Sunday, February 26, 2006

Adoption is NOT A Reproductive Rights Issue

Bastard Nation: The Adoptee Rights Organization proudly publishes this essay by
Maryanne Cohen, a birth mother and long time member of Bastard Nation. Please
forward freely with accurate attribution.

Adoption is NOT A Reproductive Rights Issue
by Maryanne Cohen

The opponents of open records on both the Right and the Left have tried to
connect open records for adopted adults to issues of abortion and
reproductive rights. This is a mistake and misuse of words, as all issues
of reproductive rights cease once a living child, a separate individual
with citizenship and rights of his own, is born. Adoption IS NOT a
reproductive rights issue, nor is it family preservation, any more than child
abuse, breastfeeding, day care, or decent schools are, although all these
issues are important and relate to children.

Once an adoption takes place, the reproductive part is done, the child is
born and a separate person. There is no longer one person, the mother, and one
legal non-person, the fetus, but two individuals with their own rights that have
nothing to do with reproduction. I think we need to keep
stressing this, to try to make it clear that however one feels about
reproductive rights or abortion, it has nothing to do with adoption issues
or with open records. Reproductive rights issues are birth control and
access to it, abortion, and perhaps infertility treatments and assisted
reproduction. Once a child is born, no matter what happens next, the
"reproductive" part no longer applies because that is done, ended for
everyone with the birth of one who is now a separate human being, not an object
or less than a person.

Mothers do not have unlimited "choice" concerning what they do with their
children once they are born, nor do they have rights that supersede those of
that child when he or she becomes an adult. "Reproductive rights" do not last
forever; they end when the reproduction part of the process ends after nine
months with a live birth. And men have never had a "reproductive right" to
anonymity, as witness the paternity suits filed every day!

A particularly virulent outgrowth of the idea that a mother's supposed
reproductive rights last forever and always trump the rights of the child are
the awful baby dump "Safe Haven" laws that are springing up everywhere like
weeds. Generally, where the law must step into family matters at all, it is
assumed that protection of the minor child is more important than the rights of
negligent or abusive adults. And all laws pertaining to minors but sealed
records adoption laws end when the person becomes a legal adult.

There are only two choices, not three, that a pregnant woman makes that fall
under the category of reproductive rights; the choice to abort, or to carry the
child to term. The choice to surrender a child for adoption,
which can only be made a legally binding choice once the child is born and
a surrender document is signed, is NOT the third reproductive rights
choice, nor is the opposite, the choice to raise the child and the right to
assistance to do this.

These important decisions that a mother makes once her child is born are in no
way connected to the superior rights she had under the law while the child was
still a fetus. No mother has life or death power over her child once it is born,
nor does she have any right to permanent anonymity from that child under some
misguided notion that this is a "reproductive right" that goes on forever. No
one has a "right" to adopt, that is a privilege granted by the state for the
good of the child, not to fill the needs of the adoptive parents, Nobody has a
right to surrender a child and be given any promise of perpetual anonymity from
that child either. Nobody has a right to raise a child if they are proven
dangerous and unfit. And once again, none of these things should be viewed under
the category of reproductive rights, although often they are.

In my view, both the extreme pro-choice and extreme pro-life groups are
fundamentally dishonest, neither will look at any grey area, and both try
to suppress anyone's experience that does not reinforce their preconceived
notions. Some pro-choice people refuse to admit that any woman ever suffered
deep grief after an abortion, and discount those who try to say that they did.

On the other side, extreme pro-life people try to discount the experience and
feelings of women who really did not regret having an abortion or feel any
grief and are still satisfied with their decision. Both sides are less concerned
with individual women and their real feelings than with only allowing those
whose stories agree with their agenda to be heard. And I think that among our
opponents, both sides project their feelings about the fetus onto the adopted
adult, which really muddies the waters and leaves legislators confused.

Some pro-lifers worship the fetus, deify it in some sense, and then do not much
care what happens to kids once they are born, or to their mothers. These are the
"Adoption, Not Abortion" bumper sticker crowd. They cannot see the difference
between the adult adopted person and the fetus. Adoptees should be grateful they
were born at all, and pregnant women are just waiting to abort if they think
their child will be able to find them years later. The fact that this is never a
factor in why women choose abortion (I wish someone would do a study on that,
what the real reasons are) does not slow them down a bit, because the image of
the killer birthmother and the threatened, "saved" fetus fits their mythology
better than the facts, that open records had nothing whatsoever to do with the
rate or choice of abortion. Plus these groups are big on shame and punishment
for "loose women" and can't imagine a woman who has surrendered not living a
life of shame and fear of her child.

On the other side, the more extreme pro-choice groups demonize the fetus with
all the rhetoric about it being just a parasite, a clump of cells living off the
mother's body. Both sides assume an adversarial situation between fetus and
mother and extend this to the situation of adult adoptees and open records.
Those who are pro-abortion and anti-open records are just defending the mother's
rights against the fetus's rights....forever, not just until it is born. It is
this kind of thinking that also leads them to oppose legislation that would say
that the murder of a pregnant woman is double homicide, even if she is in the
last weeks of pregnancy. Any hint that the fetus is human must be eliminated in
order to protect abortion rights, even if the issue is not related to abortion
or choice.

The anti-abortion crowd think they are "saving babies" at any cost by opposing
open records, because of their misreading of the desires of mothers who carry a
child to term and those who choose to abort. Both think that mothers should have
absolute say about what the "child" gets to know about his own birth and
heritage forever or else there will be a chink in the armor of their respective
agendas. To the extreme pro-choicers, women are always benevolent, know best,
and will always make the best choice because of their superior women's
instincts. To the extreme pro-lifers, women are potential wild beasts with an
urge to kill.

Ironically some from both sides feel that this same woman wants and deserves the
state's protection to hide her past indiscretions. Neither extreme is willing to
see women as just human, no better and no worse than men, nor are they willing
to separate their issues from ours when something we are doing hits a related
nerve in their world view. Of course many others of good will and compassion who
are pro-choice or pro-life also support open records and adoptee rights, but
they are not the subject of this essay.

Is this making sense? And is there any way to get through this on either
side? Neither the Holy Fetus nor the Demon Fetus is helping the adoptee
rights cause, nor are the well-meaning attempts by some on our side to go along
with the reproductive rights model, but argue that a woman who gives birth has a
"reproductive right" to raise her child. It may indeed be argued that women have
such a right, but it has nothing to do with
reproduction. If there is any way we can separate these issues in the minds of
legislators, we will have gone a long way towards neutralizing our opposition's
most annoying and false arguments.

Maryanne Cohen
c. Feb 2006