The publicity surrounding the custody fight over two-and-a-half-year-old Jessica de Boer has prompted a lot of emotional discussion about the rights of people involved in adoption.  After mounting an intensive media campaign, Jessica’s adoptive parents won in the court of public opinion but the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court were not persuaded.  They granted custody of the little girl to her natural parents, Clara and Daniel Schmidt, after more than two years of legal appeals.

This case illustrates some of the problems associated with adoption.  There is an imbalance of power between the parties in an adoption agreement, which fails to consider that bonding between mother and child can well be established before birth.

Let’s be honest.  It is contrary to our human nature to give away a child.  It is unfair to be too critical of a mother who reconsiders a decision which will alter her life, and that of her child, forever.

I am not anti-abortion.  I am concerned, however, that the feelings of inadequacy which all new mothers experience may leave single mothers especially vulnerable to exploitation.

I have always felt uneasy about pro-lifers’ tendency to embrace adoption as the seemingly obvious alternative to abortion.  Although it is clearly a more humane response to a crisis pregnancy, advocating adoption can send a similar message to women as does abortion: Solve the problem by getting rid of the baby.

Encouraging a young woman to surrender her child for adoption can say to her she is unworthy or incapable of caring for her baby.  The desire to make up for her transgression, to please her family, or to erase her shame through an act of nobility, can influence her to choose adoption.

Adoption proponents may assume that young women who contemplate abortion don’t want their babies.  Many of them do, but they feel overwhelmed by their circumstances.  Their decision to abort is more often an act of denial of pregnancy than a rejection of the baby.  If they can get past their initial panic, many then become capable, nurturing mothers.

Despite the amoral climate which surrounds us, there is still a stigma attached to unmarried mothers.  The traditional prejudice, which brands the mother either a tramp or a victim, now co-exists with its modern version, which considers her an idiot for not contracepting well.  Both camps seem to share some discomfort with women’s fertility.

There’s no question that there are times when the interests of the child require that he be removed from or surrendered by his mother, and there are certainly many adoptive parents who provide nurturing homes to their children.

We should acknowledge, however, that adoption ensures neither a loving nor a stable two-parent home.  Many adopted children suffer the devastation of divorce, only to be raised by a single mother after all.  In fact, adoption by single women (actresses Susan Ruttan and Michelle Pfeiffer are recent examples) is quite widespread.  There is also growing acceptance of adoption by homosexual and lesbian couples.

The media, despite its professed liberalism, is decidedly elitist in its coverage of adoption conflicts.  It frequently portrays the adoption couple as having a perfectly flawless marriage save the one heartbreak of infertility.  In contrast, it is harsh on those who give up the baby for adoption, often depicting them as emotionally immature or incapable of rearing an infant.

While scenes of a sobbing two-year-old being taken from the only parents she knows are painful to watch, there are legitimate reasons why adoption agreements fall apart.  In the case of Jessica, “consent” was obtained from the mother prior to the stipulated waiting period, and was never obtained from the father.

The years of litigation that began within weeks of the child’s birth are part of a legal strategy to support the eventual claim that the best interests of the child are preserved by keeping her in the family she has known for so long.

Jessica’s pain was made all the worse because it was completely avoidable.  She should have been removed to a foster home immediately when the adoption was contested.  Both sides would then have had an equal interest in resolving the conflict quickly.  Both could have established a relationship with her in the interim.

Instead, it’s heartbreak all around.