Anti-adoption activists defy popular opinion

In Adoption, Adoption Trafficking, Agency Complaints, Excerpts, Rights by Adoptionland News

“Anti-adoption” sounds ludicrous. Who could oppose placing an unwanted child into a loving home?

An entire movement, it turns out–fighting with a primal passion to expose what activists insist is adoption’s darker side: The lifelong trauma of women coerced into surrendering babies. Adoptees denied their heritage. And, they say, a billion-dollar industry that focuses more on money than youngsters’ welfare.

Some leave careers to write letters, track legislation, research articles, and books. They work in anti-adoption non-profits. They educate “vulnerable mothers” and provide baby supplies and financial resources.

The activists insist a mother should first be helped to keep her child. In cases in which that is impossible (say, the woman is incapacitated), a family member or other caring adult should have guardianship. The child should be aware of that relationship. Money should not be exchanged.

Adoption supporters say that logic is flawed.

“The fundamental problem with anti-adoption folks is their lack of recognition that parenting is vastly more than conceiving and giving birth,” said Thomas Atwood, president and CEO of the National Council for Adoption in Alexandria, Va. “It takes the full-time, selfless commitment of a mature person. If a woman is not ready to parent, her most loving and responsible decision may be to make an adoption plan.”

Psychotherapist Joe Soll, himself an adoptee and longtime anti-adoption activist, disagreed.

“There will always be babies who need new homes,” Soll said from his Congers, N.Y., office. “But why must names be changed, records sealed, why must children lose contact with their family?”

Soll has spent 20 years counseling single, pregnant women for free. Thousands of anti-adoption activists share his zeal.

“I’ve been in children’s welfare a long time and I’ve never seen this level of volatility in other issues. Feelings run very high,” said Madelyn Freundlich, attorney and author of the book “The Impact of Adoption on Members of the Triad” (Child Welfare League of America), the triad being mother, baby and adoptive couple.

Anti-adoption groups confront a public puzzled by their cause. Some 94 percent of adults polled either held “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinions of adoption in a 2002 national survey by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a non-profit focusing on adoption policy and practices.

But people don’t know the whole truth, said Jessica DelBalzo, who runs Adoption: Legalized Lies, from Flemington, N.J. It’s Internet-based support and activism non-profit with about 250 members worldwide.

“Offering up fake parents is not serving the best interest of a child,” DelBalzo said.

A focus on money

Adoption, she said, centers on money, not the child.

Revenue statistics are elusive. Adoptions are handled at the state level through thousands of licensed and unlicensed public and private agencies, as well as independent attorneys; fees vary widely. Marketdata Enterprises Inc., a research firm in Tampa, estimated in a 2000 national report that adoption services are “a $1.4 billion business.”

Nor is the number of adoptions systematically compiled. Estimates from agencies and experts range from 60,000 to 138,000 in the United States each year.

DelBalzo, 24, mother of a 21-month-old, was first troubled by adoption after writing a paper in high school. Her research since has put her in contact with hundreds of mothers who surrendered children, “and 99.9 percent,” she said, “did so without full information.” The majority later regretted it, DelBalzo said.

She said women report feeling pressured to do the “best thing” for their children and aren’t advised of other options: seeking financial assistance (WIC, welfare, food stamps), asking a relative or father of the baby for help, aborting the pregnancy. (There are both anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates within the movement, DelBalzo added.)

Some anti-adoption activists surrendered children during the so-called “baby scoop era,” the 1940s to 1970s. Then, pregnant, unmarried women often were sent to “maternity homes” run by social workers or religious groups.

Karen Wilson Buterbaugh became pregnant as a high school senior in 1966 in Annandale, Va. Her parents sent her to a maternity home in Washington, D.C. She gave birth and her daughter was taken 10 days later.

“We’re trying to educate society about what occurred then and what’s happening now with adoption,” said Buterbaugh, of Richmond, Va. “It benefits those who adopt, and people with money and power backed by religious groups and the adoption industry.”

Buterbaugh, 56, is a co-founder of MORE (Mothers for Open Records Everywhere) and Origins USA, working toward an inquiry into “illegal, unethical and improper adoption practices.”

Activists like Buterbaugh “are raising legitimate issues in regard to the way adoption is provided,” said Freundlich, policy director for Children’s Rights Inc., legal advocacy and child-welfare watchdog group in New York City. “There are ethical concerns we should all be thinking about.”

Carnegie Mellon University cultural anthropologist Judith Schachter first encountered the anti-adoption movement in the 1980s.

“I thought they were extremely logical,” said Schachter, whose books, written as Judith Modell, include “A Sealed and Secret Kinship: The Culture of Policies and Practices in American Adoption” (Berghahn Books).

“We’ve been a wee bit too cavalier to think that a birth mother will give up a baby and forget,” said Schachter, an adoptive mother. “We’re becoming more focused on the birth parent, and that’s been a real and important change.”

But that’s not enough, said Soll, the psychotherapist. He heads Adoption Crossroads, a non-profit with 475 adoption search and support groups worldwide.

`Scared and vulnerable’

“I’ve never seen anyone more scared and vulnerable than a pregnant woman without resources,” he said. The problem is, “if they ask for help, more than likely they are advised to give up their child.”

Activist Laurie Frisch, 42, of Marion, Iowa, sees herself as “protecting the rights of mothers and natural families–fathers, grandparents, and siblings–as well as adoptees.” A longtime avionics systems engineer, she resigned her job in January to tackle the issue full time.

Due to family pressures, Frisch unwillingly surrendered two babies in her 20s. “I was never advised of alternatives, never advised of legalities–such as whether there was a revocation period–never offered help,” she said. “I was told I would soon `get over it’ and `feel good about it.”‘

She never did.

She became active in several groups after noticing newspaper ads “soliciting mothers to separate their children from them and not telling them anything about the reality.”

That reality, she said, can be long-term emotional pain. “The whole thing is so psychologically complex.”

For instance, adoptees often are told their mothers made a loving choice to give them a better life. “But a lot of adoptees have said they feel like a nine-month abortion, which is exactly the opposite of what their mothers wanted,” Frisch said.

Susan Caughman, editor, and publisher of Adoptive Families Magazine, in New York City, said anti-adoption activists “represent the extreme manifestation of the belief that blood trumps everything else. And there is something to that, what can you say? It is good to know who your people are.”

However, Caughman added, “There are larger social welfare issues at work: medical insurance, minimum wage, education. Mothers are giving up children they can’t afford, and that’s a dreadful concept.

“In a just world, there’d probably be no adoption.”

By Dru Sefton, Newhouse News Service.

For original Chicago Tribune article visit here.