Women can always give their babies up for adoption, so abortions are unnecessary. That appeared to be Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s argument during oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization earlier this month.
In that case, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices indicated that they were leaning toward upholding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, putting the future of Roe v. Wade—the landmark decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion—in jeopardy.
Barrett, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Donald Trump last year, pointed out that all 50 states have safe haven laws that allow a woman to give up an infant for adoption shortly after giving birth.
“Both Roe and Casey emphasize the burdens of parenting, and insofar as you and many of your amici focus on the ways that forced parenting, forced motherhood, would impede women’s access to the workplace and equal opportunities, it’s also focused on the consequences of parenting and the obligations of motherhood that flow from pregnancy,” Barrett, who has two adopted children, said. “Why don’t the safe haven laws address that issue?”
Barrett’s argument, according to experts and researchers, ignores the burden of forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term and minimizes the impact that placing a baby for adoption can have on birth parents as well as the children involved.
Restricting abortion access forces women to “give up her right to bodily integrity, her right to medical privacy, her right to medical decision-making, and her right to make decisions about the size and timing of her family.”
According to Nicole Witt, executive director of The Adoption Consultancy, it is “a common misconception” that a woman facing a crisis pregnancy must choose between abortion and adoption. Those who want to terminate a pregnancy and those who choose adoption, however, face “very different challenges,” she told reporters.
Some people may decide to have an abortion due to the dangers that carrying a pregnancy poses to their health or even their life.
Others may seek to terminate a pregnancy because they are afraid of an abusive partner or because the child is the result of an un-consensual encounter. “There are thousands of other reasons a woman might consider having an abortion that adoption does not address,” Witt said.
Pregnant women may also be concerned about the cost of prenatal care and childbirth, as well as the possibility of losing their job or being unable to work if they continue with their pregnancy. According to Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, Barrett’s remarks are “the same kind of argument that has been used throughout history when white people try to control Black women’s lives and Black women’s wombs.”
She noted that because wealthy women can always travel for abortions, the impact would be disproportionately felt by poor women and women of color.
While Barrett acknowledged the burden of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, calling it “an infringement on bodily autonomy,” her remarks failed to recognize that the decision to relinquish an infant for adoption can have long-term consequences.
While she acknowledges that the number of babies placed for adoption in the United States is decreasing year after year, Witt is concerned that outlawing abortion will result in a situation in which more children end up in foster care. This will disproportionately affect Black children, according to Howell, citing research showing that Black children take longer to be adopted than white children, and that dark-skinned Black children wait longer than those with lighter skin.
Barrett’s description of safe haven relinquishments as a way for a woman to “regain control over her life and her future is so incongruous with what we know about how women make decisions about pregnancy, parenting, and what they want for their children and families,” said Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist with the University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health research group.