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What about adoption? Several years ago, President Clinton said that those opposed to abortion should adopt a child. Others have made a similar argument, insisting that many women get abortions only because they are afraid that their children will not get adopted--especially if the child is a minority or has a disability--and will have a miserable childhood. Aren't pro-life families that are unwilling to adopt hypocrites?

You've raised a bunch of issues here. Let me address them one by one, if I can.

First, and most importantly, these arguments are based on a false premise: that it is difficult to place an infant--or certain types of infants--with adoptive families. This notion is common. However, women who abort their children for this reason have been tragically misinformed. In the United States, there are many more families interested in adopting infants then there are infants to adopt. The National Committee on Adoption--an organization which takes no position on abortion--has refuted this misconception [in a December 5, 1990, press release]. It pointed out that infants who are free for adoption are readily placed--regardless of ethnicity--and that there is even a waiting list for families waiting to adopt newborns with serious disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome and spina bifida. (Children waiting for adoptive homes are typically older, often coming into the system after their parents have abused or neglected them.)

Second, even assuming people were unwilling to adopt disabled infants, most women get abortions long before they know whether their babies would be healthy, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the children's health. In 1987, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (a research group associated with Planned Parenthood) conducted a survey which listed various reasons for abortion and asked women who had abortions to identify the reasons for their decision, and which one was most important. Only 13% of the 1,900 respondents indicated that "a possible health problem" with the unborn factored into their decision. And only 3 percent indicated that a possible health problem was the primary reason for their decision. (By contrast, 21 % of the women surveyed indicated that their primary reason for aborting was that they were not ready for the responsibility of a child, and another 21 % indicated that their primary reason was that they could not afford a baby at that time.) In fact, women who are actively considering abortion often do not want to know the condition of their child because, if they know the child is healthy, it will make it more difficult for them to choose to abort.

The Alan Guttmacher study and others show that most women get abortions for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the future welfare of their child. If that is the case, then whatever the other merits of improving the adoption/foster care system (and there are many), the changes will do little to affect the frequency of abortion.

Third, although the adoption arguments do not expressly address this issue, they assume that the unborn are either not human beings or that not all human beings are equal. This point can be illustrated easily: The underlying assumption behind aborting a child rather than putting it up for adoption is that the child is better off dead than in the adoption/foster care system. But we don't really believe that. If we did, the same logic that applies to the unborn would apply to the born as well, and we would destroy newborns and toddlers who were destined for the adoption/foster care system. We would also euthanize those presently in the system so that they did not have to continue their "miserable" existence. The fact that this logic does not extend to born children shows that, ultimately, the adoption arguments are grounded in the notion that the unborn are intrinsically inferior, either because they are not human beings or because some human beings are "more equal" than others.

Fourth, the fact that a family is opposed to abortion, but presently unwilling to adopt, does not necessarily make them hypocrites. Here again, if the logic that we apply to abortion is valid, it should also apply in other situations. Most people would agree that I could legitimately object to parents killing their four-year-old daughter even if I were not presently willing to take the daughter into my own home rather than having her go into the foster care system. Similarly, most people would agree that I could legitimately object to a woman killing her invalid father, even if I was presently unwilling to take the father into my own home rather than seeing him placed in a nursing home.

Finally, just in case anyone might get the wrong idea, I should probably say a word or two about those mothers who do not get abortions. I realize that they may often feel unable to contend with the demands of raising a child and, at the same time, it may be heartbreaking for them to imagine giving their child up for adoption. I do not mean to imply that it will be easy for them, or that they should "go it alone," or that we should not do everything possible to assist those women who have the courage to look beyond the "easy" solution to an unwanted pregnancy and carry the unborn to term. We should help these mothers--before birth and after. All I am saying that abortion is not a moral alternative to adoption.


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