By Joyce Bahr
Anti adoptee rights opponents of the 1996 Tennessee open records legislation claimed the new law would increase abortions and decrease adoptions. They argued women would rather abort than bear children and place them for adoption if they knew the children could later find them. A court battle ensued and the open records statute was upheld by both the Tennessee Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The claims of the plantiffs were disproven.
Proponents of open records were able to show statistical comparisons of adoptions and abortions over time and between different states, proving open records do not increase the number of abortions. Data recorded in states with open records also indicate that the number of adoptions has not decreased. Current data from states that have opened their records since 1997 demonstrate no increase in abortions.
A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives” concludes that the decision to abort is typically motivated by multiple, diverse and interrelated factors. The themes of responsibility to others and limitations such as financial constraints and lack of partner support recurred throughout the study.
Many Christians are concerned about abortion and its relation to poverty, according to a 2005 article in the New York Times entitled “One More “’Moral Value’: Fighting Poverty.” Glen E. Stassen, a professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, said his students who were largely conservative, agreed poverty should be a part of the moral value discussion.
“A lot of Christians who are worried about abortion see poverty as a pro-life issue, because if you undermine the safety net for poor mothers, you’ll increase the abortion rate and the mortality rate”. Dr. Stassen said, “We’ve seen this happen since welfare reform, just as the Catholic bishops predicted.” The welfare reform Dr. Stassen is referring to was enacted in the 1990’s and was referred to as a “Baby Cap” by the Catholic Bishops.
Dr. Stassen, like most Christian leaders, does not explicitly link unsealing birth certificates to an increase in abortion rates among poor women. Yet the National Council for Adoption, an anti adoptee rights opponent of unsealing birth certificates, continues in its unsubstantiated claim that providing adoptees unfettered access to their original birth certificates will necessarily result in more women choosing abortion. The NCFA also claims birth parents were given a right to privacy which they were not. Women signed only surrender papers terminating their parental rights and no court ever afforded them a right to privacy.
Not all Christians oppose abortion and many Christians support adoptee rights to original birth certificates. The National Council for Adoption mistakenly conflates abortion with adoptee rights and thereby arrives at a false hypothesis that denies adoptees their birthright. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany supports the New York Bill of Adoptee Rights which gives all adoptees at age eighteen a right to a noncertified copy of their original birth certificate and has a contact preference option for birth parents.
Historically, many churches have been insensitive to the needs of adoptees and birth parents. A birth mother’s breach of the Judeo-Christian norm in having a child out of wedlock was seen, prima facie, as requiring the permanent separation of the mother and her baby. It was not understood during this dark time, now referred to as the “Baby Scoop Era,” how this separation caused profound harm to both parties. Even today, religious organizations operate adoption agencies that perpetuate the closed adoption system, hindering reunions and withholding basic information from adoptees about their birth.
Adoption is not a reproductive issue and the abortion issue is irrelevant to the adoptee’s quest for the fundamental right to know who they are and where they came from. The evidence is in. Unsealing adoption records does not lead to an increase in abortion. In fact, those states which have opened their records enjoy a lower rate of abortion than those where records remain sealed! It is simply not the case that adoptees are causing abortions by demanding their birthright. It is past due time to unseal birth certificates!