Relationship between Abortion and Adoption
Individuals within the U.S. often disagree over various issues. Some of the largest disagreements present in our society today surround issues of gun access, equality, global warming, LGBTQ rights, immigration, and abortion. Abortion or reproductive rights in general, have faced scrutiny for over a century. Anthony Comstock created the Comstock Act of 1873 in order to control the number of prostitutes in New York so decided to ban access to contraception. This act and the actions of Comstock began the battle between government and women in relation to their bodily rights. In The Girls Who Went Away, written by Ann Fessler, the issue of abortion and lack of access to this procedure prior to 1973 are presented and discussed by the various women who experienced the hardships of adoption. Fessler weaves the topic of abortion and adoption together, showing the gloomy perspective of abortion not often discussed, therefore not disagreed over. Fessler offers a new perspective on the relationship between adoption and abortion.
Roe v. Wade made the act of abortion legal throughout the U.S. in 1973. However, prior to Roe v. Wade, adoption existed as the only answer to an unplanned pregnancy for many of the women interviewed by Fessler, often from a white middle-class background. These unplanned mothers were forced to surrender their babies to adoption agencies by their parents and societal pressures into this avenue. Parents discounted the wishes of these women, such as Glory and Kathi who were interviewed by Fessler. Glory negated the view that babies were unwanted and stated that “there would have been nothing more wonderful than to come home with my baby”. Kathi and her partner had planned to marry and raise their baby until their prospective parents convinced them otherwise, instead choosing to take care of the problem. Women that had fallen pregnant also endured the societal pressures that shamed them for the predicament that they found themselves in for engaging in such an act. In the account by Annie, her doctor told her mother to use any money she had saved for her on the maternity home seeing as “she doesn’t deserve to have it anyway”.
The account by Nancy I further depicted the societal conditions that these women lived through. Nancy had not truly known the “whole biology of it”, it referring to sex. The inability of Nancy to call sex by its name shows the disconnection that girls had with this topic, even though they engaged in this act. Nancy refused to acknowledge her pregnancy for four months, until her mother took her to a doctor to undergo an examination. Nancy did not know where her baby would come from, further showing her naivety to pregnancy and the workings of human body. This naivety came from the social normality’s that avoided any mention of sex or pregnancy. After Nancy gave birth to her son, she had to put him for adoption. Nancy knew that she would see her son again and kept this truth with herself from that point forward. Twenty-one years later, Nancy kept her promise to herself and developed a relationship with her son. Nancy battled with the trauma from this experience and the belief that her voice and experience did not matter from society telling her not to discuss or acknowledge this history.
After reading Nancy’s account of adoption my perspective on adoption broadened. Before I had viewed adoption as an overall good ordeal for all involved. Both of my parents are social workers, specifically in the child protective services area, and have removed children from their homes as a result of the abuse they experience. For them, removal is always the last option, especially if the child will have to live in a group home or foster care. As such, I saw adoption for children as necessary and applauded those that adopted children. However I had never stopped to think of the mother’s experience in the adoption process. I merely thought that children put in adoption resulted from the mother’s lack of ability to care for their child. I never assumed the reason for adoption to come from the mother’s lack of love for their child. One of the interviewed women, Glory, stated that the baby was “unwanted by society, not by mom”. This statement by Glory caught me off guard as I had never stopped to think of this possibility. After reading Nancy’s account, as well as other women’s, I began to realize that women who were forced to put their child through the adoption process lost part of their identity. As soon as the women became mothers that right was stripped from them. However, they still held onto their motherhood mentality, regardless of the fact that their child was taken from their grasp and into adoption.
While I have always been aware of the existence of gender stereotypes, reading about its impact on women in life further solidified my need to challenge these stereotypes. The impact of the sexual revolution on men and women altered. Men were expected to engage in sexual activity often. They were applauded and praised for every sexual ‘conquest’. On the other hand, women were discouraged from even talking about sex. It was expected that women would remain virgins until their husband ‘deflowered’ them on their wedding night. Men were the ones expected to have experience in this area with the few women who engaged in premarital sex. If a woman was caught engaging in intercourse she would be called easy and seen unfit for marriage, ruining her reputation for herself and her family. Furthermore, these women were constantly told that their opinion and experience did not matter. They were told to not talk about their experience when sent away. One woman, Diane IV, recalled her physical response prior to her interview with Fessler:
“My jaw doesn’t want to open and my lungs are all tight… I’m supposed to be silent. I’m not supposed to tell this story. The secrecy has dominated everything. It’s so powerful and pervasive and the longer you keep a secret, the more power it takes on”.
Women were encouraged to forget their time away and to act as if it never happened. This was nearly impossible for many women and some, such as Nancy, consolidated with psychiatrists in order to deal with the grief of losing their child. The different expectations for men and women during the 1950’s and 1960’s forced women to endure the hardships of adoption.
In the present day, the story of adoption does not hold the same weight as it did in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today, women have been ‘granted’ access to abortion and are allowed the opportunity to choose which path they take with their body. For this reason, women are not forced to carry a baby to term. Women are not forced to put their baby through the adoption process. Women are given the chance to decide what they wish to do with their body and fetus. Women are granted autonomy over their own bodies. Not everyone agrees with the choices that women make and continue to attempt to regulate actions that women take concerning their own bodies. Abortion is an issue that individuals in the U.S. are attempting to restrict. As such, the adoption aspect that used to interact with abortion has dwindled in comparison. However, I do not believe that anyone should tell a woman what to do with their body, no matter the circumstance.
The gendering of actions continues to exist in the U.S. today. Strides have been taken, predominantly by feminist and the LGBTQ community, to eliminate and challenge these gender stereotypes. For instance, it has become acceptable for a woman to hold a high paying position and earn a comfortable income. It has also become acceptable for a woman to educate herself and earn a PhD. The concept and understanding of sex and gender has also changed, broadening the ‘acceptability’ of individuals that break from the societal norms. Not all are accepting of these individuals, but the amount that are has risen in recent years. Societal standards restrict individuals from expressing their true selves, as does gendering actions and traits.
Fessler’s writing in The Girls Who Went Away merged the issues of adoption and abortion together. While Fessler’s narrative followed white-middle class women, I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of ethnic women to acknowledge their presence during these eras. Including the stories of women that experienced the trauma of adoption before Roe v Wade, allowed the reader to hear the pain and impact that their experiences has left them with so many years later. The issues of adoption and abortion should be left entirely to the mother. If the mother chooses to allow outside forces to influence and guide her actions that is her decision. Forcing a woman to put her baby up for adoption due to societal pressures inhibits their freedom of choice. The story of Nancy, in The Girls Who Went Away, furthers solidifies my opinion that what a women decides to do with her body is her prerogative and none of my business.