Supporting the Life Choice
How Adoption Can Be An Alternative To Abortion
Family North Carolina Magazine
By R. Matthew Lytle, Ph.D.
Kelly got pregnant as an unmarried 18-year-old. During her time at the maternity home, she met with several counselors who listed her options for her unborn child. For any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy today, the legal options are to abort, parent, or make an adoption plan for her child. Kelly’s pro-life leanings meant that abortion was not an option. When faced with the choice of either parenting the child or placing him for adoption, Kelly thought the decision would be an easy one: to parent.
Through continued counseling, Kelly started to consider the options presented to her. Her counselors suggested that she seriously consider all the optionsnot thinking just about herself, but also about her child. As she started to see her life through her son’s eyes, Kelly began to understand that she would have to work full time in order to provide for her child. The possibility of rotating boyfriends would not be the best atmosphere for her son. She also began to realize that a string of bad decisions had gotten her pregnant. She could not bear to make similar bad decisions for her child. In the end, Kelly chose to make an adoption plan for her son, describing her decision this way: “I can look my child in the eye one day and tell him that I made the best decision for him as his mother.”
The Current Landscape
Unfortunately, Kelly’s decision to choose adoption is not a common one. According to Child Trends, the teen birth rate in the United States “increased in 2006 for the first time in 15 years,” totaling 441,832 births, a five percent increase over the previous year.1 Of these births, 84 percent occurred outside of wedlock. In North Carolina, there were 14,931 births to mothers under 202 out of 127,646 total births in 2006,3 meaning that 12 percent of all births in North Carolina were to mothers less than 20 years of age. Of these births, 83 percent occurred out of wedlock.4
In addition to these births, 4,541 of the almost 30,000 abortions in North Carolina in 2006 were performed on women under age 20; 146 of these abortions were performed on girls age 1014.5 In other words, over 15 percent of the abortions performed in North Carolina were performed on teen and pre-teen girls. Furthermore, over 23 percent of all pregnancies to girls under 20 in North Carolina ended in abortion.
Planned Parenthood notes, “More than 50 years ago, 95 percent of unmarried teen mothers placed their child for adoption,” but that “[t]oday, only two or three of every 100 teen pregnancies lead to births for which the mother makes an adoption plan.”6 The main reason for this dramatic decline in adoption is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973.7 Roe overturned laws from individual states that either outlawed or restricted abortions, arguing that such restrictions were a violation of a woman’s right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Because Roe made abortion legal and because abortion providers make getting abortions alarmingly easy, abortion has replaced adoption as a pregnant teen’s first choice. Even so, pro-life advocates have fought to overturn Roe since the Supreme Court’s decision. Much of this fight has come through legislation and demonstration. Legislation such as informed-consent and parental notification and consent laws have helped to fight abortion by making it more difficult for teensand indeed any woman facing an unplanned pregnancyto rush into having an abortion. Demonstration-based approaches to fighting abortion are also effective. Campaigns such as “40 Days for Life” and “Life Chain” help to fight abortion at the grassroots level. Pregnancy Resource Centers personally counsel women faced with unplanned pregnancies with the hope that these women choose life for their children. While all of these efforts are effective, the numbers show that thousands of teens in North Carolina still choose to abort their unborn children.
Why Birth Mothers Do Not Place for Adoption
Since most teen pregnancies occur outside of marriage, teens are often left without a support structure for raising a child. Many pregnant teens believe that they lack the resources to continue the pregnancy. According to Karen Bomgardner, director of client services for LifeCare Pregnancy Center in Raleigh, many girls say, “‘I can’t afford a child right now. I can go out and have an abortion for this price,’ but as far as placing for adoption, they still feel like there’s medical care involved.”8 Bomgardner goes on to describe some myths associated with teen pregnancy finances: “Some of the clients have been told that they have to pay to place for adoption, and they don’t have enough money to pay a person to adopt their child.”
Furthermore, many teen mothers are either in high school or college. A pregnancy often means that the mother must drop out of school. Child Trends offers the following description of teenage motherhood: “The problems that teen mothers face are well documented. Teen mothers are more likely than other young women to drop out of school, remain unmarried, and become single parents, and to live in poverty and rely on public assistance.”9 While the report acknowledges that there are usually factors that existed in these teenagers’ lives prior to pregnancy, “teen parenthood seems to perpetuate many of these burdens.”10
Before a teen must face motherhood, she must also face the pregnancy. Her body undergoes tremendous changes over an extended period of time. In most of these situations, there is no husband, and the boyfriend is often long gone. Allison Brame, Maternity Care Coordinator for the Warren County Health Department, describes most of her clients as “teenage to young adult. The majority of them are high school dropouts and unemployed.”11 Because of this situation, many of them have “been in the welfare system their whole life,” as are their mothers and grandmothers.
Abortion: Many girls in this situation believe abortion will be the easiest way out of the situation. “The best way I can say it, is that someone who is choosing abortion is trying to turn back the hands of time and act as if this never happened,” says Deborah Wood, CEO of Asheville Pregnancy Support Services. “But the reality is that you cannot undo a decision. The choice is already made, the result has already happened. The consequence is not going to go away.”12
Even so, pregnant girls in this situation believe that abortion is a convenient and painless way to end the pregnancy without anyone knowing. Tom Strowd, executive director of LifeCare Pregnancy Center in Raleigh, NC, says, “Our studies show ... there are aftereffects for women who have an abortiona multitude of things: guilt, anger, [and] grief.” Indeed, studies do confirm Strowd’s assertion, demonstrating that abortion can lead to several physical and psychological side-effects for the mother. Immediate physical complications can include cervical injury, abnormal bleeding, pelvic infection, perforated uterus, blood clots, incomplete abortion, and even death. There are also several long-term physical effects associated with abortion: premature births in later pregnancies, placenta previa, and possibly breast cancer. More troubling are the psychological effects that many studies link to abortion: depression, a specific form of post-traumatic stress disorder known as post-abortion syndrome, substance abuse, and even suicide.13
Parenting: Not every pregnant teenager chooses abortion, however, as evidenced by the 14,931 births to women under 20.14 Only 23 percent of these children will end up being adopted.15 The remaining 9798 percent of mothers decide to raise their children. According to Brame, the prevailing mindset of birth mothers is as follows: “If I’m going to carry this baby for nine months, I might as well keep it.” Woods adds, “There’s no woman who would tell you that she could carry her child for nine months, watch her body go though all those changes, give birth, and then it wouldn’t break her heart to hand that baby over to someone else.” Unfortunately, according to Wood, “they believe that by never having the baby in the first place, that it is less painful.”
Benefits of Adoption
Notwithstanding the prevailing attitude toward adoption, adoption actually yields benefits for all involved.
Children: The most obvious benefit for adopted children is that their right to life is respected. Instead of being killed in utero, these children are given a chance at life. In addition, adoption gives these children the opportunity to thrive.
A Child Trends study reported that children born to young mothers exhibited more developmental problems than children born to older mothers. Specifically, the research found that “children born to mothers aged 17 and younger performed significantly worse on math, reading, and general knowledge tests and teacher assessments than children born to mothers aged 20 and older.”16
Similarly, children raised by younger mothers “scored lower on five out of six teacher and direct assessments,”17 were more likely “to be impulsive or overactive and to suffer from anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, or sadness,”18 and “had fewer fine motor skills than children of mothers aged 20 and older and lower ratings of overall health than children of mothers aged 2229.”19
The research found that the major factor in the children’s development was not the mother’s age, but her life situation. The research indicates that “the analyses show that part of the reason children of teen mothers begin kindergarten behind in several areas is because of their family’s social and lower economic status and a likelihood of being in a single-parent household.”20
Birth Mothers: While most birth mothers cannot imagine placing a child for adoption, adoption gives young mothers a chance to get their lives in order. By not devoting all their resources to caring for a child, girls can focus on getting an education and work on getting themselves out of or avoiding poverty.
Mothers who choose adoption also save themselves from having to endure the damaging effects of abortion. From the experiences of the Raleigh LifeCare staff, Strowd indicates that women who have an abortion face a “doubly devastating effect.” According to Strowd, “[F]or a woman carrying a childit’s part of what that woman was created for, that nourishing and helping and caring. And so there’s not only been the loss that she will eventually deal with and agonize [over] and suffer, but there’s also the horror of realizing that she created the lossthat she was the one who caused it. It’s a double kind of loss.”
Choosing adoption allows mothers to look beyond themselves by placing the needs of their children above their own needs. “I don’t know if ‘hero’ is the right term, but it really takes a mother who has the interest of the child first and is willing to go through a lot of hardship to give her child what she can,” notes Emily Bellflower of New Life Christian Adoption. “It’s not a flippant decision, but it’s definitely the best to make.”21
An Alternative to Abortion
The unfortunate fact is that once a teenager becomes pregnant, her life will irrevocably change. There is no going back; sacrifice will necessarily be involved. The real question before the mother is who will sacrifice. This sacrifice will either be borne by both the mother and her child or primarily by the mother.
Adoption involves tremendous sacrifice on the part of the birth mother. It involves sacrifice in that the mother has to carry the child to term and then place the child in the care of a family that is better equipped to care for the child’s needs. When this happens, it gives the child a chance to have opportunities to thrive that he or she otherwise would not have. In addition, being raised by adoptive parents in a father-mother family gives the child an opportunity to break the realm of dependence on welfarehopefully breaking the cycle of poor choices that often lead to teen pregnancy.
In this way, adoption is a powerful weapon in the fight to end abortion. It is the chance to take teen pregnancy and redeem it so that all parties involved benefit. While this is the case, the fact remains that the vast majority of mothers do not choose to place their children for adoption.
The best way to change this is to educate birth mothers in order to help them understand the benefits of adoption. Bellflower believes that “one of the things that would help [birth mothers see adoption as a viable option] is if birth mothers were to speak out about their experience. … [I]f birth mothers could speak, and if there could somehow be some movement about adoption where people were just as educated about adoption as they are about abortion and understand that there is life after adoption, and even though it hurts to place your child, at least you know your child is okay.”
Kelly Pizzino, director of NewLife Christian Adoption, expressed her vision for adoption this way: “I hope that one day, adoption would be the new abortion. By that I mean that, when a girl gets pregnant, many times she thinks of abortion as her first option. I hope that one day, girls would begin to think of adoption first.”22
1. Child Trends, “Facts at a Glance” (July 2008), 1.
2. NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), “North Carolina Reported Pregnancies-2006.”.
3. State Center for Health Statistics NC Department of Health and Human Services, “Risk Factors and Characteristics for 2006 North Carolina Resident Live Births: All Mothers. <http://www.schs.state.nc.us/SCHS/births/matched/2006/all.html>. Accessed 11 November 2008.
4. Child Trends, “Facts,” 2.
5. NCDHHS, “Reported Pregnancies.”
6. <http://www.plannedparenthood.org/issues-action/sex-education/teen-pregnancy-6239.htm>. Accessed 11 November 2008.
7. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
8. Personal Interview, Karen ***. November ***, 2008.
9. Child Trends, “Playing Catch-Up: How Children Born to Teen Mothers Fare,” (January 2005), 1.
11. Personal Interview, Allison Brame, November ***, 2008.
12. Personal Interview, Deborah Wood, November ***, 2008.
13. Sim, Christina, “Woman’s Right to Know.” Findings ***
14. NCDHHS, “Reported Pregnancies.”
15. <http://www.schs.state.nc.us/SCHS/births/matched/2006/all.html>. Accessed 11 November 2008.
16. Child Trends, “Playing Catch-Up,” 2.
18. Ibid., 3.
20. Ibid., 24.
21. Personal Interview, Emily Bellflower, November ***, 2008.
22. Personal Interview, Kelly Pizzino, November 17, 2008.
R. Matthew Lytle, Ph.D., is a former director of research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.