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The Enemy of Abortion

U.S. Adoption Timeline, 1972-2004 Published in World Magazine

Looking back, it’s clear that abortion and adoption are issues that cannot be separated. But the link wasn’t necessarily evident when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled abortion legal in 1973. It took three decades for bipartisan consensus to emerge that abortion was unlikely to be declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court and that efforts to promote adoption were the only practical means to reduce the numbers of abortions procured in the United States.


Just a year before Roe vs. Wade, another U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Stanley vs. Illinois, delivers a blow to adoption. Stanley holds that certain unmarried fathers have a right to be involved in adoption decisions involving their children. Until now, unmarried women have had the right to arrange adoption for their babies without notifying or getting permission from the fathers.


The phrase “open adoption” officially enters caseworkers’ professional vocabulary with the publication of an essay in Social Work.


Three important developments take place. The most important is the perfection of in vitro fertilization with the birth of the first baby conceived using the technology perfected by two British physicians.

This same year, responding to allegations that white social workers were taking Indian children from their families on questionable grounds and letting white couples adopt them, Congress passes the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The law ultimately becomes the basis for a racial apartheid in adoption and foster care—the doctrine that children are better off without parents or in foster care than with parents of a different race.

Also in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court begins to fine-tune its thoughts about the rights of unmarried fathers by ruling, in Quilloin, that certain unmarried fathers who do not have a relationship with their children can be excluded from the adoption process.


Congress enacts the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, legislation that will dominate federal child welfare policy for the next 17 years. The Act provides that families of adoptive children from the public foster-care system can obtain “adoption subsidies” (often the same payments they received to provide foster care to the children). Thus adopting foster children no longer carries a financial penalty. Federal spending for adoption subsidies goes from less than $400,000 in Fiscal Year 1981 to over $5 billion by Fiscal Year 2005.


The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Santosky that even the extensive and costly “family preservation” services provided by the state to a New York family were not enough, and it blocks the termination of the mother and father’s parental rights. The ruling effectively enshrines “family preservation” as the highest goal in U.S. law and adoption policy, above the best interests of the child.

A Kansas court, this same year, issues a ruling that partially restores the Indian Child Welfare Act to its original intent, at least in terms of who is an “Indian child” and therefore subject to ICWA. The Kansas court rules the Indian Child Welfare Act only applies in the case of an “existing Indian family” and allows a non-Indian woman to place her baby for adoption with the couple of her choice.


Edmund V. Mech, a University of Illinois professor of social work, shows in a study that the key to increasing the ability of women to choose adoption for their babies is the orientation of pregnancy counselors.


The National Association of Social Workers issues a statement endorsing gay and lesbian adoptions.


The N.J. Supreme Court rules that “Baby M,” an infant girl born to a “surrogate,” must be handed over against the biological mother’s wishes to the sperm donor, though the mother is granted visitation rights.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child contends that international adoption, a humanitarian practice that first emerged at the end of World War II, should be the last option for children in need of permanent care, after institutional care in their country of birth.


The “Baby Jessica” case comes to an end as the DeBoers, a Michigan couple, see their adopted daughter returned to her biological father.

This same year, in an article in Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. citizens learn for the first time the extent of the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on children; the authors predict that as many as 120,000 children will be orphaned by HIV/AIDS by the end of the decade.


Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) succeeds in enacting the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) as one of his last acts before retiring from Congress. The act stipulates that children should be placed in adoptive homes across racial lines, rather than left to languish in institutional care of temporary placement.

In a case that gained national prominence, the Illinois Supreme Court takes “Baby Richard” from his adopted parents, Kim and Jay Warburton, and returns him to his biological father.

Claims that adoption deprives adopted children of their identity are effectively silenced when the results of a million-dollar research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to the Search Institute are published.


As part of its welfare-reform efforts, Congress passes the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). This law changed the thinking about what could be accomplished in two important ways. First, it provided “Second Chance Homes” for young pregnant women who did not wish to place their children for adoption but could not live at home. Second, it proved that efforts to reduce teen pregnancy without increasing abortion rates could work.

An adoption tax credit, part of the Republican “Contract with America,” is introduced and eventually is signed into law.


Congress passes the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), an important foster-care reform law. ASFA slightly reins in the doctrinaire “family preservation and family reunification” movement that had kept many children trapped in abusive families and foster care.

The 11th Circuit federal court rules in favor of a Tennessee law retroactively opening adoption records. The U.S. Supreme Court, which had ruled 24 years earlier that women had a right to a confidential, private abortion, refuses to hear the appeal for women who wanted the same right applied to adoption.


Rep. Geanie Morrison, a Republican Texas legislator, wins passage of the nation’s first “Baby Moses” law. It provides safe haven for babies and promises anonymity for their birth mothers.


President George W. Bush appoints a Presidential Task Force on Adoption, which works to streamline adoption policy and procedures.

In an address to the National Governors Association, the president asks states to pass state adoption tax credits, to put adoption leave into state personnel policies, to assemble putative fathers’ registries, and to enact Baby Moses laws. Within two years, most states have done so.


The Department of Health and Human Services focuses on finding local faith-based organizations to take the lead in recruiting adoptive parents for children in the foster-care system.

Small steps by the Bush administration to promote adoption prove surprisingly effective. Among these: the U.S. Postal Service issues a series of adoption stamps with an extra fee to benefit the White House Adoption Fund. The Secretary of State launches an international effort to use noninstitutional resources such as churches and private charities to find families for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

The Solicitor General drafts language for a bipartisan group in Congress to look at ways to increase the accountability of certain companies and individuals involved with RU-486, by ensuring that the patent holder, the manufacturers, the advertisers, and the dispensers will all be liable for any damages caused by the drug.


The White House begins hosting regular state dinners to honor “Adoption Heroes,” and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations hosts the first Annual Adoption Party at the UN on Adoption Day, the day before Thanksgiving.

By executive order, the president bans all stem-cell experiments involving so-called “surplus” embryos. He also bans cloning and, in a speech before the United Nations, calls on all other nations to do the same.


As the first Bush term concludes, adoptions soar to over 250,000. This figure includes 60,000 U.S. children with special needs and 40,000 children from other countries. Meanwhile, with the increased success of abstinence programs, the use of ultrasound machines at crisis pregnancy centers, and the increase in adoption, the number of U.S. abortions has decreased by 350,000.

The Fetal Wrongful Death Act is signed into law.