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On anniversary of Roe v. Wade, adoptees don't want to be a 'pawn' in abortion debates

"Adoption is not a panacea for unplanned pregnancy nor a substitute for abortion."
On Dec. 2, 2021, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked if safe-haven laws and the option to put a baby up for adoption negate the need for abortion access.
On Dec. 2, 2021, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked if safe-haven laws and the option to put a baby up for adoption negate the need for abortion access.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

On the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, four adoptees are sharing their thoughts on abortion, adoption and comments made by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

On Dec. 1, 2021, the Supreme Court heard opening oral arguments on a Mississippi abortion ban that, if upheld, would significantly undercut Roe. The law would criminalize abortion procedures past 15 weeks gestation and before fetal viability. In a 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right to abortion prior to fetal viability, which is generally considered to be around 24-26 weeks gestation.

During oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett discussed safe haven laws — which allow a person to leave a baby at a firehouse, police station or other designated area without legal or criminal retribution — and adoption, asking one legal representative if both options negate the need for abortion care. Amy Coney Barrett has seven children, including two children who were adopted from Haiti.

“Both Roe and Casey emphasize the burdens of parenting,” Barrett said. “And insofar as you and many of your amici focus on the ways in which forced parenting, forced motherhood, would hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities, it’s also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy. Why don’t the safe-haven laws take care of that problem?”

Experts believe the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the Mississippi ban, which could make this 49th anniversary of Roe its last. In Texas, a 6-week abortion ban has been the law for over four months — the Supreme Court declined to block the law or send the case back to the original trial judge for further proceedings.

TODAY Parents spoke to four adoptees about their adoption experiences, Justice Barrett's comments, their thoughts on abortion and what they say is a pattern of people using their stories in discussions about abortion. All four, like Justice Barrett's children, were adopted by parents of a different race, something that's true for 40 percent of adoptions in America. Their comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Nikole, 40, California

Nikole is a Black domestic adoptee who was placed up for adoption at birth by her 16-year-old biological mother. She was later placed in foster care, where she lived for 3 months before being adopted. She grew up with one adoptive sibling, two siblings by kinship adoption, and a 'step' brother from her adoptive dad's first marriage.

"As children we were not allowed to speak about our adoption, therefore I carried a lot of shame. We were told not to look for our biological families. Later in life, after much healing, I decided to start my search. I found my biological mother via Ancestry DNA, as well as a private investigator I hired. She rejected me and was not willing to have a relationship. I still have not been able to find my biological father. 

"What happens often with adoption, is that people assume that a 'loving' family is the answer to the trauma. It’s not. You can have a loving adoptive family and still have adoption trauma. And that trauma is so pervasive that adoptees are four times as likely to (report a suicide attempt) compared to non-adopted people. We must start questioning why the numbers are so high. Something isn’t right here. 

"I think no one wants to center adoptee voices and listen to their lived experiences because the truth about adoption is ugly. Society paints this picture that adoption is the beautiful thing when it can be quite the opposite. Adoption can be devastating. People don’t want to hear that. They just want the baby. 

"It's infuriating when this happens because it is shifting the focus. Adoption is not a panacea for unplanned pregnancy nor a substitute for abortion. Curtailing abortion care access only inflates the problem and causes potential for greater harm to the women who feel they need abortions. Making abortions more difficult to access is not the solution." 

Seonju, 36, Alabama

Seonju was born in Seoul, Korea and adopted into a white family living in Pennsylvania. Her father was a preacher, so they moved to various states to attend different churches. They eventually moved to Alabama, where Seonju lived in a predominately white community.

"For me personally, it was definitely difficult growing up in an environment and in a family community that didn't look like me. I was constantly seen as or being treated as different, even by my family. I never really felt secure or that I belonged anywhere, even when I was a very young child. It was very isolating growing up. It's something that I'm always processing and still healing from.

"I think it's really important for people to understand that just because you can (put a) child up for adoption doesn't mean that abortion won't be needed. It's upsetting to hear people use adoptees as pawns in their arguments.

"I do think there is an aspect of perpetual infantilizing that happens with adoptees, and that's because so much of the conversation centers on children being placed. It centers so much on the adoptee at the time of placement, rather than realizing that adoption is a life-long process. It's not a one-time event. You're not just adopted once.

"So it's frustrating to hear so many people trying to weigh in on adoption practices when they're non-adoptees. Even if they have an adoptee in their family, they don't have an understanding of what adoption is actually like for the child that they're talking about. The whole narrative around 'Why aren't you grateful?' or 'Shouldn't you be happy about it?' is really something that adoptees hear our entire lives — that we should be indebted to our adopted families. And that is a fairly harmful idea for a child to grow up with, feeling like they have to be thankful for being there and the fear that it will go away if they're not grateful enough."

Mila, 46, Georgia

Mila is a transracial, transnational Korean adoptee, adopted by a white American family when she was six months old. She has been in reunion with her Korean mother and father for 13 years, after searching for them for over seven years.

"I did not grow up with other Asian adoptees, so I was very isolated. I grew up in a predominantly white, military community, so the communities that I lived in were not only predominantly white, but I will say I experienced a significant amount of racism because I'm Asian. And my parents, even with their good intentions, were not equipped to help me with that or to even understand that. I think that that can be a very common experience for transracial adoptees growing up in predominantly white families and white communities.

"We're never included in these discussions because we're viewed as perpetual children. Or if you're someone like me, I'm viewed as a perpetual foreigner. And so our voices and our experiences are often obscured by other actors in this industry. And it definitely is an industry. And so it makes me feel erased. It makes me feel silenced. And it makes me feel like my origins and my story don't matter, even though adoptees are the ones who are the most profoundly impacted. We're the only experts who really understand what it's like to live as an adopted person. 

"It's so much more nuanced than this simple, 'Oh, you have a mom who wants to give up her baby, and you have a family over here who wants the baby? Perfect solution!' It's like, no, no, no, no, no. That is totally sterilized. That is not the reality. It makes me feel really, really just hurt and upset. And obviously, it brings up my own pain. It's very triggering."

Megan, Washington

Megan, who asked that her age be omitted to protect her privacy, is an East Asian adoptee who came to the United States when she was 3 months old. She was adopted by white parents and grew up in a predominately white community.

"While Justice Barrett does have experience as an adoptive parent, she can't ever understand what it is like to be an adoptee. Like any other minority, adoptees are the only experts of what it means to be adopted. And so our voices must be centered in conversations around adoption.

"We need to be careful not to conflate abortion and adoption. Adoption is not a solution to abortion. It is quite frustrating to me, as an adoptee personally, to see and hear that argument. At the same time we need to have a conversation about adoption and the need for adoption reform, and we need to be having that conversation separate from the abortion conversation.

"Adoptees are not here as a solution. We are a community of folks who have gone through a very significant experience. And so to use us as a 'solution' is an insult to our community, honestly."