As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that reversed Roe v. Wade and returned decision-making on the legality of abortion to state legislatures in June 2022, 21 states currently ban or severely restrict abortion care.
One result of the Dobbs decision, according to reporting by Newsweek, has been a rise in the number of infants placed with private adoption agencies. Three agencies in states with abortion bans or restrictions told Newsweek they’d seen increases of between 10% and 20% in the number of people placing their infants up for adoption.
Using the landmark Turnaway Study of 956 women who have sought abortion care, Gretchen Sisson, a researcher at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California San Francisco, and her fellow researchers found that 91% of women who were denied abortions and went on to give birth chose to parent.
However, Sisson told Newsweek, the remaining 9% of women who didn’t choose parenthood could have a significant impact on the adoption system.
“Because abortion rates are so high and adoption rates are so low, this remaining 9% could represent a dramatic increase in the number of adoptions over time—we just haven’t yet seen that play out,” Sisson said.
Most experts in adoption say it’s difficult and complex to determine all the factors that go into a woman’s choosing to place a child for adoption.
Ryan Hanlon, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit National Council for Adoption, told the American Independent that although there are no federal data about private adoptions in the United States, anecdotally, he’s heard there’s been no significant change in the numbers of children placed for adoption post-Dobbs.
“We have data on the number of international adoptions, we have data on the number of adoptions from foster care, but we don’t have any data for private domestic adoption unless a group like mine goes out and privately does estimates. It shouldn’t be that way,” Hanlon said.
In December 2023, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) introduced in the House of Representatives H.R. 6700, the Adoption Counts Act, which would require the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to collect data on private adoptions.
Hanlon said his organization would support the bill.
Dr. John DeGarmo, a consultant on foster care and the founder and director of an organization called the Foster Care Institute, told the American Independent his greatest concern is the number of kids going into a foster care system that is overwhelmed and growing more so daily.
Asked about the effect of the Dobbs decision on children entering foster care, DeGarmo said, “We don’t have hard data just yet, … but many states are signaling that yes, there is an increase as a result of that.”
DeGarmo, a foster parent himself, added that 120,000 kids in foster care become available for adoption every single year, but there are too few foster homes.
The issue of an overwhelmed foster care system touches most states in the country. According to the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services, there are about 391,000 kids in foster care in the U.S.
According to the Midland Daily News, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that there were about 10,000 kids in foster care in the state and only 4,300 foster families as of May 2023. In Wisconsin, as of November 2023, there were 7,000 kids in the foster care system, and in Pennsylvania, there are about 15,000 kids in foster care, WITF reported in December 2023.
“When a parent is incarcerated or hospitalized or dies, where do these kids go? All of these children are coming into a system that is struggling to handle it. Caseworkers today are overworked, overwhelmed, underresourced, undersupported, understaffed, and underpaid, so they are not staying, they’re quitting as well. So it’s just a real challenging time for the entire foster care system,” DeGarmo said.
In a July interview with NBC News, Robert Lamarche, the director of ACF Adoptions in Florida, said that his agency used to get calls from women in their second trimester of pregnancy, but since the fall of Roe, the calls are from women who are just four and five weeks into their pregnancies.
He added that he was extremely worried about women who would choose to place infants diagnosed with genetic anomalies for adoption.
“If the number goes up 25% to 30%, we’re going to have a problem because we’re not going to have families for all the children,” he said.