Sunday, March 21, 2010

Political Pretzel: Twists in the Adoption and Abortion Debate

By Fran Cronin for Adopt-a-tude

Common to all deeply personal matters is the complicated thinking that gets wound around them. At this time in our country, there are few issues as fraught with knots as the political, cultural, and religious tension of the adoption versus abortion debate.

From the picketer on the street corner hoisting photos of fetuses to the blogger on the net challenging the moral intentions of our pro-life politicians, a battle wages for the right of a woman to choose whether or not to carry a conception to term.

But what about the sideline issues that are not so easy to sloganize?

I have yet to read a bumper sticker that addresses which babies are put up for adoption and how many actually get adopted; or, if abortion is not the solution, the importance of better education and access to birth control. If the goal is stopping unwanted pregnancies, why is preaching abstinence touted as the best solution for sexually active teens?

Like a hard and gnarly pretzel, the issues are so intertwined and morally charged that the questions raised don’t neatly sort out. They get mashed and crumble.

Before I get too deep, I want to state my position: I am the mother of an adopted child; I’m also a woman who had an abortion in her late twenties. I am thrilled my husband and I were able to adopt our son. I also feel the abortion I had was the best choice for all the right reasons.

My husband and I decided to adopt when I was no longer able to conceive yet wanted another child. The abortion I had when I was single, careless, and certainly not in a mindset to even think about bearing or caring for a child.

As a woman, wife, and mother, I have had the good fortune to act upon what I thought was best for me. With power to control my child bearing, I have created the family I want and a family I can care for.

Sadly, most women around the world, including many women in this country, cannot say the same.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau on “2007 Poverty Thresholds,” almost 14 million children under the age of 18 live in poverty. The hardships of poverty amplify when you factor in compromised or no access to quality health care, limited access to higher education, poor housing, enhanced risk to a spectrum of abuses, a perpetuation of poverty, and little recourse to unwanted pregnancies.

When you look beyond our borders, the numbers grow more alarming. Unicef reports that between the years 2000 and 2007, poverty was responsible for the death of almost 70 million children. No corner of the world was exempt.

For the women bearing these children, their fate is no better. According to the recent Unicef report, State of the World’s Children 2009, Maternal and Newborn Health:

“Having a child remains one of the biggest health risks for women worldwide. Fifteen hundred women die every day while giving birth. That's half a million mothers every year. The difference in pregnancy risk between women in developing countries and their peers in the industrialized world is often termed the greatest health divide in the world.”

Yet women’s bodies and the babies they bear continue to be the domain of politicians. When you look at the composition of Congress, that means they’re under the thumbs of a controlling bunch of aging white guys. Just think back on that sea of stony faces, panned by cameras while the President was delivering his recent State of the Union address.

For over two decades, from the time of Reagan through the Bush years, these guys had their way with the lives of women and their children. Using the Global Gag Rule introduced by the Reagan administration in 1984, Congress mandated that no foreign organizations receiving U.S. family planning assistance had the right to use their own non-U.S. funds to provide legal abortions, counsel or refer abortions, or lobby for the legalization of abortion in their country.

For those NGOs that refused to comply, the loss was not just in hard dollars. They also forfeited valuable technical assistance as well as U.S. donated contraceptives, including condoms—both critical components of the USAID family planning program.

The rule was rescinded in 1993 by Clinton and then reinstated in 2001 by George Bush on his first business day in office.

Two days after Obama was inaugurated, he struck down the Global Gag Rule, stating, “It is time we end the politicization of this issue.” (Click here for a piece about this in The Democratic Daily.)

But the politicization of a woman’s right to choose has not ended there. Thick in the muck of our current health-care reform quagmire is the Stupak Amendment—authored by the namesake Democrat from Michigan—that requires women to buy an additional insurance rider to cover abortion.

As did the Gag Rule in the mid-80s, this two-page insertion into an almost 1,100 page (and counting) bill has ignited a debate about whether federal tax dollars should be allowed to fund abortion. However, this time the funding denial is not embedded into a foreign aid policy, but in legislation that will impact the health and well being of women and their children nationwide.

Cynical me scratches my head and asks (myself or anyone else who will listen), three questions:

  1. With money so tight and the chronic cry to cut spending, how can we encourage compromised women to bear unintended pregnancies while simultaneously cutting back on the entitlements that support these needy women and children?
  2. Where are the statistics that demonstrate that for every unwanted birth there is an adoptive home (not with a gay couple, of course)?
  3. Why are women always legally punished for being pregnant? The last time I consulted a biology book, it took two to make a baby—and one of them was male.

On the basis of dollars and cents, parenting remains the most expensive choice.

Outside our borders, the prospects for women and children are even bleaker. When the earthquake struck Haiti, the group hardest hit was its children. Ranking number 50 in the world for highest birth rate/1000 people, Haiti is also the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There were too many children to begin with, and since the earthquake, an estimated 380,000 are now orphaned.

The high-profile case of U.S. “missionary” Laura Silsby’s effort to leave Haiti with 33 undocumented children illustrates how vulnerable children are when the only adjective that can describe their future is desperate. Haitian authorities feared the children were to be trafficked across the border and sold into either domestic or sexual services.

Columnists such as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times have written impassioned accounts of human trafficking both domestically and abroad, primarily in Asia. While estimates from Unesco and Unicef vary, both conclude that between half to a million women and children are sold into a form of slavery all over the globe every year.

Armchair politics want us to think that the choices women make are easy and linear. We love our children, therefore every new life is sacred.

But facts on the ground continue to prove otherwise. Where is the love when a woman is forced to birth a child that’s the result of rape? What if a woman keeps bearing children knowing she cannot feed them? What if survival entails selling your daughter into the sex trade?

If we love our children and want what is best for them, then it is time to stop playing politics. Instead, it is time to take responsibility for what it means to protect and care for the new lives we choose to bring into this world.

Yes, it’s true, but not in the way all those smug male senators think: Mothers know best.