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Preying on the Desperate: The Religious Right's Adoption Racket

Many Christian adoption agencies are far more concerned with artificially producing "orphans" for Christian parents to adopt, than helping birth parents care for wanted children.

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Such was the case for Karen Fetrow, a Pennsylvania mother who relinquished her son in 1994 through a Bethany office outside Harrisburg. Fetrow, a formerly pro-adoption evangelical, sought out a Christian agency when she became pregnant at 24. Although Fetrow was in a committed relationship with the father, now her husband of sixteen years, Bethany told her that women who sought to parent were on their own.

After Fetrow relinquished her son, she says she received no counseling from Bethany beyond one checkup phone call. Three months later, Bethany called to notify her that her legal paperwork was en route but that she shouldn't read it or attend court for the adoption finalization. "I didn't know that the adoption wasn't final and that I had three months to change my mind," says Fetrow. "The reality was that if I had gone, I might have changed my mind--and they didn't want me to."

Although for thirteen years Fetrow couldn't look at an infant without crying, she continued to support adoption and CPCs. But when she sought counseling--a staple of Bethany's advertised services--the director of her local office said he couldn't help. When her son turned 5, she stopped receiving updates from his adoptive parents, although she'd expected they would continue until he was 18. She asked Bethany about it, and the agency stalled for three years before explaining that the adoptive parents had only agreed to five years of updates. Fetrow complained on Bethany's online forum and was banned from the site.

Kris Faasse, director of adoption services at Bethany, said that while she was unaware of Fetrow's and Jordan's particular stories, their accounts are painful for her to hear. "The fact that this happens to any mom grieves me and would not be how we wanted to handle it." She added that only 25-40 percent of women who come to Bethany choose adoption, which, she said, "is so important, because we never want a woman to feel coerced into a plan."

Shortly after Fetrow was banned from Bethany's forum, the local Bethany office attempted to host a service at her church, "painting adoption as a Christian, prolife thing." At a friend's urging, Fetrow told her pastor about her experience, and after a meeting with the Bethany director--who called Fetrow angry and bitter--the pastor refused to let Bethany address the congregation. But Fetrow's pastor seems an exception.


In recent years, the antiabortion push for adoption has been taken up as a broader evangelical cause. In 2007 Focus on the Family hosted an Evangelical Orphan Care and Adoption Summit in Colorado Springs. Ryan Dobson, the adopted son of Focus founder James Dobson, has campaigned on behalf of CHFS and Unruh's Alpha Center. Last year 600 church and ministry leaders gathered in Florida to promote adoption through the Christian Alliance for Orphans. And a recent book in the idiosyncratic genre of prolife fiction, The River Nile , exalted a clinic that tricked abortion-seeking women into adoption instead.

Such enthusiasm for Christians to adopt en masse begins to seem like a demand in need of greater supply, and this is how critics of current practices describe it: as an industry that coercively separates willing biological parents from their offspring, artificially producing "orphans" for Christian parents to adopt, rather than helping birth parents care for wanted children.

In 1994 the Village Voice investigated several California CPCs in Care Net, the largest network of centers in the country, and found gross ethical violations at an affiliated adoption agency, where director Bonnie Jo Williams secured adoptions by warning pregnant women about parenthood's painfulness, pressuring them to sign papers under heavy medication and in one case detaining a woman in labor for four hours in a CPC.