In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, being an unwed mother carried a significant stigma in America. It’s now called the “baby scoop” era and during this time young women -- usually in their teens -- were either hidden at home, sent to live with distant relatives or quietly dispatched to maternity homes to give birth.
Estimates are as many as 1.5 million young mothers who say they were forced -- some just minutes after delivery -- to hand over their babies for adoption during this period. It was a decision that they seldom made on their own.It's easy to sympathize with the mothers here, for whom this must have been a traumatic and upsetting experience. However, note the scale: 1.5 million over a period of thirty years.
The CDC estimates that the number of abortions in America since 1973 is about 50 million.
Even allowing for the existence of a certain number of illegal abortions in the 50s-1973, it's clear that the loss of the social stigma has vastly increased the scale of the problem. Unintended pregnancies are now much more common than they were.
That's the question of scale; but there's also a question of proportion. Is it proportionate to traumatize a young woman with social stigma when she has done something so reckless as to create a life she cannot support? Possibly; it's harsh, but it need not be cruel. Sometimes a harsh solution is necessary, though cruelty never is.
Is it proportionate to kill a child for the crime of being unwanted? Of course it is not.
Likewise, there's a question of proportion in terms of addressing the injustice that results. Insofar as it was wrong to force these young women to give up their children, many of these children can now be located in time for them to share a part of their lives with the mothers who now wish to contact them. Some will have lived and died, but most should be able to connect even now. A child killed in the womb, by contrast, can never be recovered: the injustice to the child cannot even be ameliorated, let alone put right. Should the mother change her mind, years later, she will find no recourse in the courts.
It appears, then, that our new solution has (a) made the problem far more common and also (b) morally worse. Our grandparents, so often mocked as oppressive haters of women, may have had the better solution.
Yet if our way is practically worse, and also morally worse, it is superior in one respect: it takes better care of the feelings of the adults involved. The women who make the choice feel that at least society respects them enough not to interfere, however much they may still regret the choice they make; and the rest of us are never forced to deal with anyone who is aggrieved, as these mothers were by the forced adoptions, because the aggrieved party is helpfully dead. If the standard for judging the policy is how careful it is of the feelings of everyone within our social circle, then this policy is a far better.