She researched coercive adoption and retained a lawyer for her son. When the mother delivered, the attorney had Gregory notify a hospital social worker that parental rights were being contested, so the baby wouldn't be relinquished. Two days later, as the adoption agency was en route to take custody, Gregory filed an emergency restraining order. The matter had to be settled in court, where Gregory's son refused to consent to adoption. The legal bill for two weeks came to $9,000.

Both parents went to college, and though they are no longer together, Gregory praises their cooperation in jointly raising their son, now 8. But she is shaken by what it took to prevail. "You've got to get on it before the child is born, and you'd better have $10,000 sitting around. I can't even imagine how they treat those in a worse position than us. They say they want to help people in a crisis pregnancy, but really they want to help themselves to a baby."

"A lot of those moms from the '50s and '60s were really damaged by losing their child through the maternity homes," says Gregory. "People say those kinds of things don't happen anymore. But they do. It's just not a maternity home on every corner; it's a CPC."

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