Adoption Will Never Be the “Solution” to Abortion Bans. Take It from Me, an Adoptive Mother

adoptions and abortion

“What are you reading, Mom?” my 11-year-old son asked, bounding toward me and nosing under my arm to peer at my phone screen, at which I was scowling. He is eerily good at taking my emotional temperature, the hypervigilance of a child who has not always known safety, and he knew something was up.

“Just talking with some people about this big abortion decision,” I said, pocketing my phone to pour a cup of coffee. Since Roe vs. Wade was overturned last month, the adoptive mom Facebook groups I belong to had become my unlikely place to scream into the void, and that morning I had gotten particularly heated over the latest lawmaker to use adoption as a “solution” to thousands of unwanted pregnancies. My son’s eyes searched my face. “Abortion?” he repeated, trying out the new word. “What’s that?”

What is abortion? It is a simple question with a complicated answer. If you believe abortion is murder, as the minority of Americans and the majority of Republican legislators purport to believe, then you may be tempted to suggest that adoption is abortion’s logical, obvious, and even “easy” alternative now that many states have made abortion illegal. But you would be wrong.

The adoptive mothers I have come to know in these online groups over the past four years since my son was adopted have strong and diverse opinions about Roe vs Wade. Some believe a woman should have the right to choose; others are pro-life. Despite our differences, every single day we adoptive moms think about something that the average American, and the average lawmaker, do not: the long-term mental and physical health of adopted children and the mothers who brought them into the world. We are bound to each other by the knowledge that adoption is deeply complicated, rooted in trauma, and that it forever changes the lives of everyone involved. It is not a “solution,” but rather a choice with lifelong implications that cannot be summed up in terms of simple right and wrong.

I am both an adoptive mother and a director for a nonprofit that works on behalf of foster and adoptive youth and families, so my perspective is formed by both personal and professional experiences. Calling adoption a “solution” to unwanted pregnancies minimizes the lived experiences of birth mothers and adoptees while ignoring the measurable and often lasting impact of relinquishment and separation trauma. Framing it this way is irresponsible, dangerous, and provably false. 

The 10-year Turnaway Study, completed in 2020, found that people who become pregnant, who are unable to get a safe, legal abortion, and who carry the pregnancy to term will experience long-term physical health and economic harm, while those who receive desired abortions experience better mental health than those denied the procedure. Over time, rather than disrupting their lives, those who had abortions reported that they stopped thinking about it altogether.

Unlike women who receive desired abortions, many women who relinquish their children for adoption mourn the loss for years or decades. Multiple studies found that for many mothers who relinquish children, the event is deeply traumatic, does not resolve with the passage of time, and results in depression, reliance on substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and other debilitating symptoms. One study found that intense sadness and depression either stayed the same or increased for 67 percent of participants in the years since surrender.

Are you wondering why you rarely hear about the severe impact of relinquishment on birth mothers? Consider the demographics. Women whose children are adopted tend to be young, unmarried and of lower socioeconomic status. Many are underrepresented race and ethnicities. Not exactly powerhouses of political influence in American culture, which still prizes the lived experiences of wealthy white men over all others.

And what of adoptees? Even if adoption is the safest, “best” outcome for the child given the circumstances of their birth, experts consider separation at birth from a child’s parents a traumatic event that can alter the child’s brain development, behavior and ability to healthfully attach to others. Symptoms of unresolved separation trauma include problems sleeping and eating, sensory issues, hypervigilance, difficulty assessing risks, feelings of helplessness or worthlessness, lack of impulse control, depression, anxiety, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships. These trauma responses are often not recognized as such but instead are viewed as personality traits because the trauma occurred at birth. When society fails to recognize the impact of adoption trauma, it is more difficult for adoptive parents and adoptees to identify and implement effective methods for healing.

Some will say that despite these challenges, if the life of a child is saved then the associated traumas are worth it. But if lawmakers believe that, then why are sweeping abortion bans not coupled with equally sweeping legislation providing trauma-healing resources to those who experience adoption? Why is there no evidence that those legislating women’s bodies understand the long-term impact of banning abortions and forcing people to carry unwanted pregnancies to term? It is not that this legislation and funding to support birth mothers and adoptees is simply lagging—it does not exist. As of this writing, not a single state in which abortion has been restricted or banned acknowledges the long-term impact of trauma on birth mothers and adoptees, and not a single state has committed any meaningful funding to help support their healing. As The New York Times reports, “States with abortion bans are among the least supportive of mothers and children…They tend to have the weakest social services and the worst outcomes in several categories of health and well-being.” These “outcomes” include maternal and infant mortality.

The decisions to relinquish a child for adoption, to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term and raise the child, to choose abortion, or to grow a family by adoption are some of the biggest decisions one can make. None of these is “simple,” “right,” or “wrong,” and each has long-term implications on the life of the birth parent, child and adoptive family. For lawmakers to make decisions for birth mothers while ignoring the long-term effects for all involved, and without providing any resources for healing, is to value the concept of life over actual lives lived.

Kristin Fasy is a freelance writer, adoptive parent, and director for a Colorado-based nonprofit focused on supporting youth and families impacted by foster care and adoption. 

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