EVEN if the Supreme Court does not change Roe vs. Wade in some way that greatly decreases the number of abortions performed, America faces a rising number of out-of-wedlock births. They are now nearing 900,000 a year – one out of four births in our country. Meanwhile, more than 300,000 children are cycled through foster-care homes, some for their whole childhood.
The costs of so many children raised in adverse circumstances is incalculable. We do know that our most intractable social ills – poverty, child abuse, drugs, crime and poor educational performance – are associated with family instability.
President Bush has spoken strongly in favor of adoption, but the only adoption proposal from the new administration so far has been that for a $3,000, one-time tax break for parents who adopt children with handicaps or other “special needs.” It’s a worthy idea, but it barely addresses the overall problem.
Adoption does work. It breaks the cycle of family instability and replaces expensive and impersonal government social programs with the devoted love and resources of permanent parents.
But adoption, the policy, is an orphan, relatively unfunded and poorly advertised. In the Reagan administration, the president sincerely supported adoption, calling it “the forgotten option.” Among those forgetting it, however, were key White House aides and most officials at the Department of Health and Human Services. They believed, cynically, that adoption and the abortion issue were synonymous in people’s minds, and that such issues should not be raised, except when unavoidable.
Adoption and abortion, indeed, are connected subjects, but they also are separable. Adoption has its own history, identity and claims. Those who are “pro-choice” certainly should encourage the choice of adoption, especially in light of the huge number of out-of-wedlock births that have developed, even after the Roe vs. Wade decision. “Pro-life” people should take responsibility for the children who result when abortion is averted. Adoption alone cannot solve the whole problem, of course, but it can help.
Today, only about 51,000 children are adopted annually, according to statistics to be published soon by the National Committee for Adoption. There are plenty of would-be adoptive parents, but few pregnant women choose adoption now. One reason is the decline of the stigma of unwed motherhood. But another is the neglect of the adoption option at government-supported pregnancy counseling centers and at foster-care agencies.
Pregnancy counselors, as a rule, offer the solution of abortion or explain what government programs a woman can join if she decides to try to “parent.” Adoption either is not mentioned or is described doubtfully. All that some counselors say they can offer a woman who chooses adoption is “grief counseling.” That’s some choice.
President Bush should see that the Department of Health and Human Services more fully enforces the current requirement that counseling centers receiving federal aid make a thorough presentation of the adoption option.
He also should make certain that federal monies used to assist unwed mothers-to-be are made more readily available in the late months of pregnancy to women who decide to “relinquish.” When a woman knows that such needs as food, lodging (to avoid peer pressure), medical care, schooling and career counseling can be met, and if she knows her child will have a secure and loving home, chances for a relinquishment decision improve.
The president also can influence HHS and the states to enforce the law requiring foster-care agencies to place children for adoption who have scant chance of being returned safely to their original parents.
In fact, a full program to encourage adoption is available in the report of the 1987 White House Task Force on Adoption, which was largely painted over by the White House issues-artists of the time. The new president shouldn’t make that mistake. By adopting adoption now, before today’s Supreme Court ruling, President Bush can help rescue hundreds of thousands of lives. Even in his first term he could meet some of those rescued children face to face in the Oval Office. Few policy decisions could offer him such certain satisfaction.