On Saturday morning, my wife and I took our children to pray outside the Planned Parenthood clinic near our home in Nebraska. Nearly 700 other people joined us—praying on their knees, singing songs of praise, and holding pro-life signs for passing cars to read.

Among the signs, I noticed several that read “Adoption: the Loving Option,” and “Choose Adoption, Not Abortion.” Over the years, I’ve noticed that adoption is frequently among the first options mentioned when promoting alternatives to abortion. Iterations of “choose adoption” are standard components of pro-life sloganeering.

My own two children are adopted. Adoption has been a source of grace for my marriage, my children, and, I hope, for their birth parents. And I am an ally of those in prayer at abortion clinics—I’ve been actively pro-life for fifteen years. But I’d like to offer some suggestions on the “adoption-first” language, and signage, of the pro-life movement.

The selfless courage of my children’s birth families is indelibly seared in my brain. Both families faced challenging circumstances, both reflected prudently and soberly, both made gut-wrenching choices for the sake of newborn children they’d already come to love. In freedom, they loved with a power I can only hope to imitate. Their valor is common to many birth parents I’ve met.

Adoption is often the selfless choice to give children what parents don’t have—the financial, emotional, or personal resources required for a lifelong commitment to parenting.

But even in the most beautiful circumstances, adoption always represents a disruption to the natural order. Catholic social teaching emphasizes both the natural rights of children to their parents, and the supernatural privilege of parents to share in the procreative love of God the Father. It’s true that God’s love is sacrificial, and the love expressed by birth-parents mirrors that love. But when the Lord gives the gift of life, he forms families patterned after the Trinity itself.

Adoption, by which natural parental rights are severed, is a deviation from that pattern. No matter the situation, even when it is the best choice, there is an always an element of tragic sadness to undoing a family bond. My own family, I know, was borne of the difficult circumstances visited upon other parents. My wife and I hope for more children, but, if we’re being honest, we hope that adoption simply becomes far less necessary.

In some ways, the pro-life movement’s adoption-first messaging seems to ape the message of pro-choice activists. That the baby is a problem, and that being divested of the problem will set things right. But in fact the baby is a gift. And the message of the Christian community should be that in Christ, and through his disciples, the gift can be received in confidence.

Adoption is never an easy decision. Choosing to disentangle a family is always done with a heavy heart. And although it is well intentioned, the adoption-first language of the pro-life movement can seem cavalier and disrespectful to those engaged in unimaginable discernment. And suggesting adoption as the first option to a woman in crisis implies that she has little hope of fulfilling the profound vocation to which she is called.

The pro-life movement should instead lead with assistance and empowerment. The message of the Gospel is that Christ brings freedom for the impossible. Christian charity is, or should be, among the merciful means by which that freedom comes to fruition.

Before “choose adoption,” we ought to start with “you can do it, and we’ll help!” And we ought to mean it.

There is no doubt crisis pregnancy centers and other apostolates make laudable efforts to help women fulfill their vocations as mothers. But pro-life believers should ask themselves what more they can do to help mothers and fathers in crisis to parent their own children.

Unfortunately, our views on adoption can be colored by our consumerist culture. Out of real generosity, families are often willing to expend huge sums of money to adopt a child. But in justice, we ought to ask what the same amount of money might do to preserve a child’s natural family, and whether we’re willing to provide it.

Of course, adoption sometimes really is the best choice. When parents decide that, we should support it. But we should begin our charitable support by working to preserve the natural family through the solidarity, and charity, that combats the fractioning and isolation of the culture of death.

Friends of ours have long made it known that they’re open to adopt any child in need of a home. Some months ago, they got a call from a young woman—pregnant, poor, and hoping to go to college. She assumed she was unready for a child. They talked for a while about programs and resources that might help, about staying with them for a couple of months, and, mostly, about her strength to receive the gift of life from the Lord. “I don’t understand,” she said, “don’t you want my baby?”

Our friends did want a baby. But the Lord had chosen a mother for that baby, and a child for that mother—nothing is more loving, our friends found, than helping a parent to receive the Father’s gift of life.

JD Flynn writes from Lincoln, Nebraska. 

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