An objection to Christianity raised in the context of abortion debates is that pro-lifers don’t care about children after they’ve been born. Is it true?
Opposition to Abortion
Across different orthodox Christian traditions and throughout history, Christians have been reliably opposed to abortion. In the early church, Christians opposed both abortion and infanticide, which were morally acceptable and widespread practices in the Greco-Roman world. Infanticide involved the deliberate exposure and killing of a baby who had been born up to one year after birth. These practices affected females disproportionately as the Greco-Roman culture put a higher value on males than on females. Very few families at that time—even large families—would have raised more than one daughter.1 Recently in China, female infants were also more routinely aborted or killed after birth during the one-child policy era from 1979 to 2015.2
In the United States, research has found that the more conservative the Christian, the greater his or her opposition to abortion. Pew Research Center recently noted that a large margin (74%) of theologically conservative evangelical Christians typically oppose abortion in all or most cases.3 But other research also shows how much evangelicals care for children after they’re born.
Support for Children after Birth
Evangelicals promote human flourishing by their involvement in foster care and adoption. This is our apologetic to those who ask whether Christians care for children after they’re born. About 2% of all US citizens adopt children, which accounts for about 50% of all adoptions worldwide. More significantly, practicing Christians are more than twice as likely (5%) to adopt as other groups.4 Practicing Christians are also 50% more likely to foster children. While almost half of foster care parents leave foster care within a year of their first placement, foster parents recruited through faith-based organizations continue their care 2.6 years longer than others. Such organizations “do a particularly good job of finding homes for children that often have a harder time being adopted, such as sibling groups, teens, and children with special needs.”5
But the numbers get more revealing once you drill down on the research. The more religiously conservative the Christian, identified as both Catholic and evangelical, the more likely they will both oppose abortion and support adoption. Of that 2% of US adults who adopt, “practicing” Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt compared to the general population, but Catholics are three times as likely to adopt and conservative evangelicals are five times as likely to adopt.6 This pattern extends to what scholars call transracial adoption (TRA); that is, the adoption of children from different races whether domestic (inside the US) or international (from countries such as China, South Korea, or countries in Africa).
Support for TRA has emerged recently in the United States. Historically, most people across all races preferred adopting children of the same race. Social work practices also favored and reinforced this norm for adoption. The civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, however, had a liberalizing effect—particularly on White Christians—toward racial integration. More infertile White couples have embraced the idea of adopting non-White children, both domestically and internationally. Scholars note that early critics of TRA were opposed to it for being assimilationist and for its failure to address racial discrimination. More recently, critics argue against it for being a “neoliberal” project, a descriptor for those who oppose expansive government services and support privatized charity.7
Congress legislated changes to TRA, making it more accessible. The Multiethnic Placement Act (1994) and its amendment in 1996 prohibited the federally funded adoption agencies from “delaying the placement of children into permanent homes solely on the basis of race, culture, color, or nationality . . .”8 Since then, more and more evangelical organizations have encouraged domestic and international transracial adoption.
Samuel L. Perry, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, has researched TRA extensively. He believes his findings support the idea that “rank-and-file evangelicals and Catholics support TRA as a morally preferable alternative to abortion, at least in theory.”9 Evangelical Christians stand in stark contrast to mainline Christians,10 in that mainliners’ support for TRA isn’t associated with their views on abortion. In fact, 60% of liberal Christians support abortion.11
Motives for Adoption
Perry also notes that while evangelical organizations that promote TRA may do so for more philosophical (read: neoliberal) reasons, the people who actually adopt—rank-and-file Christians—likely have multiple, personal reasons for adoption that align with their faith. He argues that there are at least four identifiable reasons:
- Christians are enjoined in sacred texts to look after orphans and may look at adoption as a form of rescue-activism commissioned by God;
- Adoption allows infertile Christian couples the opportunity to grow their families without using new reproductive technologies that conservatives find morally questionable;
- Adoption provides a means by which religious conservatives may live out their pro-life values in a tangible and visible way; and
- Some argue that adoption is a way in which Christian couples can proselytize and convert ‘other’ children.12
Adopting unwanted children marks just one way Christians act in both word and deed to answer the question about whether they care for children after birth. Evangelicals are highly motivated to do so. They believe all people are created in the image of God and are of inestimable value. They also believe what James says in chapter 1, verse 27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress . . .” Finally, Christian theology emphasizes the importance of adoption, noting that people become part of God’s family only by means of adoption, which may also explain why evangelicals are so motivated to embrace children after they’re born.13
- Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997; originally published Princeton University Press, 1996), 97–99.
- Wikipedia, s.v. “Infanticide,” last edited July 9, 2022, 12:50 (UTC), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide.
- “Public Opinion on Abortion,” Pew Research Center, May 17, 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/.
- Barna: Frames, “Five Things You Need to Know about Adoption,” November 4, 2013, https://www.barna.com/research/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-adoption/#.UnvPco2E7Tw.
- Natalie Goodnow, “Faith-Based Agencies and Communities Are Essential in Child Welfare Work,” in Christina G. Villegas, Foster Care in America: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2022), 112–13.
- Jedd Medefind, “New Barna Research Highlights Christian Adoption & Foster Care among 3 Most Notable Vocational Trends” Christian Alliance for Orphans, February 12, 2014,https://cafo.org/2014/02/12/new-barna-research-highlights-christian-adoption-foster-care-among-3-most-notable-vocational-trends/.
- Samuel L. Perry, “Transracial Adoption, Neoliberalism, and Religion: A Test of Moderating Effects,” Journal of Family Issues 37, no. 13 (2016): 1844–45, doi:10.1177/0192513X14541445.
- Perry, “Transracial Adoption,” 1846.
- Samuel L. Perry, “Conservative Christians and Support for Transracial Adoption as an Alternative to Abortion,” Social Science Quarterly 95, no. 2 (June 2014): 390, doi:10.1111/ssqu.12047.
- In recent years, “mainline” has come to mean nonevangelical Protestant with a theological preference for pluralism.
- “Evangelical Protestants Who Are Conservative,” Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/religious-landscape-study/political-ideology/conservative/religious-tradition/evangelical-protestant/; accessed June 22, 2022.
- Perry, “Transracial Adoption, Neoliberalism, and Religion,” 1864, n 1. Perry believes that the ideology of “neoliberalism,” that is, the belief in smaller government and more privatized charities, motivates many of the Christian organizations that promote TRA.
- Russell Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009, Kindle Edition).