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Why People Choose Abortion Over Adoption

I was recently involved in a discussion about a sperm donor (or his estate, if I recall correctly, but it isn't important) being sued by a lesbian couple to whom he had donated his sperm. A child was born, the child was adopted by the lesbian couple, the male donor's estate was sued for money.

The knee-jerk reaction to this kind of case seems to be that it is wrong to view the natural parent as having any obligation to support the child once the child has been adopted by another. But that knee-jerk reaction is, in my view, wrong.

Parents have an unbreakable and permanent natural law obligation to provide for their children. Adoption is one way to provide when the natural parent is unable to do so directly: it is a mercy available for the sake of an otherwise impoverished child. In adopting a child, another person or persons take on a parallel parental responsibility.

But adoption cannot break or in any way impair a natural parent's obligation. If a man gives up his child for adoption because he wants to party and doesn't want the responsibility, he has done a wicked thing. If the adoptive parents fall on hard times and can no longer provide, or if the natural parent comes into means, then the natural parent has a moral obligation to provide.

This doesn't mean that the natural parent would be in the right to attempt to take the child back: that would only be the case if it was in fact best for the child to be taken back as opposed to simply getting outside support in her present circumstances. If the adoptive family is a healthy place for the child to be, then the natural parent may have an obligation to keep his nose out of it and write checks. Deal with it, Dad: you fathered the child.

I think this unbreakable natural law obligation is one of those things that we can't not know, at least at some level. This in turn drives people to choose abortions: they know that once they've brought a child into the world, that child forever has legitimate claim to their support; and that nothing can break this obligation.

And what more efficient way to deal with an unwanted creditor than to kill her?

Comments (19)

Of course, the clear implication of all this is that a man is responsible for his every act of sexual congress, no matter how squalid or impersonal. This, indeed, is how even John Calvin (the very farthest thing from a Catholic Christian) interpreted Scripture on the matter of what is called "birth control" (mainly the story of Onan).

Allan Carlson has a fine essay on the early Reformers attitudes on this subject that is illuminating and instructive.

Surprisingly, I don't know if I'd agree, here, Zippy.

I'm quite sure that, as a matter of prudent public policy, adoption should be treated as much as possible as equivalent to natural parenthood. (Lesbian couples shouldn't be allowed to adopt, but that's a different matter.) There are many reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that treating adoption legally as on a par with natural parenthood is best for both parents and children and encourages adoption of children who desperately need it.

Now, treating adoption as equivalent to natural parenthood in law has many facets, and we can't afford to drop the balls on this. For example, I think it is misguided to allow adoptive children (I speak as an adopted child) to make contact with their birth mothers without the birth mothers' consent. This sort of "forced open adoption" which has been advocated lately is undermining to adoption and makes women less willing to place their children for adoption. And, as you say, unfortunately the upshot is likely to be that the children are aborted, though sometimes they end up in the never-ending limbo of foster care. The flip-side is that birth mothers should not be able, without the consent of the adoptive parents, to push themselves into the children's lives and start interfering in the adoptive parents' raising of the child.

Another area of public policy where I would advocate adoption as opposed to the rights and responsibilities of natural parents concerns unmarried fathers. I think it is best, draconian though it may seem, if an unwed mother has the right to place her child for adoption over the objections of the father, _unless_ the father is both able, suitable, and willing to assume full custody of the child. This used to be the legal situation but has changed. The uniform laws of most states now require only that the natural father have made "some attempt to make contact with" or "connect with" the child or something vague like that and that he say that he is willing (even if he is not able or would obviously be unsuitable) to take partial custody, and the mother is blocked from placing the child for adoption. This set-up allows men to say, "I won't let you place the baby for adoption" as a way of pressuring the woman to abort. In my own case it was a great mercy that my biological father was unable to do a thing to block my being placed for adoption, though he tried to pressure my birth mother to raise me for him. I think he regarded raising one of his illegitimate children as a great privilege for a woman. (It's quite a story.)

Now, what all this means is that, if natural parent's _privileges_ are going to be constrained in this way in law, it will not be either just or feasible to retain their _responsibilities_. If you say to a woman, "You give up all rights in this child, but at any time if you come into money and end up better off than the adoptive parents, they can demand that you contribute to the child's upbringing," she will be highly unlikely to place the child for adoption. Nowhere is it more true than in law that privilege and responsibility come linked, and that actually makes a certain amount of sense.

And consider, too: We don't want the fact of an adoption to involve the state ad infinitum in deciding what is the most healthy place for the child to be. This is the difference between adoption and foster care, which is by its nature temporary and under the overarching custody of the state. Adoption is legally permanent, and adoptive parents cannot lose custody any more easily than can a couple who bore the child and brought it home from the hospital, which is as it should be. If the adoptive family is to be treated (as it is very important it should be) with as much deference legally as the natural family, we absolutely cannot have the state coming in and saying, "Hmmm. Shall we tell the natural dad to stay out and write checks, shall we give the child back to him, or shall we just insist that he have visitation privileges?" That would be an entirely undesirable invasion of the adoptive family, and of a sort that non-adoptive families are not subjected to.

Lydia: I actually agree with most or all of your points as a regulatory matter, and even to some extent as a moral matter. I think a parent is entitled to presume (having done proper diligence) that adoptive parents will provide, and isn't obligated per se to maintain an "open adoption" as epistemic insurance.

At issue is the natural parent's moral obligations when he knows of his child's need and has means to provide for it. What the state does in the context of this kind of moral obligation is a prudential judgement; but the moral obligation itself couldn't be more clear. When his child is in distress and he doesn't know it that is I suppose one test case: but one can't have a moral obligation to do something about a situation one literally does not know about and isn't obligated to know about, so even that case strikes me as being fairly straightforward.

Now, what all this means is that, if natural parent's _privileges_ are going to be constrained in this way in law, it will not be either just or feasible to retain their _responsibilities_.

What I am saying is that the parent has a natural obligation which cannot be eliminated, no matter what anyone ever does, period. The relationship between natural law and positive law is not straightforward in my view: the positive law is neither required to enforce every principle of natural law in some way nor is it excused from conformance to natural law (that is, it is powerless to compel when what it compels violates the natural law). But as far as the father's (and mother's) moral obligation to provide support goes, it can never, in my view, be abdicated. Even in a case where one is ignorant of an obligation or powerless to carry out an obligation the obligation still lies in wait for the time when one knows and has the ability; and one incurs a further obligation to seek the ability when one knows. And I do think people understand this on some level.

I understand you better, Zippy. Sorry for having jumped to incorrect conclusions. I think that what you're saying, then, would be consistent with a dismissal of the suit against the sperm donor, as that is a matter of public policy. The child, of course, may not actually be in destitution so as to need the money (in fact, with a pair of lesbian "mothers," it's unlikely), so the donor may in fact not have much of a moral obligation, either. And in my opinion it is...crass of the women to adopt the child and then try to get a chunk 'o' change out of the biological father. It looks distinctly like they are on the make, on its face anyway.

But with all of this you may well agree.

I would just add in connection with your title that I think a lot of women choose abortion over adoption for a reason related to what you mention but far less explicit: They know that they would think and wonder about the child if they let it live, because they would have a feeling of connection to it. They believe (falsely, in some cases) that if they have the child killed they will obtain "closure" and not have to think and wonder about the child anymore. There is, relatedly, a bizarre notion that it would be more irresponsible to have the child and place it for adoption than to kill it, an idea that one is wimping out on one's responsibilities by placing a baby for adoption. This kind of weird false conscience seems to me an instance of what J. Budzizsewski (sp?) calls "the revenge of conscience"--people do not so much quell their consciences as pervert them.

I think that what you're saying, then, would be consistent with a dismissal of the suit against the sperm donor, as that is a matter of public policy.

Yes (though it would be consistent with the other outcome as well). I am trying to make a moral point, from which public policy may well follow but not necessarily in a straightforward manner.

I agree with you that the State requiring all adoptions to be "open" would probably not best serve the needs of the children in question, and the needs of the children in question should be the driver of policy given that the natural parents are unable to meet them and have voluntarily given the child up for the purpose of having her needs met. (In Zippystan there would be no lesbian adoptions, no sperm donations, no IVF of any kind, and there might not be any voluntary adoptions without financial support stipulated in the legalities in the case where the natural parents are perfectly capable of providing it).

In Zippystan there would be no lesbian adoptions, no sperm donations, no IVF of any kind

Yes, I was going to point out that the difficulties under discussion were caused by a wickedness that preceded them. And yet those difficulties could apply to a "normal" sort of adoption: Welfare mother puts kid up for adoption; she later meets with good fortune while those of the adoptive parents decline. So even in Zippystan (the advent of which I long for) the problem doesn't necessarily go away.

I was wondering if the fact that we are sons of God after the spirit and not the flesh could be used to nullify that natural law obligation should circumstances demand it. In other words, does that obligation have limits?

I would definitely urge the rulers of Zippystan :-) to reconsider the financial stipulation requirement for adoptions. I could go into a big spiel about why, but it might seem silly as our running a country is hypothetical. Suffice it to say that I'm strongly of the opinion that a clean break in the case of adoption is best for the child and for the adoptive parents. This needn't preclude the child's and birth mother's later making contact with each other where both are agreeable, but that should be (IMO) after the child is firmly entrenched in adulthood. And it would not be feasible to have a continued monitoring of the respective financial situations of the families without, in essence, treating the whole thing like a long-term child-support situation, which isn't really best. The present system in the case of closed adoptions makes a good deal of sense: The adoptive mother gives up the joy and satisfaction of contact with the child and any authority or say in raising it; she also does not have legal responsibility to support the child financially. The adoptive parents voluntarily accept both the joys and the responsibilities of making the child in every sense they possibly can, and recognized by law as such, their own. If their fortunes go down, they don't go running after another adult who is outside their family to demand money. The family survives together as best it can, as in the case of a natural family.

I guess I am more thinking about before the fact as opposed to after the fact, and I haven't settled on the final positive rules for my domain >8-]. I don't think a parent ought to be able to "divorce" a child at all unless it is absolutely necessary -- that is, unless the parent really cannot care for the child. There should (at least in an idealized case) be significant material penalty of some kind as well as damages awarded attached to doing so (or attempting to do so) without cause. It is somewhat (though poorly) analogous to no-fault divorce: one ought not be legally permitted to abandon one's child without cause just as one ought not be legally permitted to abandon one's spouse without cause.

And I do think that some obligation carries on when that cause goes away: when the parent becomes able to provide support. Though it may not be prudent for the state to pursue enforcement of that particular moral obligation for various reasons.

Yes, I think that's a place of real difference between us: I regard placing a child, particularly as an infant at birth before it has formed a strong emotional attachment to its birth mother, for adoption as overwhelmingly different from a divorce. It can rather be a very real way of providing for the child and, in particular, providing a father and a married parent couple as parents for the child. If a woman has committed a sin in the form of fornication, she may very well not want the child's biological father to raise the child (or even, for that matter, to know where the child is located!). It might be positively wrong for the biological parents to marry each other. Yet it is best for the child to have a father and mother, married to each other. An adoptive couple can provide the normal and God-intended form of the family for the child when the mother--however repentant--cannot. Material provision is really only one small part of the issue. Giving up a child for adoption is by no means de facto a form of abandonment.

It's worth noting that adoption was _easier_ in set-up forty years ago and that all or most of the difficulties with it--biological fathers who block it, children dragged back by court order from adoptive parents because a bio-father sues, court records opened against the birth mother's wishes--have arisen more recently, as it happens, in the age of no-fault divorce. The view I'm expressing according to which placing a child for adoption is (or can be) an act of love, adoptions should be closed, etc., is what you might call the "more traditional" view.

I regard placing a child, particularly as an infant at birth before it has formed a strong emotional attachment to its birth mother, for adoption as overwhelmingly different from a divorce.

I appreciate the points, and I did say that they are poorly analogous. But I definitely don't believe in "no fault" or arbitrary adoption. Perhaps at this point we are disagreeing, or perhaps we are simply discussing the circumstances under which adoption is justifiable.

Yes, I don't know if we're disagreeing either. It would depend on what you mean(t) by a phrase like "really cannot provide for the child." I tend to think that the vast majority of cases in which adoption takes place now in the U.S. are far from arbitrary and that many children would be better off if their unwed mothers had placed them for adoption at birth rather that raising them alone. But I also think that the non-material things the mother is unable to provide in these cases--a stable home life, a two-parent male-female-headed family, freedom from government interference in the family and custody struggles (far more likely in the case of unwed mothers)--are usually even more important than her sheer poverty.

Even in the "bad old days" of the Victorian era when people would do what seem to me (and I'm sure to you) like crazy things--a poor mother giving up her seven-year-old child to a rich woman who is unable to have children--the move was not simply an arbitrary attempt to get rid of the child. The poor woman, however misguided, actually believed she was "doing what was best" for the child. Of course, by that age, the child was torn, hurt, and disoriented and felt terribly abandoned by the move. So I think it was a terribly wrong-headed thing to do. (Trivia bit: Agatha Christie's mother was adopted formally by her rich aunt at some age like ten years old. The aunt couldn't have children and asked Agatha's grandmother, a semi-impoverished widow with three boys and a girl, for one of her children to raise. Agatha's mother, Clarissa, always believed that she was given up because her mother loved her less than the boys, though this may well not have been true.)

But I find it difficult to think of any cases I know of or have heard of where women placed their child for adoption in a purely arbitrary fashion where no remotely plausible case could be made that this was best for the child. This is probably because giving up your child, even at birth, is traumatic for the mother. It's more likely that an unwed mother will keep her baby and struggle to raise it with no father in the offing when this is probably not best than that she will give it up when this is not best. Of course it's possible to have bad motives for doing the right thing. A woman may indeed have an "abandonment mindset" towards her baby, but it is usually then also the case that the child is better off adopted, sometimes for material reasons, very often because the mother is unwed, and often because she is not psychologically capable of raising the child well.

A woman may indeed have an "abandonment mindset" towards her baby, but it is usually then also the case that the child is better off adopted, sometimes for material reasons, very often because the mother is unwed, and often because she is not psychologically capable of raising the child well.

Even more good discussion. All I would really add to it off the cuff is that in the idealized case - that is, where reality reflects what is morally good but which it may not be possible or prudent to reflect in positive law** - the child (not the adoptive parents, the child) would retain claims to the natural parent's future material support, if and when that capacity materializes.

** It is my understanding that moral reality always has to be kept in view when legislating; that is, that the good legislator, when he chooses to set aside a consideration like this - to set aside the permanence of the natural parent's material obligation to support his or her child - will ideally be doing so on purpose and with reflection, and that that reflection will be entered into the record.

This is probably getting very OT, but in my understanding the positive law is like the roads the public authority chooses to build across the moral landscape. Positivism w.r.t. the law (or anything else) is fundamentally the same thing as postmodernism in that it denies (functionally or actually) an underlying nature or landscape beyond what is put formally into words, or built into roads and buildings, or whatever. Think of Daniel Libeskind's postmodern architecture.

So in this discussion I don't think we are disagreeing so much as I am focusing on the landscape and you are talking about what roads ought to be built across that landscape.

I find this analysis too abstract and not representative of the real-life situation of "why people choose abortion over adoption."

True, finances provides a motive to have an abortion. To the extent this motive affects people on a macroscale, I cannot say.

But on an individual level, I will say this...I've known two people who confided in me that they had abortions. For both, finances, inheritance, monetary creditor played absolutely no role in their decision.

For both, it appeared that time was the resource they lacked, not money. Selfishly or not, they felt they did not have the time to put their careers on hold and raise their children. It's not that they didn't want children (i.e., permanent creditors), they just didn't want them THEN.

True, finances provides a motive to have an abortion.

Well, I realize that the examples in the post and the discussion are mainly financial in nature, but it isn't my intention to reduce parental obligation to a financial matter. A parent has the natural obligation to provide for his child - not merely financially, but in terms of everything required for a healthy childhood and even adulthood, including especially being raised lovingly by one's natural parents -- including suborning career goals both short term and long, which are not ends in themselves.

This plays over into divorce and annulment too. In many quarters the moral theology phrase "natural obligations to children" is used as if it were code for "child support" (that is, the financial kind). But "child support" is just the barest beginning of what every parent naturally owes to his children through unseverable bonds of obligation; and on some level everyone knows it.

I wandered my way over hear to read really expecting that I would find a discussion that turned my stomache and hurt my soul. Plesantly surprised, rather, while some points were off, this has been most intreresting, thoughtful and I find myself knodding my head on more than a few points.
The discussion is actually undesearving of such a title for a post.
That said, you are actually very close to the truth of adoption as a horriific and a trauma inducing, life altering act. One that I might add affects both mother AND child, no matter how wonderful the adoptive parents might be.

I recognize that this discussion is over a year old, but if you would like to know more from the people that have actually lived though the adoption expereince, such as myself, a mother who relinquished a child, please
I think you might find it interesting. Thank you.


I agreee i am doing an assighnment in class about abortion which everybody got there own but i chose abortion and having a very difficult time because so many people have so many different ideas on wether its good or bad.Thinking about it. I just don't think i could live with myself if i were to walk up into to an abortionist's office and kill an inisent child. its cruel. Now you have no way of knowing what that child could have become. he/or she could have become famous,become president,become a lawyer done somthing amazing and you took its one and only chance to make more of life. God has a plan for everyone and if he put a sacrete child in someone stomach he had a reason.

I'm amazed by the unmitigated bias against MEN in your article. The term Dad is mentioned throughout without "once" referring to what MOM's (the birth mother's) obligation would be if her birthchild, that she'd placed for adoption, fell on hard times and needed financial support. Of course, it's so much easier to go after Dad, and far more politically correct. The Birth Father doesn't always even have a say in whether the birth mother keeps, or relinquishes, a baby. YET, when money becomes an issue the Birth Father is the first person this inequitable society falls upon. What ever happened to the notion, RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES - if you have no Rights, you should have no Responsiblity. I'm both a grandfather, and a Men's Rights advocate, and as I've told my married daughter - "I'f you ever separate from your husband, and try to treat him in the unfair manner with regard to the children, like I've seen from to many mother's (including her own, my ex) I will come down like a ton of bricks on the side of my son-in-law and use every ounce of evergy and financial resource to see HE gains custody. Knowing this has, I think, made my daughter think through her decisions much more thoroughly.

Abortion is WRONG!!! You have to pay to play. I do not see how people can walk into an abortion clinic and destroy a part of themselves! They should be thankful for the blessing God has given them. Also, I understand financial difficulties, and yes adoption is an option for those people who just cannot do it, but I wouldn't be able to. But for all you women who ever consider abortion, I am sickened!

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