People in the United States who want and need abortions do not consider adoption an equally acceptable substitute, according to a new Guttmacher Institute study published in Contraception X. The study adds to a growing body of evidence countering the inaccurate and harmful narrative that adoption is an alternative to abortion.
The study is particularly timely, as the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 has led to a crisis in abortion access across the United States. As of February 22, abortion is banned in 12 states and unavailable in two others, with more states expected to enact bans.
Adoption Is Not an Equal Alternative to Abortion
The new study is based on in-depth interviews with 29 individuals who had traveled either across state lines or more than 100 miles within state to seek abortion services in Michigan and New Mexico in 2015. Just three interviewees reported that they had even weighed adoption against abortion, and all interviewees felt that adoption was a particularly unsuitable choice for them.
“Interviewees were aware of the option of adoption and rejected it as an option for them,” says Guttmacher Institute Senior Research Scientist Liza Fuentes. “Their decisions not to pursue adoption were grounded in their values about what it means to be a loving and responsible parent.”
Three main reasons for rejecting adoption emerged from the interviews.
First, the interviewees saw the decision to continue the pregnancy and give birth as inseparable from the decision to parent.
Participants described continuing the pregnancy and giving birth—including the associated risks to their health and well-being, physical discomforts and emotional changes—as the entry point to parenting.
As one participant said, “If I was going to have this baby, then I’m its mom.”
In addition, participants rejected the possibility of adoption because of the profound emotional pain they anticipated when it came time to place the child for adoption.
Second, participants said that choosing adoption would mean abandoning their parental duty.
In one interviewee’s words, “I don’t think I could carry a child to term, deliver it and then kind of just hand it to someone else. I think at that time, if I am making that decision to keep the baby [instead of having an abortion], I think it’s then up to me to be the parent.”
Third, participants expressed that adoption could put their child’s safety and well-being at risk.
They brought up the challenge of having no control over any conditions or parenting decisions their child might be subjected to in an adoptive home.
“Adoption scares me…there’s people out here that’s crazy as well,” one participant said. “They’ll harm your children and harm their own kids, and it’s a lot of people that still do crazy stuff but live really good, you know? So, I think I just—me, it either is abortion or I’ll just be the parent because it’s my child.”
Notably, participants talked about adoption as a decision they would make as their child’s parent, as opposed to adoption being a way to avoid the role of a parent.
Experiences with Anti-Abortion Counseling Centers
Many states provide public funding to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) that push people toward adoption as a substitute for abortion, despite a growing body of evidence that adoption is not seen as an acceptable alternative for people seeking abortion.
Three study participants had gone to CPCs to obtain free pregnancy tests or ultrasounds, and all three reported being “pushed” toward adoption even though they had no interest in that option. As one interviewee said, “[The CPC staff] were like, ‘Well, can you go away for a little bit and have the baby and put it up for adoption?’ I said, ‘No, I can’t carry it full-term. You are not understanding.’”
Centering Pregnant People’s Voices
None of the interviewees reported that they decided against adoption because they did not have access to information or social support regarding that option. Indeed, this study adds to a strong body of evidence that people seeking abortion care have made an informed decision based on their circumstances, values and needs. These findings challenge the harmful and erroneous claim propagated by anti-abortion groups that adoption eliminates the need for abortion care.
“This analysis is especially relevant, as the fall of Roe has accelerated the erosion of abortion rights in the United States and further compromised pregnant people’s ability to make the best decision for themselves about their pregnancy outcome,” says Fuentes.