One more reason the term is “anti-choice”

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, July 28, 2011 12:37 EDT
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Today at Alternet, I have a list of ten realities about abortion that anti-choicers deny, and should be made to answer for if you're unfortunate enough to get into an argument with one.  But there's one anti-choice myth I left off the list, because they tend to argue this a little more internally than externally.  Externally, they talk about adoption only in terms of making it "easier"—which pro-choicers tend to agree with because who wants to be seen as anti-adoption?—but there's rarely any specifics trotted out.  The ugly truth is that adoption is about as easy as it can get for birth mothers.  If you have a healthy white infant you're giving away, you can get people to take it. What anti-choicers are alluding to with this is their assumption that the number of healthy white infants available for adoption plummeted in the 70s because of legalized abortion.  When they say "easier", I think they generally mean "easier for those that would strong-arm pregnant women into the adoption system".

The truth of why the number of healthy white infants on the adoption market plummeted is far more complex than "women just started having abortions instead".  I mean, I'm sure that's part of it; the existence of legal abortion especially allows pregnant teenagers to go to their parents, when in the past, the illegality of it often drove women from seeking that kind of support system.  But what really laid waste to the supply of healthy white infants was the winding down of the coercive adoption system, where pregnant teenagers and young women were channeled into maternity homes, where they were treated like criminals in a halfway house and where doctors and maternity home staff would often go as far as tying laboring girls to the table so that the girls felt they had no choice but to sign away parental rights in order to obtain their freedom.  Often, to juice the deal, the staff would snatch the baby away so the mother couldn't even see it, raising the sense that she really has no choice but to give it up.

I think blaming abortion rights for the end of this is mixing up the causal link.  I think the end of this system and the beginning of abortion rights are both the results of a common cause, which is that society stopped seeing women who engage in premarital sex as moral criminals, and enthusiasm for legal and extralegal punishments for women who have sex dissipated.  We don't really have an idea what the pre- and post-Roe abortion rates look like, but what we do know is that the rate of single  motherhood climbed as the adoption rate declined, indicating that women were using their newfound right to be a free, sexually active person in all sorts of ways.  Anti-choicers assume that criminalizing abortion will flood the adoption market with healthy white infants again, but I'm skeptical.  People in the past thought force was necessary to keep the supply high, and I see no evidence that they were wrong. 

Anyway, I bring this up because the Catholic Church has apologized to the 150,000 women who were forced to give up their babies under this extralegal system of punishment for sexually active single women.  Some of the statements from the victims are heart-breaking:

Juliette Clough is one of the women who says she was forced to give up her baby at a Catholic-run hospital in Newcastle in 1970.

She was 16 at the time and says she was alone, afraid and desperate.

"My ankles were strapped to the bed, they were in stirrups and I was gassed, I had plenty of gas and they just snatched away the baby," Ms Clough said.

"You weren't allowed to see him or touch him, anything like that, or hold him and it was just like a piece of my soul had died. And it's still dead"

Margaret had a similar experience when her son was taken against her will in 1975, when she was 17.

"Straight away he was taken out of the labour ward. By the records it only took 13 minutes to transfer him from the labour ward to the nursery, so he was gone," she said. 

The women claim they were not told about single parent benefits or their rights to revoke consent for adoption.

Clare had two babies forcibly adopted.

She says the infants were like products, procured for couples deemed more suitable to raise them.

"I think it was almost like a machine or, you know I don't like the terminology but, a factory in that it was so well lubricated."

The whole apology was prompted by an ABC investigation and a Senate inquiry, where statements were taken from women who were also drugged and stifled with pillows so they couldn't fight back.  

This is a good first step, but I think that as important as this is in Australia, we also need to have a similar airing-out of the past in the U.S., where exactly the same thing went on. People are afraid to talk about this—and about the continuing problem of coercion in international adoptions—because there's always the fear of doing damage to the families who were formed through these methods.  And I get that, I really do.  But that desire has to be balanced with a commitment to the truth.  Additionally, people cannot form fully informed opinions on reproductive rights without this history.  Once you realize that anti-choicers have historically not just worked to suppress abortion rights but also to compel non-consenting adoptions, you really see how the movement isn't "pro-life" at all, but just about controlling female sexuality, using childbirth as punishment for fornicators and reducing babies to tokens that are taken from the "undeserving" and handed to those who appear to be following the rules by being straight and married. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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