What is Coercion?

Adoption Coercion:  Taking Away a Mother’s Right to Make a Decision

What is Adoption Coercion?

Adoption coercion is any form of overt or covert pressure, manipulation, convincing, force, fraud, human rights violation, or withholding of resources that results in a woman surrendering a baby for adoption.

Adoption coercion includes any practice specifically designed  to ensure or significantly increase the odds that a mother will surrender her baby for adoption. It also includes any practice designed to restrict or remove  freedom of choice by the use of influence, persuasion, fraud, or duress. A coerced ‘choice’ is not a ‘choice’  – there is no “decision” where there is coercion.

Perpetrators of adoption coercion  include anyone in a position of trust, authority, or relative power in relation to the mother. Examples are: adoption industry employees, hospital staff, medical professionals, prospective adopters, social workers, government social policy makers, family members, clergy and nuns, maternity home staff, etc.

Why is Coercion Used?

Coercion is used to deliberately eliminate informed choice for mothers.  This is not for the benefit of a mother or her baby, but because others want to separate her from her baby for adoption purposes.

The Risks to the Mother from Adoption Coercion

When a mother has been coerced into surrendering her baby for adoption, she is at high risk for multiple lifelong repercussions. These consequences can include severe unresolved grief, clinical depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), relationship and parenting difficulties, self-esteem issues, and physical health complications resulting from stress. She may feel exploited and used – especially if she realizes later how she wanted to keep her baby and how she was manipulated or forced to surrender. Her baby might grow up feeling unwanted, rejected, “given away,” or “not good enough to keep.” .  It may be difficult to explain to a surrendered child why she kept her other children but not this one. Subsequent children may fear that their mother will give them away also.

The Effect of Coercion

Coercion renders a mother unable to make a freely-made decision. When coercion is applied, the mother has not made a decision because there is no freedom of choice. She has not “placed” or “given up” her baby for adoption. Her baby has been taken by others who manipulated her  to produce the result they wanted.

The Importance of Informed Consent

Informed consent is also necessary in order for a surrender to be free from coercion. Informed consent to adoption can only be given once the mother has recovered from childbirth (usually considered a minimum of six weeks). This is to ensure the following three necessary prerequisites to informed consent: (1) Pregnancy and birthing hormones have returned to pre-pregnancy levels , (2) Any resulting post-partum depression has been diagnosed and  treated,  and (3) The mother has had significant bonding time with her baby in an environment free from coercive elements.

When is There Truly an “Adoption Decision”?

Terminating a mother’s parental rights results in her baby becoming a “legal orphan” available for adoption. A decision of this magnitude can only be  made in the absence of coercion and with informed consent

Following are the necessary prerequisites which must be present in order for a mother to be able to make a decision for adoption. If any of these prerequisites are lacking, then the mother cannot make this decision and inquires should be made as to who in her life stands to benefit from her surrendering her baby for adoption and has worked towards this end.

  1.  The mother must have recovered from childbirth and have had access to her child in order to get to know her baby as a person, her son or daughter.
  2. The mother must have had the opportunity to engage in a mother-child relationship with her child, with adequate support and mentoring.
  3. The mother must be screened and treated for any possible postpartum depression or other health issues which may influence her surrender decision.
  4. The mother must be fully informed of the risk of lifelong emotional consequences to herself and her baby.
  5. The mother must be instructed on the realities of the legal institution of adoption: Filiation will be severed and she will no longer be legally related to her child. Open adoption agreements are not legally binding and she may never see her child again.  An amended birth record will be issued stating that the adoptive parents gave birth to her child. Depending on the jurisdiction, her child may never be able to obtain a copy of his/her original birth record or learn about the natural parents
  6. There must be no financial coercion, either in the form of (1) poverty, financial insecurity, or lack of resources, or (2) having fallen prey to entrapment practices such as having received gifts or money during her pregnancy with the expectation of handing over her baby in exchange.
  7. There must be no pre-birth matching or prior contact with (and thus influence from ) prospective adoptive parents. This is because of the high risk of emotional coercion resulting from this contact (e.g., fear of hurting or disappointing them by keeping her baby, feeling they deserve her baby more than she does, bonding with them due to high oxytocin levels during pregnancy and birth, etc.).
  8. There must be no contact or influence during her pregnancy or before recovery from any person or agency who will benefit financially or otherwise by her baby being placed for adoption.

Only when all these elements are in place can a woman truly make a decision regarding adoption.  If she decides for adoption with fully informed consent, free of coercion, only then should substitute care be considered. This could include kinship care, permanent legal guardianship, or adoption by unrelated strangers

 

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