In the context of unwanted pregnancy, abortion and adoption are bitter rivals. They are mutually-exclusive, diametrically-opposed competitors, and as things stand today, abortion is winning in a landslide—though landslide may be too generous a term. According to the National Council for Adoption's (NCFA) Factbook V, which came out last year and analyzes data from 2007 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), for every 15 infant adoptions in the United States, there are 1,000 abortions. That's 67 abortions for every one infant adoption. Among women who visit Planned Parenthood, the results are even worse. According to their 2010 annual report, Planned Parenthood performed 392 abortions for every adoption they referred. In response to these numbers, the National Council for Adoption writes the following:
NCFA takes no position on abortion, except to suggest that many women might not choose abortion if there were better counseling, better social services, more maternity assistance programs, and increased adoption awareness and counseling available. If women knew that there are many families hoping to adopt for every one adoptable infant, and that adoption is beneficial to most adopted persons and birth mothers who make an adoption plan, there might be more adoptions.
The thing that troubles me about this assessment, the part I find naive and untenable, is the suggestion that a person or organization can be effectively pro-adoption without also being anti-abortion. It's like arguing that you can win a football game by only playing offense. If you don't send a defensive unit onto the field, it doesn't matter how good you are at scoring points; you're still going to get crushed—which is precisely what's happening in the matchup between abortion and adoption. In an attempt to stay above the political fray, the NCFA is unwilling to publicly condemn abortion, even as they complain about the lack of quality counseling that is endemic to the "family planning" industry. But in order for counseling to be more effective at promoting adoption, which the NCFA is clearly after, counselors have to be more willing to question the ethics of abortion. Right? Not according to the NCFA. Their Factbook V includes an essay from longtime abortion insider, Shelley Miller, endorsing "non-judgmental, client-centered counseling" that refuses to view adoption as morally superior to abortion. How do we improve counseling then? According the NCFA, counselors just need to do a better job letting women know that "hundreds of thousands of families are now available to adopt [their] babies." Seriously?! If this were a football game, here's what the halftime meeting might sound like.
"Uh, coach, abortion is beating us 392-1. Do you think it's time we started to play defense?"
"Defense?! Don't be ridiculous, we just need to make a few more offensive tweaks and we'll be fine…"
And so abortion continues to run unencumbered into the end zone, play after play after play. As long as abortion is kept beyond the realm of moral critique, adoption will continue to be an afterthought. It is only when abortion is removed from the realm of moral acceptability that adoption becomes a real and viable solution to unwanted pregnancy. The primary obstacle to adoption isn't convincing women that adoption is available; it's convincing them that abortion is an act of violence that kills an innocent human being. But this is something the NCFA makes no allowance for, choosing rather to keep its defense on the sidelines.
Saying all that, I can understand why the NCFA believes it to be in their best interest to remain publicly neutral on abortion. I disagree with the decision, but I understand the political calculation involved. And even if the NCFA were to publicly condemn abortion, they still wouldn't have much leverage when it comes to influencing the counseling practices of Planned Parenthood. No, of far greater concern to me is the fact that most Christians, most churches, and most ministries seem just as averse to publicly opposing abortion as the National Council for Adoption, and we don't have anything like their excuse. While Christians are generally willing to label themselves "pro-life," far fewer are willing to actually oppose abortion in a publicly meaningful way. They might think about abortion every election cycle, but that's the extent of their engagement.
Tragically, as Christians around the world have taken on the needs of the poor and oppressed, abortion-vulnerable children have largely been left by the wayside. At best, they're being neglected; at worst, they're being shunned. I've seen this in all sorts of ways, but one of the clearest came at an adoption conference I attended a couple years back. One of the general session speakers made a tremendously compelling case for churches to realign their ministries in accordance with James 1:27. He said one of the most probing and revealing questions we can ask pastors is simply this, "How many orphans is your church caring for?" He went to Isaiah 58 to argue that the service God is looking for is not empty religiosity, but rather "to loose the bonds of wickedness... to let the oppressed go free... to share your bread with the hungry... [to] bring the homeless poor into your house, and [to clothe] the naked." He said the Great Commission has become the Great Omission and noted that, if every church in America adopted one child, foster care would be completely eradicated. Amen and amen. But then he said something that made me wince. Referring to the church he said, "We'll picket abortion clinics and vote pro-life, but we don't care about kids after they're born."
There are a number of things that trouble me about this statement. I'll start with the relatively minor ones. First, picketing is a negative term. It's the world's term used to belittle and demean those who feel strongly enough about the violent death of unborn children to actually interrupt their busy schedule, invite the scorn of their community, and publicly stand against it. Second, call it what you want, the majority of Christians have never set foot outside an abortion clinic, except perhaps to get inside the abortion clinic. When pastors like this one, with a tremendous heart for orphan care, make subtly derisive remarks about the relatively small percentage of Christians who actually are combating abortion, they're simply reinforcing the misconceptions of the world—a world that somehow thinks the church at large is obsessed with combatting abortion and homosexuality. Those are my minor points of contention. The main problem lies in the second half of the pastor's accusation. While I agree with his assessment that the church as a whole is not adequately caring for orphans, and I agree with his declaration that Christians should be known more for what we're for than what we're against, it is simply untrue to claim that those who are passionate about rescuing children from abortion don't care about these children once they're born. My experience has been exactly the opposite. Long before adoption became fashionable both inside and outside the church, many in the abortion battle were already adopting children in droves. For a long time, it seemed the only people in the church who cared about adoption we're the ones who cared about abortion.
If you start with the abortion problem, there is a natural gravitation towards adoption. You embrace adoption because it is a solution to abortion. I do not say the solution, for it is not a lack of adoptive parents that drives the abortion epidemic, but adoption is a glorious response to the existence of "unwanted" children. However, if you start with adoption as a response to the orphan crisis, you may not naturally move towards the active opposition of abortion. In fact, the world sees abortion as a solution to the orphan crisis, and it's possible that the church believes the same—though few would ever admit it. There is a subtle perception in some modern, evangelical churches that adoption is loving and Christ-like, but opposition to abortion is hateful and Pharisaic.
Here's the problem, Christianity is taking a massive PR hit for its perceived obsession with abortion, but doing almost nothing to actually combat abortion. And, in an effort to dispel the notion that all we care about is abortion, the church is becoming even less inclined to care for abortion-vulnerable children. We have a church that doesn't care much about abortion, a world that thinks all the church cares about is abortion, and Christians that are starting to believe it—almost apologizing for a fervor we simply don't have. More and more churches see widow and orphan care as central to the gospel of Christ but claim that abortion is "too political" to be involved with. I think what they mean is that abortion is too politically unpopular to be involved with.
It is a mercy that so much of the social activism God calls us to makes Christianity more sympathetic and commendable to the unbelieving world. It is wonderful that we can enjoy the fruits of feeding the poor in the form of praise from the world and thanks from the victim. But are those the things that should be driving us? What if the world doesn't give us kudos? What if the victims have no capacity to thank us or recognize our efforts? Will we still act on their behalf? Isn't there a sort of beauty in moving forward on things close to God's heart for which there is no worldly reward? And isn't there a danger in only embracing causes that earn us the applause of the world—just as there is a danger in never embracing causes that earn the applause of the world?
In preparing for a talk I was to give a couple weeks ago at the Together for Adoption National Conference, I realized that there is only one place in the Bible where a physical adoption actually takes place. It happens when Moses is adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. And that got me thinking, why only one? And then it hit me. It's because all the other adoptable babies were killed before they could be adopted. And that's sort of where things stand today with abortion. Yes, we must be ready and willing to adopt the babies who make it down river, but what about the hundreds, thousands, millions of babies who aren't even making it out of the womb? Rescuing these orphans requires penetrating cultural strongholds in prophetic and strategic ways—which is why the church's public embrace of adoption must coincide with meaningful, public opposition to abortion. You can't be an effective champion of adoption without doing battle against abortion, any more than you can be a competitive football team without ever trying to stop the other team from scoring.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.