On Dec. 1, during oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson case that could overturn the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested that giving babies up for adoption could eliminate the need for abortions.
“Both Roe and Casey emphasize the burdens of parenting,” Barrett stated. “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?” she asked the attorney representing Jackson Women’s Health.
Justice Barrett sounded like that Serena Joy character from The Handmaid’s Tale, which features another stoic, fanatically religious, and powerful right-wing cultural activist striving to create an American society aligned with her theocratic beliefs. Both these antagonists operate in a world where white women’s fertility is considered a natural resource. Breeding white babies, even if they are unwanted incest begatlings, is a moral imperative that could stave off a declining white population’s genetic winter.
Abortion rights activists are still bristling at Barrett’s flippant suggestion that choosing to give a child up for adoption is somehow a mundane choice. To my ears Justice Barrett sounded like this:
You got raped by your daddy? Oh honey, all births are a blessing from God. Don’t get an abortion. Carry that baby to term and then leave your little bundle like a bag of old clothes at a Goodwill drop box. Then get back on with your life like it never happened.
Abortion supporters are criticizing Barrett by mostly focusing on the health risks that pregnancy poses in comparison to abortions which very rarely result in side effects or death. They are also noting that in Mississippi and beyond, Black women suffer disproportionately high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Bans on abortion also mean that girls and women who are survivors of incest and rape will experience compounded trauma when forced to carry a child to term and then face the emotionally wrenching process of giving the child up for adoption.
As a Black woman who is pro-choice and an adoptee, Barrett’s proposed solution felt like a donkey kick to the gut. She has clearly discounted the perspectives of millions of adoptees in this country and spoke as if separating babies from their birth mothers and handing them over to strangers is no big deal. Never mind the loss, trauma, and grief on both sides. Never mind that many birth mothers keep on loving their relinquished child, keep wondering, keep being haunted by questions of their wellbeing, and fretting over what could have been.
Does Justice Barrett believe babies don’t have memories? That their bodies don’t keep the score when they experience early-life trauma? Never mind that primal wound caused by the severed connection between an infant and biological mother. That wound will just fester like an old sore and then run. Never mind an adoptee’s loss of identity, history and medical information. Never mind the fact that adoptees have high rates of drug abuse, mental health challenges and have a higher risk of committing suicide than nonadopted persons.
Yes, adoption can be a beautiful, transformative and life-saving corrective in a child’s life. But it also too often becomes a hot mess for everybody involved in the adoption triad. The adopted child often carries the burden of managing and balancing everybody else’s emotions, needs and projections often in silence while being gaslit when they express their own truths and ask hard questions.
Adoption is no easy thing. It takes money, emotionally healthy people, love and lots of therapy. For adoptees like me, it means we often have to struggle with the fact that we are told that we were “chosen.” But first we were either abandoned or taken from our parents and given to strangers. Adoption is always the result of a loss or tragedy. We must grapple with the frustration of having our birth records sealed and treated like a state secret. We must swallow the hard truth that adoption legally defines adoptees and their biological relatives as strangers forever. And we have to try to convince ourselves over and over again, at each developmental milestone of our lives, that we belong in a family that we may not genuinely feel attached to. It’s hard for us to pretend like we don’t notice that our family members don’t look like us.
You’d think that Justice Barrett would be able to empathize with our struggles. After all, she adopted two Black children from Haiti, who are growing up with her five biological children. But her comments on Wednesday tell me that perhaps she hasn’t had those hard conversations with her own adopted children. Maybe she’s one of those adoptive parents who believe that an adoptee’s life is only meaningful at the moment of adoption and our past no longer matters.
I am a betting woman. And I bet y’all that Justice Barrett is one of those evangelical Christian types who believe that having adopted children perceived as racially different is a little hint of heaven in her home. White evangelical couples adopting children of color is part of a growing wave of white folks using transracial adoptees for virtue signaling and racial reconciliation. There’s even a growing embryo adoption market where white couples have been adopting Asian, Black and Latino embryos as a way to a practice a pro-life philosophy that requires Christians to model “God’s family” by adopting outsiders into their own families and convert them according to scripture.
Justice Barrett didn’t go to a laboratory to get her Black adopted children, but I can still smell the stench of white saviorism. And why did she adopt Black children from Haiti, when there’s American children who need homes? In fact, there are over 400,000 U.S. children languishing in the foster care system. A disproportionate number of children in care are Black. Black children stay in foster care longer, receive fewer services, are more likely to be given psychotropic medications to control their behaviors and increasing numbers are being funneled through the foster-care-to-prison pipeline.
Some foster children return home, some get adopted and far too many age out and then struggle badly, with more than one in five becoming homeless after age eighteen. Instead of making a successful transition into productive adulthood, many former foster youth suffer from emotional problems and chronic health conditions. Less than half graduate from high school by the time they leave the system. Half of youth use illegal drugs. Fewer than three percent earn a college degree. They also face higher rates of unemployment and public assistance, and their own children are more likely to need foster care services. Add to that, one in four former foster youth end up in prison within two years of leaving the system.
The general consensus among communities of color is that America’s foster care system is not designed to heal and empower families and children. They see it as a brutal industry controlled by whites. As such, most kids don’t have good outcomes, and the system effectively plays its role in perpetuating economic and racial inequality. The child welfare system’s failures weigh heaviest on children, and Justice Barrett doesn’t even bat an eyelash while suggesting that more women should opt to place children into this broken system while they wait to be adopted.
And don’t get me started on the nightmare stories about white adoptive parents abusing and killing their adopted children or being woefully unprepared to raise Black children in a racist society whether it is Colin Kaepernick’s “colorblind” parents, or Sandra Bullocktelling her six-year-old Black son that he shouldn’t wear a hoodie because racists might fear and kill him. Bullock also said that she wishes her skin matched her adopted children. Here is a white woman dealing with her own guilt and shame by expressing her desire to appropriate her children’s skin. Or perhaps she wishes she had adopted white children. I dunno. I’m not trying to get lost in the murky racial imaginations of white liberals.
I’m also thinking about the white lesbians who drugged their six adopted Black children and drove them off a cliff in California in 2018. And I’m thinking of Cassandra Killpack, Michael Tinning, Hana Grace-Rose Williams, Lydia Schatz, Timothy Boss, and others who were murdered by their white adoptive parents. In most of these cases, the parents were described as nurturing, loving, and damn near saintly. Their family, friends, and surrounding community always expressed shock and horror when these children died because the white savior complex is so strong. These are the additional risks that Black mothers have to consider if adoption is a reproductive choice. And stories like these confirm Black people’s longstanding suspicions of interracial adoptions as suspect manipulative gestures that infuse generosity, white saviorism, love and racial domination.
Now, I don’t want y’all to put words in my mouth by accusing me of advocating for the deaths of unborn babies. I can hear the dishonest questions and snide remarks already: Would you rather had been aborted? At least you’re alive. Isn’t it better to be adopted than dead? These questions are yet another way that adoptees are constantly silenced about the truths of our experiences. We are forced to be grateful to our saviors while pretending like abandonment, loss, trauma, secrets and lies are not core features of our “beautiful” adoption stories while politicians render us invisible in their political fights over race and reproduction.