The question was recently asked in a newsgroup: Is the use of unethical adoption practices (e.g., coercion, exploitation, reproductive predation) in order to obtain babies for adoption a reproductive rights issue or a women’s rights issue?
My answer is that it is both, plus it is also an issue of human rights.
Adoption is a women’s issue because of the economics of male vs. female power in our society. Despite all our talk about “women’s rights” and “equality,” a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth without a “man” to support her is often left in the lurch unless she has a salary sufficient to afford a home, daycare, and other expenses on her own. The sole fact that men don’t give birth guarantees that they are not affected in this manner. Being “unmanned” makes her baby “illegitimate” and she is often left dealing with stigma, social disapproval and prejudice, insufficient income to support herself and her baby, and the lack of resources. “Single parent” is a term of derision in many places, and the stigma and inadequacy of “social assistance” renders her vulnerable to the loss of her child. Even the legal system fail the mother: child support from the baby’s father is often not guaranteed even when court-ordered, and he may not have a sufficient income himself.
Let’s look at her situation:
- If daycare is not available she cannot work.
- Lack of stable and guaranteed financial support may force her to work while her child is still an infant, thus potentially damaging her child and their relationship. Infants need their mothers, and from raising three children I personally do not believe that being away from mommy for 8-10 hours a day is beneficial for a young child. What about government providing solid universal mother-and-child support such that NO mother is forced to work before her child is in school?
- Being pregnant and giving birth may force her to quit work. If a mother is in a low-paying or non-unionized job, few employers are going to pay for her to have maternity leave. Pregnancy can be physically incapacitating. Sometimes not, but i had to quit work myself during Month 4 of one pregnancy to avoid a miscarriage. And the only way I could do so was to sell the shop that I owned. Thus: out of a job.
- Lack of financial/social support forces mothers to surrender babies they have bonded with for nine months. This does not happen to men as men do not have another human being as a growing part of their bodies for such an extended period of time, ideally followed by the extended physical bonding of breastfeeding. Overwhelming bonding hormones during pregnancy (oxytocin) serve to change a woman’s whole life to focusing on her baby. Her very brain structure changes. Mood and function changes occur. The brain can even temporarily shrink in size. Men, on the other hand, can more easily walk away (as the father of my eldest child did) — after all, their only direct involvement in the child’s life may have been ten minutes of sexual activity nine months previous. They have no physical connection with this unknown (to them) third-party, the baby.
These are all womens’ rights issues, as women cannot live on the same “biological timetable” as men can: pregnancy and birth (and subsequent childcare) are biologically a woman’s responsibility and this conflicts with jobs and career. Having been promised by the feminist movement that they can and should “have it all,” many women are finding that juggling a career and a family can be highly stressful and often next to impossible. And women who live according to “a man’s biological clock” may find that once they are financially-secure they can no longer have children (age-related infertility can start at age 27). Hence the “infertility epidemic” as women postpone attempts to conceive to later and later ages.
The term “reproductive rights” is most commonly attached to the pro-choice/anti-abortion debate. Does a woman have the right to control her own reproductive functions? Despite the adoption industry’s sales-pitch that adoption is an alternative to abortion, I would argue it is most definitely not. Early in pregnancy, a woman may decide to have an abortion or become a mother. The decision on whether to become a mother raising her child, or a mother who loses her child to adoption, is a decision that can only truly be made post-birth. So adoption and abortion are unrelated and are not alternatives to each other. But adoption is a reproductive issue in that it involves a woman’s inherent reproductive capability and the exploiting of that capacity as a “resource” by those in a position of greater social/financial/political power. This happens to women who are rendered vulnerable to this exploitation due to youth, poverty, or lacking the “Mrs.” designation.
Reproductive exploitation has parallels to sexual exploitation. In fact, the only difference is who is doing the exploiting and who is being exploited: economic and age differences are approximately the same, as is the tendency of the victim to blame herself and “fall in love with” the exploiter.
Reproductive exploitation is not new. It was an identifiable part of the slave trade in fact, where enslaved mothers were also were not accorded the right to keep and raise their babies.
Reproductive predation is a relatively new phenomena. Just as there are sexual predators who hunt down vulnerable young women and children to sexually exploit, with reproductive exploitation there are predatory practices such as women with “baby hunger” seeking out vulnerable mothers. If you want to see some examples of the parallels, check out the article “Reproductive Exploitation” on the Origins Canada site. If you want examples of the common “lures” that reproductive predators use, check out http://www.keepyourbaby.com/lures.html.
Feminists are not immune to engaging in reproductive exploitation, and may not even be aware that they are engaging in this practice. Is this from complete ignorance of what constitutes exploitation, or tunnel-vision due to personal avarice and “baby hunger”?
You don’t see people adopting from 30-something married mothers with six-figure incomes, nor do hospitals routinely approach them while they are in labour to ask if they have considered adoption. The average income of a woman who surrenders a baby for adoption is less than $20,000/yr — often far less than that.
Women left in these dire financial straits, with no way to financially afford to keep their babies — without adequate housing finances, healthcare, daycare, paid maternity leave, etc. — are left vulnerable. To obtain a baby from a woman in this situation is exploitation. Just the same way that paid or coerced sexual acts with vulnerable women and children is sexual exploitation.
Adoption is a human rights issue because for most mothers, the circumstances forcing them to surrender are the result of government-led human rights abuses. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
* (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
* (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
If these fundamental human rights were enforced and upheld, particularly in rich nations, there would be far fewer surrenders. Adoption is a huge industry primarily because we deny mothers the support they are entitled to.
“Most infants placed for adoption come from poor families. Check with any of the adoption agencies and their adoption lawyers to verify that the number one reason for relinquishment today is the inability to afford to raise the child. This is a sad commentary on the richest and most powerful country in the world” (Pannor, 1998)
In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations — which includes U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, and NZ — sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These nations then violated this on a massive scale with their treatment of unwed mothers during the time from about 1950 to the early 1970s (and up to the mid 1980s in some countries such as Canada, where the BSE was bolstered by the “Sixties Scoop” that took native children en masse as well).
The New South Wales government in Australia apologized. They changed their laws such that all mothers are provided support such that no mother need lose her baby due to a human rights violation (which includes poverty) again. PLUS they gave adoptees the right to annul their adoptions if coercion was involved. It’s a start. More information can be found on the Origins Australia website, including transcripts from the Parliamentary Inquiry where the government admitted that systemic human rights violations had occurred.
The same practices occurred in the other nations I listed above. The same crimes, systemic human rights abuses, and coercive tactics.
What must be done is to ensure the financial security of all mothers. To ensure that NO child is left in poverty. To ensure that no child is surrendered for adoption due to this form of blatant financial coercion.
Exploitation precludes any sort of ethical adoption from happening. When you exploit a mother, you are committing an ethical violation. You cannot state that you have “adopted ethically” unless you have proof that the mother’s rights have not been violated: human rights, reproductive rights, or women’s rights. And, frankly, given the immense emotional damage that the loss of a child to adoption does to a mother — damage that is in many cases permanent — coerced adoption should not take place at all.
Love, S. (1998). “Interview with Reuben Pannor.” PACER newsletter. (Winter 1998-1999). Post Adoption Center for Education and Research.
United Nations General Assembly (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml