by Gretchen Sisson
The reproductive justice movement has never just been about abortion – indeed, one of the biggest contributions of reproductive justice is to push the pro-choice movement beyond abortion, to remind all of us that people’s reproductive lives have been denied to them, controlled, oppressed, and commodified in myriad ways throughout our history. This idea of justice brings parenting and the rights of mothers into the conversation in an absolutely vital way. Those of us in the movement of course recognize that parenting issues are not parallel to other issues such as abortion, pregnancy prevention, and pregnant people’s control over their own bodies, but instead that they are inextricably intertwined.
Here at Backline, our discussion moves from infertility to pregnancy loss to abortion to marginalized parenthood with many stops along the way, because we see our movement’s obligation to addressing all of these experiences in concert. We can’t respond adequately to one issue if we’re not thinking about the others. Over the past few years, we’ve also tried to prioritize bringing adoption into this discussion. And this is where we’d like the rest of the reproductive justice movement to begin chiming in – explicitly, loudly, and passionately. Anti-abortion advocates never stop talking about adoption. We shouldn’t either.
Whenever I talk about adoption to those within the reproductive health, rights and justice movement, there’s an enthusiasm, an appetite to learn more, and a sense that this is an issue that they haven’t thought about in much detail. And much as I enjoy talking about adoption, this last part must change. In adoption, there are always questions of reproductive choice and the potential for coercion. There are the overlapping issues of unplanned pregnancy, of infertility, of family formation for non-heteronormative families, of the rights of a pregnant person and of a child. There are families being created, and families being separated – and people adapting to new, lifelong identities in these roles altered by adoption. And much of this happens, more often than not, with a sense of limited opportunity for the pregnant person, socioeconomic and financial disparities at play, and a long shadow of stigma and secrecy shrouding it all. This is at the core of reproductive justice: how do we support all people in creating the families that they want in their lives? Adoption must be central to this conversation.
Some reproductive justice advocates are passionate about adoption, and do engage around the issue. Yet, I have noticed a profound disconnect between the RJ movement and the adoption activist community. I recently attended the American Adoption Congress meeting in San Francisco, and the sense that adoption has been omitted from the conversation was very real. Many speakers at the AAC felt excluded by feminists who focus solely on abortion or the rights of adoptive families, without acknowledging the role social hierarchies and pressures play in adoption decisions, or the consequences birth mothers have experienced post-adoption. They were dismayed by the “pro-life” movement which presents adoption as full of only happy endings, and frustrated with a pro-choice movement that does not address them either. These activists were adamant, determined, and appropriately demanding that they be heard. As keynote speaker Leslie Pate MacKinnon said in her speech: “The feminist movement that let us down before? Well, it’s called reproductive justice now. And I want in.” We must make sure the door is wide open for her.
To those new to the adoption conversation, we welcome you, and to those that have been thinking about these issues for a long time, speak up! Share what you’ve learned by reading The Child Catchers, or following the Baby Veronica case, or watching adoptees fight for their original birth certificates. Join us – all of you – for our upcoming conversation about The Girls Who Went Away, as part of our RJ Reads series.
You can’t talk about abortion completely without understanding adoption; you can’t talk about parenthood meaningfully without understanding adoption. If we believe in reproductive justice, this is our responsibility – not only to our movement, but to all those impacted by adoption every day.