Is adoption a reproductive right?

The writing prompt from this week’s Human Behavior in the Social Environment class for my MSW program instructed us to read the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Family Planning and Reproductive Choice position paper. We then had to select one topic and then tell whether we agreed or disagreed with the NASW’s position on the subject, as well as how it might affect serving our clients.

Here’s my response.

Reproductive rights are things such as access to affordable birth control, safe abortion, and even perhaps infertility treatments and assisted reproduction techniques. However, a trend in recent years is to include adoption as an alternative to abortion as part of a broader range of reproductive services.

This trend is reflected in the NASW (2009) position that “the fundamental right of each individual throughout the world to manage his or her fertility and to have access to a full range of effective family planning and reproductive health services….these services include….adoption rights.” The NASW also supports, “public and private adoption services that better address the needs of birth parents….to consider adoption as a genuine alternative to abortion or parenting, contributing to a broader range of options.”  Additionally, Planned Parenthood (n.d.), NARAL (n.d.), and the ACLU (n.d.) all hold the belief that adoption is a third reproductive choice.

Opponents on both the Right and Left of the political agenda frame adoption as one of three choices in the marketplace of reproduction: abortion, parenting, or adoption.

However, I disagree, as adoption is not a third reproductive choice but a parenting choice.

When a woman is faced with an unplanned pregnancy, her choice is binary: to continue to carry the pregnancy to term or abort. If a woman chooses to not terminate a pregnancy but to carry the pregnancy to term, she will be a mother of a child, whether a mother who raises her child or a mother who voluntarily terminates her parental rights.

Her reproductive rights have already been exercised when she chose to continue with the pregnancy. 

That being said, women do have the right to voluntarily terminate their parental rights and relinquish a child for adoption after the child is born, based on what she feels is in the child’s best interests. Just like breastfeeding, good schools, access to day care, and prevention of child abuse are not reproductive rights issues, but issues centered on the well-being of a child, so is adoption.

Additionally, framing adoption as a reproductive right is at odds with the rights of the child once he or she is born.  Those rights are outlined in Articles 7 through 10 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and include the preservation of a child’s identity and family relations, the right of the child to maintain direct and regular contact with one or both parents, and that the child be provided with essential information about their family.

By framing adoption as a reproductive right of the birth mother or adoptive mother, it becomes easier for the state to violate these essential rights and deny adult adoptees factual information surrounding their original identity in the form of sealed original birth certificates and the issuance of amended ones.

However, reproductive rights of a mother do not last forever—those rights end with a live birth.  Even if a mother voluntarily terminates her parental rights at birth and relinquishes her child for adoption, she is not guaranteed privacy in perpetuity.

My belief that adoption is a parenting choice and not a reproductive right will affect how I interact with my clients who are already members of the adoption constellation because birth parents are not guaranteed anonymity and therefore, all adult adoptees have a right to their original birth certificate. I realize this may sometimes come in conflict with both adoptive and birth parents’ feelings, but the rights of the adopted individual trump those feelings.

By removing adoption from the marketplace of reproductive choices and situating it soundly in the realm of parenting choices, it places the child at the center of the process and protects their rights—as a separate and unique member of the human family, independent of the biological process of reproduction—to have access to factual knowledge surrounding their birth and heritage.

Additionally, when working with a woman facing an ill-timed or unplanned pregnancy, my position will affect how I counsel them and the sequencing of the questions I ask. Instead of asking if she wants to abort, parent, or place for adoption, I will ask if she wants to continue her pregnancy or not? If she wants to continue with the pregnancy, then I will help her decide between parenting her child or placing her child for adoption.


American Civil Liberties Union. (n. d.). Reproductive freedom. Retrieved from:

National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. (n. d.). Healthy Pregnancies. Retrieved from:

National Association of Social Workers. (2009). Family planning and reproductive choice. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Planned Parenthood. (n. d.). Thinking about Adoption. Retrieved from:

United Nations General Assembly. (1989). Convention on the rights of the child. United Nations, Treaty Series, 1577(3).

“Once Labeled”- The Grooming of a Birthmother


“Once labeled a [birthmother], other elements of a [mother’s] character, experiences, knowledge, aspirations, slowly recede into the background, replaced by the language of symptom and syndrome. Inevitably, conversation about the person becomes dominated by the imagery of [adoption] and relationships with the [expectant mother] re-form around such representations.

To the extent that [this] label takes hold, the [expectant mother], through a process of surrender and increasing dependence, becomes the once alien identification….These are not value neutral terms, either. They serve to separate those who suffer these “ailments” from those who do not; a distinction that if not physical (as in hospitalization) is at least moral. Those who are labeled, in ways both subtle and brutish, are degraded–certainly in terms of social regard and status.” (Saleeby, 2009, p. 4)

 When people are labeled, they are degraded. They are separated from the group. They *become* the label. A woman is no longer “M., an expectant mother considering adoption.” She is a birthmother; no longer a mother, but something lesser, something less human not even deserving of a real label, but a manufactured one. She eventually surrenders to this label because it has become the dominant imagery she is associated with by others.  She assumes the role of birthmother because her own character, knowledge, aspirations–her identity–are swallowed up by the label.

The adoption industry understands the dynamics of and power behind labels. Calling an expectant mother a “birthmother” before she has terminated her parental rights is just one of the multiple methods they use to coerce an expectant woman to “voluntarily” part with her child. By calling an expectant mother a “birthmother” before she has even given birth and met her child, adoption counselors, social workers, and other industry advocates are grooming her, exerting subtle (but brutish) coercive persuasion to encourage her to surrender to the role of birthmother, to become the label they have created for her.

If any woman was labeled a “birthmother” by an adoption counselor, attorney, social worker, hopeful adoptive parents, their own parents, friends, or their religious community before she terminated her parental rights, then she experienced a form of adoption-related coercive persuasion. Further, any one who labels an expectant mother a “birthmother” before her rights have been terminated (voluntarily or by the courts) is participating in coercive persuasion, whether they recognize it or acknowledge it as such.



Saleeby, D. (2009). Introduction: Power in the people. In Saleeby, D. (Ed.), The strengths perspective in social work practice (5th ed., pp. 1-23). Boston, MA: Pearson.