LAST MONTH, "Dateline NBC" told the story of a young couple's decision to have a baby who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The story, which took place in 1998, is worth recalling as the nation continues to grapple with the morality of abortion.
In "Dateline"'s account, Greg and Tierney Fairchild (of Hartford, Conn.) receive the good news that Tierney is pregnant with their first child. But later tests reveal that their baby will have Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that can produce a wide range of physical and mental disabilities. For the Fairchilds, who both happen to support abortion rights, that prospect raises the question of whether they (or, to be precise, Tierney) will choose abortion.
The Fairchilds worry about the severity of their child's retardation and the unfair burden it might place on other children they hope to have. They learn their baby would have to undergo heart surgery. They go back and forth on abortion but appear close to choosing it.
As the legal deadline for making that decision draws near, Greg wonders about the adoptability of a baby like theirs and calls a local service. He is told it is "no problem" finding parents for babies with Down syndrome. The couple is taken aback.
"One of the things we hadn't considered," Tierney says, "was that . . . someone else would love to have [this child] and was prepared to handle it." Her husband adds, "[I]t even makes you question yourself. What is it exactly that I'm so worried about, if there are people lined up to adopt this baby?"
As you probably have guessed, the Fairchilds choose life, and Naia Grace Fairchild is born. She has Down syndrome and endures difficult surgery, and today she is a spunky 4-year-old, her parents' evident joy.
The question is why the Fairchilds made the choice they did, and the answer obviously involved their discovery that "people" were "lined up to adopt this baby." Quickly, it appears, they realized that the baby they came close to regarding as "unwanted"--to use the terminology of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion--would be wanted by "someone else."
The Fairchilds' story is all the more remarkable when you consider that infants like theirs--those with "special needs"--would seem to be among the least adoptable. Yet interviews with Thomas Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, and others knowledgeable about adoption suggest that the interest in adopting special-needs infants is as strong nationwide as it was in Hartford in 1998 when Greg Fairchild made his inquiry.
Glenn DeMots, president of Bethany Christian Services (which has offices in 31 states, including Texas), cites many special-needs placements carried out by his organization, including one of an infant who died, as expected, before reaching her first birthday. Notwithstanding the acute difficulties of her brief life, she was unquestionably a wanted child.
While the number of people waiting to adopt an infant of any description is unknown, Atwood thinks there may be as many as 2 million couples who would be willing to take a newborn into their home--if one were available. Keep that number in mind as you ponder the many abortions in America--1.31 million in 2000, the most recent year for which the Alan Guttmacher Institute has collected statistics. In most cases the lives prematurely ended by abortion experienced that fate because they were deemed--for one reason or none at all, after much agony or upon casual reaction--unwanted. Note also that most abortions prevent the birth of what would have "normal" babies.
To the extent pregnant women considering abortion were to choose adoption instead, the number of abortions would decline. Unfortunately, women in that circumstance aren't thinking much about adoption.
Indeed, unmarried pregnant women--who get most of the reported abortions--now choose adoption much less often than they did in the early 1970s. That change would appear to be a result at least in part of the pro-abortion rights regime established by Roe, which has shifted the question an unmarried pregnant woman might ask herself from "Who will care for my child?" to "Shall I carry this baby or not?"
Kenneth Connor, president of the Family Research Council and himself an adoptive parent, makes a persuasive case to anyone who will listen that increasing adoption should be a key goal of public policy. "The forgotten option," he calls adoption. No doubt it would be less forgotten if Americans were to understand that to say a baby is unwanted is to fail to consult a wider universe.
As the Fairchilds discovered, there are people out there ready, indeed eager, to open their arms.
Terry Eastland is publisher of The Weekly Standard.