I read an essay the other day which argued that adoption was not a matter of reproductive choice. Because adoption can only happen after childbirth, it--along with matters like access to health care, child care, etc.--simply couldn't be labelled a "reproductive issue." The author was trying to make a point about a first mother's right to privacy not being pertinent to the open records debate. But what stuck in my mind was her separation of voluntary relinquishment from other reproductive choices.
To me, reproductive choice is not just about preventing or terminating pregnancy. It's about choosing when and how you become a parent--which is only possible when we as a society support families' access to housing, health care, food, jobs and child care. If you are pregnant and feel like parenting isn't an option because you lack the support, then you don't have really have reproductive choice.
Parenting, adoption, and abortion are not equally valid options for every person. If a woman wants to parent but is struggling to figure out how to make that work, then talking about abortion or adoption doesn't make sense.* If a woman's personal convictions rule out terminating a pregnancy, then obviously abortion is not a valid option. If a woman does not want to carry a baby to term, then adoption isn't appropriate. But while each one may not be a valid choice for any particular woman, all three are equally important to maintaining women's reproductive freedom.
If planning an adoption is seen as a reproductive choice, then it must be available not just when a woman cannot parent, but when she chooses not to parent. I grow nervous when people argue that adoptions should only happen when a woman is deemed incapable of parenting. I see parallels in attempts to restrict abortion to cases of rape, incest, or medical necessity. Behind both seems to be the idea that abortion and relinquishment are morally reprehensible acts, that only certain women can be absolved of responsibility for them.
I think what makes me nervous is that such attitudes leave little room for a woman's agency in controlling her reproduction. There seems to be underlying assumption that women are incapable of understanding what they are doing, that others know what is best for them. I'm not saying that predatory adoption practices don't need to end, that unbiased counseling isn't vitally important, that women shouldn't consider parenting as part of planning an adoption, or that there aren't relinquishments that shouldn't have happened. It's just that I respect a woman's right to make a fully informed adoption plan, just as I support a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.** Neither choice should be sugar-coated, taken lightly or even encouraged. But they should be available.
What is tricky for me about upholding adoption as a choice is that the adopted person lives with the results of that decision their entire lives. I don't know how to factor that in, how to balance the trauma of adoption against women's rights.
This isn't coming out as clearly as I'd like. What it comes down to is that, for me, supporting access to abortion, family preservation programs and ethical adoption services is the same thing. It's supporting women in their reproductive choices. I am acutely aware that--as a woman with fertility problems--I will likely never face these choices myself. But a working reproductive system is the only difference between me and the women who do.
* I'm deliberately focusing on women, who ultimately bear the brunt of responsibility for these reproductive decisions.
** I hold this position as an evangelical Christian. No, really. But that is a discussion for another day.