On one hand, while yes it is true, that if a newborn baby finds adoptive parents right away, they then avoid the foster care system... but that is the condition that your entire argument hinges on. Will every newborn baby have adoptive parents for it to be placed with? Many will, many will not. If they're not immediately adopted, then the situation still stands that they will be put into the foster care system.
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Hi Rachel, great article! I do encounter a lot of people who misunderstand this, and often don't realize there's a waiting list for couples who want to adopt newborns, so every newborn up for adoption generally does find a family. But I've heard another version of this argument you don't address here, where the pro-choice person will say something like this:
"If a woman wants an abortion and can't get one, but isn't willing to put her baby up for adoption, she ends up with a child born into a rough situation due to financial struggles, drugs, abuse, broken home, etc. (whatever the reason was that she initially sought an abortion). Then in a few years when the money runs out or the parents relapse on drugs, etc., the child ends up in foster care anyway, burdening the system more than if she was allowed to abort initially."
So this argument isn't "babies who aren't adopted end up in foster care" so much as "babies who aren't aborted are often born into troubled homes, and therefore more likely to end up in foster care later."
Obviously "this child may have a rough life" isn't a justifiable reason to abort (any one of us "might" have a rough life), but I'm pretty sure the statistics do show that when women are denied an abortion, their children are more likely than average to end up in foster care -- so how would you address this form of the "ending abortion would overburden the foster care system" argument?
Hope this makes sense! Thanks!
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I agree that this would not be an argument to keep abortion legal, even if what you are saying were true, but I do think that your point about providing alternatives OTHER than abortion to relieve social injustices is a good one.
I think that it would be just as important to keep and strengthen all the CPCs that we have in order to help distressed pregnant women in need if abortion laws were returned to what they were in the mid-1960s.
Expanded social programs--such as fighting pregnancy-discrimination in schools and in the workplace, free college for at least the first two years, paid maternity leave, affordable daycare, mandated sick leave pay, universal and affordable health care, and anti-poverty programs such as guaranteed jobs with livable wages, affordable housing, food, utilities, and good public transportation could reduce economic burdens, thus reducing abortions.
As for children in foster care, I think that the above programs could reduce children relinquished to state care, as well.
In cases where biological parents are obviously unfit, I think that it would be good policy to release them for adoption SOONER than they often do at present.
I also think that if adoption were made an easier process for the adopting parents, perhaps more would go that route, rather than with expensive and unreliable high-tech fertility treatments.
Just my thoughts.
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Rachel Crawford
Hi Caitlin,
Thank-you for your question, I think the version of the argument that you’re raising is common concern among many pro-choice and some pro-life people. I plan to write at least two more articles on this blog on the topic of adoption. I hope to address this very idea at length in one of these posts, but I wanted this article to be very specific in clarifying this misunderstanding.
You’re right in saying that the “this child may have a rough life” isn’t a justifiable reason to abort. This is the core of the pro-life response to the strong version of the foster care argument. I am not an expert on the statistics, but I think that it is intuitive to think that a child who is born as a result of an unwanted pregnancy is more likely to be raised in a “troubled home” and later taken into foster care than a child of a much wanted and intentional pregnancy. I imagine it is difficult to actually present statistical evidence that this is true to a significant degree, because there is no way to really track the number of women who considered aborting or had an unexpected pregnancy, chose to parent, and then had their child taken into foster care later as compared to mothers who intentionally became pregnant and later had their children taken into foster care. There may be statistics that show a correlation in demographics for high rates of abortions and the high rates of children taken into foster care. You could demonstrate that these numbers change depending on abortion access by location or something. Unfortunately, because there are so many other factors at play I think it would be nearly impossible to draw legitimate statistical conclusions and so we should be appropriately skeptical with our “best guess” intuitions and not treat them as fact. I think trusting our assumptions could lead us to being overconfident in our concerns about what problems we would face if abortion ended.
Given all this, I think it is best to respond to the "ending abortion would overburden the foster care system" argument by assuming it is true, even though I am not completely convinced. Imagine that we had a government official announce tomorrow that the foster care system was so corrupt and overburdened that we needed to not allow any more children into it. From now on, social workers are ordered to euthanize children who would otherwise need to be taken into foster care and if foster parents fail inspections they will be arrested and those children euthanized as well because the system is doing such a large disservice to children that it is better we should kill them, rather than allowing them to suffer. People would be outraged by this solution, as they should be. They would demand we find an alternative solution to this foster care crisis.
I think that if people considered the unborn as a human person with the same moral consideration as born children then they would not make the foster care argument. I think the argument comes from a place of compassion for preventing suffering of children and they see abortion as a preventative measure. I don’t want to see children raised by parents who going to mistreat and abuse them anymore than my pro-choice friends. However, I do not see abortion as a preventative solution to this problem because the children are already present, only they are being killed before birth.
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Good thought experiment showing that the defects of foster care don't lead to the conclusion that foster care should be avoided at all costs.
Also, the fact that "ending abortion would [likely] overburden the foster care system" doesn't mean that all that grief will be a permanent feature of society. When grief reaches a certain point, society tends to do something about it, and if abortion has been ruled out, society will have to divert resources to the kids, even if that means diverting them away from some of our favorite habits and circuses.