Amy Coney Barrett's Comments Urging Adoption Over Abortion Deemed Unrealistic By Activists

Comments made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett regarding abortion alternatives are drawing ire from activists.

As abortion rights continue to be debated around the country, Barrett said in early December that women with unwanted pregnancies with no access to abortions do not necessarily have to be forced to raise the child. Instead, she argued, the mother could give birth to the child and then place the child up for adoption. However, both abortion and adoption activists say that it is not that simple.

For those who advocate adoption as an alternative method to childbirth, they say that the act of childbirth is inherently bonding. When that bond is connected between the mother and the newborn, it is unlikely that the mother will want to give up the child for adoption.

"It's ridiculous to say it's no problem to eliminate abortion — just place the kids for adoption," said Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet. "It's not going to be an emotion-free nonevent. There's going to be bonding and connection, and a sense that it's an unnatural act to give your child away."

Abortion activists agree with the notion that expecting mothers to give up unwanted children for adoption is unrealistic. However, they argue that eliminating the choice for women to get abortions and making adoption the only way to handle unwanted pregnancies infringes on their individual freedom of choice.

"The fight for abortion rights is not about our individual stances on abortion or adoption," said abortion rights activist and U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat. "It is about every person's right to make decisions about their personal health. Your choices about your body, health, and family are nobody's business but your own."

Adopted Son
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett recently said that instead of abortions, mothers should place their unwanted child up for adoption, which some have deemed an unrealistic option. Frank Martin Gill holds hands with his foster son, known as N.R.G., six years old, after the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami on September 22, 2010. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Discussion of adoption as an alternative to abortion intensified this month when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. If the high court's conservative majority upholds the law, it could lead to the demise of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a nationwide right to abortion, and enable conservative states to impose sweeping bans.

The U.S. government tracks how many children are adopted out of foster care and from foreign countries, but there are no official, comprehensive figures on private adoptions of infants. Nonetheless, it's clear that only a small fraction of women carry unwanted pregnancies to term and then place the baby for adoption.

In 2014, there were an estimated 18,000 private infant adoptions nationwide, according to the National Council for Adoption, a private organization serving abortion agencies and other parties. That same year, there were 926,190 abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a prominent source of abortion-related statistics.

The adoption council is working on a new estimate of infant adoptions for 2019 and 2020. Its acting CEO, Ryan Hanlon, predicted the number would be similar to the 2014 estimate.

Hanlon says there's a huge gap between the number of U.S. infants available for adoption and the hundreds of thousands of Americans – single adults and couples – who want to adopt.

"There are dozens waiting with each agency for every child they place," Hanlon said.

Some women who opted for abortion in response to an unintended pregnancy say the decision was difficult – yet they're also grateful they had a choice. Among them is Lee, who says she received a "back-alley" abortion in Mexico after a teenage pregnancy.

Many abortion-rights advocates are wary of some aspects of private adoption, viewing it as part of the agenda of anti-abortion activists.

Mallory Schwarz, executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri, said the anti-abortion pregnancy centers that proliferate in many states are part of that system.

"The role of crisis pregnancy centers is to trick people, coerce them out of making the right decision for themselves so that they choose to give up — choose to carry a pregnancy and then give up a baby to be adopted," Schwarz said.

Jeanneane Maxon of the Charlotte Lozier Institute — former general counsel for a network of pregnancy centers — denies that there's systemic coercion. Most women who visit the centers, and then carry a pregnancy to term, choose to raise the baby themselves, she said.

It's often a challenge for staff members to even discuss adoption, Maxon said.

"Some women will say, 'I don't want to hear about it,'" she said. "My hope is that we can overcome the stigma that adoption is abandoning a child. It's not – it's about finding a child a loving home."

In the past, unwed pregnant women in some communities were shunned, or pressured to place their babies for adoption. But even in conservative religious denominations, attitudes have evolved – for example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arms have initiatives aimed at helping unwed moms obtain health care, financial support and other services.

"Some pregnant women were afraid to come to the church for help – they thought they were going to be judged," said Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications for the bishops' conference.

"Our goal is walk with them as sisters," she said of a recent initiative, Walking with Moms in Need. "We're showing them a positive vision of motherhood."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Coney and Kavanaugh
Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh (L) and Amy Coney Barrett (R) arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 20, 2021. Barrett drew criticism for seemingly trivializing the abortion and adopted process by saying that mothers who don't want their child should place them up for adoption. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Pool/Getty Images