Why Doesn’t Everyone View Adoption as a Pro-Life Option?
by David Gibson
For so many couples dealing with infertility, adopting a child seems nothing less than wonderful – a life-giving choice.
Unfortunately, many women facing an unplanned pregnancy, along with others in their lives, do not view adoption so positively.
“One of the greatest challenges before us is to change women’s perception of adoption as being a bad choice,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said in a Jan. 24 homily in Washington during this year’s National Prayer Vigil for Life. He chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“As much as we might like to see the slogan ‘Adoption, not Abortion’ embraced by women facing an unwanted pregnancy, studies suggest that in pitting adoption against abortion, adoption will be the hands-down loser,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
The U.S. Catholic bishops said in a 2009 document that “the church strongly supports adoption as a wonderful way to build a family.”
Titled “Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology,” the document affirmed that “those who cannot conceive or bear a child who want to consider adoption should receive every assistance and support so this process can be successfully completed in ways that respect the dignity of everyone involved.”
The bishops viewed adopting a child as “a gift to the child who receives a new family, to the new parents who receive a child to love and to raise, and to the biological parents who, in self-sacrificing love, have done all they can to provide their son or daughter with a good home and a bright future.”
Moreover, the bishops said, adoption “benefits society by contributing to a culture of life in which the inherent dignity of every child is recognized.”
Nonetheless, a challenge today for those hoping to change public attitudes of support for abortion is to change “attitudes toward adoption,” Cardinal O’Malley stated in Washington.
“Less than 1 percent of women with an unwanted pregnancy opt to place their child with an adoptive family,” the cardinal said. Apparently, part of the reason is the expectant mother’s concern that her child might suffer in an adoptive family.
Given this apprehension, she may turn to abortion.
Cardinal O’Malley told Prayer Vigil for Life participants that “with almost 100 abortions for every adoption, we have so much more work to do.”
Couples Who Adopt
In his 2010 book “Longing to Love,” theologian Tim Muldoon tells how he and his wife adopted two children internationally. At first cool to the idea of adoption personally, he’d grown over time into “the conviction that adoption was part of our calling as a couple.”
Part of the larger story told by Muldoon involves the profound desire he and his wife had for children. The couple’s struggle with infertility ultimately led them to conclude they never would become “parents through pregnancy.”
Initially, Muldoon could not “fathom becoming a parent through adoption.” But after he and his wife adopted their first child, he “was so enthralled by the experience that [he] couldn’t imagine not repeating it.”
Heidi Schlumpf tells of the experience she and her husband had with adoption in “While We Wait: Spiritual and Practical Advice for Those Trying to Adopt.”
A couple’s decision to adopt often comes, “as it did in Edmund’s and my case, after months or years of infertility problems, miscarriage or other pregnancy difficulties,” wrote Schlumpf, known to many as a longtime Catholic journalist. She speaks of beginning their “adoption journey having barely healed from the grief of infertility.”
Yet, they realize that choosing life is this journey’s authentic focus. “It all starts with a desire for new life. Having been loved ourselves and having loved each other,” she and her husband wanted “to share that love with someone else — a child.”
But the thinking of many experiencing an unplanned pregnancy appears to contrast sharply with the excited hopes of couples like these hoping to adopt.
“Too many Americans see abortion as a necessary evil,” Cardinal O’Malley said in his Washington homily.
He cited a study by the Vitae Caring Foundation titled “The Least of Three Evils — Understanding the Psychological Dynamics of How Women Feel About Abortion.” The foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, focuses on the sanctity of human life.
The “three evils” mentioned in the study’s title involve the way many facing an unplanned pregnancy evaluate their options of carrying the child to term, placing the child for adoption or aborting the child.
“Tragically,” the cardinal said, “adoption is seen as the most evil of the three options. … A woman worries about her child being mistreated. … She would perceive herself as a bad mother, one who gave her own child away to strangers.”
Cardinal O’Malley observed that “basically the woman desperately wants a sense of resolution to her crisis, and in her mind adoption leaves the situation the most unresolved, with uncertainty and guilt for as far as she can see.”
It is necessary today both to educate Americans about abortion’s impact on women and to change attitudes toward adoption, the cardinal suggested.
“Obviously,” he said, “we must never abandon our commitment to the unborn child, a precious human being made in the image and likeness of God.” However, he continued, it is necessary to focus more than has been done “on the woman in crisis. We must listen with empathy to be able to communicate the Gospel of Life.”
“Being champions of the Gospel of Life is about building a civilization of love,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.