AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE: I have had a relationship with the National Organization for Women since the early 1970s. I am a founding member of the old Stark County (OH) NOW and presently a member of Columbus (OH) NOW where I have served as secretary and vice president. I am currently a board member at large. Local organizations have been energetic, politically aware, compassionate, and dedicated to improving the lives of all women. Members “get” adoption issues. The same can’t be said for the National office, which for as long as I can remember, has ignored the political implications of adoption and its effects on mothers and the children they surrender. In the 1970s NOW rejected natural mothers (and potential surrendering mothers) as women worthy of political support. As the organization approaches its 40th birthday it appears not much has changed. On September 14, the National office will honor Maria Elena Salinas as an “intrepid woman.” Salinas supports the exploitation of women through legalized anonymous baby abandonment laws. Below is the letter I emailed to the national office objecting to the award. I am speaking for myself only and represent no one else in NOW locally or nationally.
Dear Kim, Olga, Melody and Latifa:
What in the world is NOW thinking honoring Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas with a 2006 Intrepid Woman Award?
Maria Elena Salinas may be a big hit on Univision, but she is no friend of women. If she were, Mary Rose Rybak at the National Review Online wouldn’t be jumping in her jammies over NOW tagging Salinas and gushing over the newscaster’s support of Baby Moses/Safe Haven laws that “permit,” and even encourage mothers to anonymously and legally dump…er, I mean “surrender”… their newborns without informed consent or personal and legal counseling, at fire stations, ERs and other designated spots. No questions asked. “No blame, no shame, no name.”
Salinas, in her October 9, 2005 newspaper column, the one admired by NRO, praised anonymous legal baby dumping with as much knowledge of the issue as George W. Bush has of fourth generation warfare. Using logic borrowed from irrelevant “reproductive rights’”arguments, Salinas framed safe haven dumping in happy consumerist terms. “Women who give birth to unwanted babies have already passed the biggest hurdle: deciding to have a child instead of having an abortion.”
The problem with this is that “choice” has little to do with it.
The Problem with Choice
Dangerous abandonment and neonaticide are rare. Its causes are usually shame, denial, untreated mental illness, poverty, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse. The majority of women who pursue such measures deny their pregnancy and the birth, often going into a dissociated state during delivery and after. What appears to Salinas and her ilk to be “birth” choice doesn’t exist because the pregnancy doesn’t exist for them. There is no “pregnancy therefore there would be no abortion. When the baby arrives by “surprise” it is a “thing” to be gotten rid of, not something to be dropped off “rationally” at the nearest baby abandonment station.
Despite the laws, neonaticides have not decreased. California, with a well-publicized safe haven program for instance, still has 13-15 dead abandoned and murdered newborns a year, the same number it had before the law was enacted.
Though hundreds of newborns have been turned into safe havens, there is no evidence that any were in dumpster danger or that one life has been “saved.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that parents who utilize safe haven laws are not at risk of abandoning or harming their newborns, but those looking for a fast and easy way out of parenthood; moms who want to cut out dad; undocumented workers afraid to seek assistance and unfamiliar with US child welfare practices; and the lazy who find traditional relinquishment procedures tiresome. Newspapers are full of accounts of newborns “saved” from the dumpster who arrive at the ER in cute Baby Gap onesies, accompanied with extra diapers, stuffed animals, rattles and loving notes from parents. Some mothers, in fact, are reportedly already in adoption plans and decide safe haven is more “convenient.” In the saddest cases, “choice” is as meaningless as those in denial, when weeping mothers, some with little command of English, hand over newborns to firefighters or EMTs saying that they cannot afford to keep their babies. And under the “no shame, no blame no name” legal guarantee baby receivers are barred from offering assistance and referrals, thus keeping moms ignorant of public and private help that would give them the opportunity to preserve their families or surrender their babies in an educated and ethical manner. If this is an acceptable feminist response to women in desperate need of assistance, then I’m Karen Hughes.
Baby dump laws, now active in 47 states, carry serious consequences for those whom they allegedly serve: women and the children they may surrender for adoption.
Safe haven pushers make no secret that drive-by dumps are their response to uppity adoptees who demand the restoration of their right to identity. The laws were enacted starting in 1999 when adoptee rights activists such as myself began to overturn archaic state laws which seal our original birth certificates and other government-held records from us. Safe havens are pushed by big buck conservative adoption industry lobbyists and agencies who want to corral a stock of highly marketable babies unencumbered by pesky birthmothers portrayed variously a courageous “givers of live” or dangerous harpies intent on destroying the “integrity of adoption.” One prominent sealed records adoption lobbyist viewing pregnant women and new mothers as potential murderers mired in sexual shame, wrote that “disappearing privacy rights” [the restoration of the right of adult adoptees to records and personal identity access] has led most states to pass safe haven laws so that women and their babies have the life-saving option of anonymously taking a baby to a hospital or other safe place.“ Incredibly, adopted persons who have supposedly benefited from adoption are framed as a danger to women and babies.
Baby dump laws strip infants of their identity, culture, heritage and medical histories. They deny non-custodial parents—usually fathers with little legal redress–the right to know or rear their own children by permitting mothers to hide children from them. How long these laws would stay on the books if anonymous fathers suddenly began dropping off “unwanted” newborns?) They keep children from being reared by extended family members by throwing infants into the stranger-adoption system. In some states, third party dumpers are authorized to drop off infants with no questions asked, letting embarrassed grandparents and others to get rid of family mistakes with no accountability and responsibility. In a couple states babies up to 1-year of age can be dropped off.
Baby dump laws can kill. They discourage women from seeking pre-and post-natal care for themselves and their children by telling them that a secret pregnancy and unattended birth in a bathtub or bedroom or over the toilet– where a woman can bleed to death or a baby can die– is OK since it’s “our little secret” that “nobody will have to know.” Ironically, Maria Elena Salinas worries about “desperate young women who find themselves alone, with no one to offer advice and counseling” but on the other hand advocates the secret and anonymous safe haven “no questions” policy that literally encourages “desperate young women who find themselves alone, with no one to offer advice and counseling” to remain that way since “nobody will ever have to know.”
Baby dump laws, reject 100 years of evolved best practice in adoption and child welfare by telling women that they don’t have to seek ethical, responsible, and accepted channels of child surrender. Safe havens are condemned by adoptee rights activists, adoption reformers, and social welfare professionals. They are Constitutionally suspect and likely to be overturned if judicially reviewed. And that review IS coming.
A Little Bit of Herstory
For the most part, newborn stranger adoption is a middle class white phenomenon that brings in lots of money to a basically under-regulated industry that preys on the misery of others. Unfortunately, NOW has a long history of ignoring the intra-class politics of adoption and the oppressive treatment of mothers and their surrendered children by that industry.
Adoption is not a reproductive right. Adoption involves a born, separate live person with fundamental rights. But under some twisted branded definition of “choice” NOW and other so-called progressive organizations seem to consider surrender and the legal act of adoption just another consumer option for women. The adopted are viewed as not much better than a coffee table or a cute kitty to be passed around to whoever wants us. Our surrendering mothers are viewed as handmaids, popping out sprog for privileged women who want children and can‘t have them.
NOW’s complicit approval of safe havens through its award to Maria Elena Salinas is just the latest example of bad behavior towards women who have surrendered children.
NOW’s treatment of natural mother activists, Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), in the 1970s is a stain on the organization that purports to support the rights of all women no matter their childed status.
Founding CUB activists were well-educated, articulate, and politically aware. Many made their political bones in the civil rights and anti-war movements and Women‘s Liberation. With their personal experience as mothers who were “not mothers” often due to coerced or pressured surrender of their children to adoption and the silence that surrounds adoption practices (identity erasure, sealed records, maternity homes) they developed a radical analysis that linked surrender and adoption to patriarchy. As CUB co-founder Carole Anderson said, “the real issue for me was losing my son. I thought of that as a feminist issue. I couldn’t think of a worse way to oppress a woman.”
Feminist historian Rickie Solinger in her book Beggars and Choosers: How the politics of choice shapes opinion, abortion and welfare in the United States covers the whole shameful story of the lousy treatment feminist CUB birthmothers received when they went to NOW for support. (p.113-118)
Here is an excerpt:
In Boston, several years later, Libbi Campbell remembers that Lee Campbell spent a great deal of time trying to build an alliance between CUB and NOW and failed, specifically because NOW members “couldn’t see exploitation in adoption. They refused Lee’s claims that birthmothers in her era had lacked options, had experienced coercion and have been used to profit others. Instead NOW members insisted that adoption was a personal choice in the case of both the birthmother and the adopting parents. Libbi recalls that “feminists were taking the position that women should be able to get children any way they could; they didn’t want to participate in anything that would curtail their options.” Carole Anderson met members of feminist groups at this time who stressed that adoption was not a feminist issue because women benefit most from getting adopted babies.
Solinger also recounts CUB’s 1981 attempt to attract feminists with a position paper, “Eternal Punishment: Adoption Abuse–An Appeal to Feminists.”
The CUB women attempted to challenge what they encountered as the prevailing perspective, “that if a woman wasn’t able to raise her child [on her own] she should have an abortion, and that failing to have an abortion when appropriate proved that she wasn’t responsible enough to raise her own child.” Anderson was particularly aggrieved when one ‘outspoken feminist’ expressing her ambivalence about motherhood and her fixation on autonomy told Carole she should “feel grateful to the adoptive mother for letting me be free an equal.”
Sidenote: Not much has changed. A few years ago I received an email from a member of New Jersey NOW who opposed the restoration of identity rights to adopted adults. She smacked my fingers and accused me of lacking “feminist credentials” and respect for women, especially “courageous” birthmothers.” I should shut up and be grateful that somebody adopted me and I wasn’t tossed in a dumpster.
Relinquishment and adoption are life-changing and life-long events for both parent and child and should be done with the utmost care and concern, not at the prompting of a cheap safe haven poster in a high school bathroom, or a PSA on MTV. When the process is transparent and informed, adoption can be a positive experience for children genuinely in need of parents, natural parents who for whatever reason cannot parent, and for those who want to parent through adoption. The idea that women are not exploited by the adoption industry– that adoption is just another way for some women to get children at the expense at other women– has no place in the largest feminist organization in the US.
Bottom feeder safe haven laws, with their quick-fix permanent solution for what is usually a temporary problem, encourage dangerous secret pregnancy, perpetuate female sexual shame, strip infants of their identity and history, strip mine women of their children, and deny the parental rights of “non-custodial parents.” The real purpose of safe haven is not to altruistically “save babies” but to plump up the domestic newborn adoption cash cow with desirable and expensive infants whose origins are impossible to track down.
NOW has been one of the leaders in the redefinition of “family.” NOW and other “liberal” pro-rights organizations have fought for the right of families to define themselves, yet draws the line at birthmothers and adopted persons. The perception of feminists in general, and of NOW in particular due to its history, as elitiest and classist supporters of the transfer of babies from the “unworthy” to the “worthy” runs through birthparent political and support groups. As I said, the local NOW chapters “get it. But the road needs repaired, bridges need rebuilt through a serious revist by National.
Unfortunately, the National Organization for Women, by honoring Maria Elena Salinas, by implication, honors the exploitation of women through baby harvesting. By honoring her, no matter how many other positive things Salinas may have done, NOW slaps the face, every woman who has ethically surrendered a child to adoption and every adoptee whose civil rights have been torn asunder by state-sponsored identity erasure.
We owe mothers, their children and the adults they grow in to more than an unproven law than can literally harm and kill its “beneficiaries.”
I am blogging this letter on The Daily Bastardette. If you care to reply I will be happy to post it to my site.
Exe. Chair, Bastard Nation: the Adoptee Rights Organization.
Great letter to NOW, Marley. With all the good NOW has done over the years, their refusal to accept explotation of women who were forced to surrender their children to adoption as a feminist issue is incomprehensible.
Moreover, not to see baby dumps as a grave moral evil perpatrated against both women and children is a repudiaiton of all that NOW claims it stands for.
Honoring Maria Elena Salinas is as dishonorable as giving George W. Bush the Humanitarian of the Year award.
In view of her support for truly anti-woman anti-child laws, honoring this woman really sucks big time.
Baby dumps are a terrible idea. I’m sorry NOW or anyone else wants to give an award to this woman.
Salinas is getting the award for a lot of things she’s done–many of them beneficial– so it’s not just for supporting dump laws. However, Cal NOW supports dumps (which I didn’t mention here), with some weird logic that they help battered women. NOW has never had a policy on SH and my own chapter opposed the Ohio bill. But the idea of Salinas supporting this crap galls me, and she should be called on it.
It’s very disappointing NOW and ACLU, continue to view safe haven laws and open reocrds, as reproductive health issues.
How can baby dump laws be beneficial to battered women? CAL. is expediating fast track adoptions, not saving a baby.
NOW (with Ms. Salinas as head) needs to wake up and take a stand for ALL women, not just a few select causes.
Excellent letter, Marley.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Hopefully, they’ll get the message loud and clear that legal abandonment is not only the exploitation of mothers, but families at large. It’s a disgrace for NOW to be honoring a woman who is so clueless.
I think this letter is great. I remember when I was called a women’s libber by someone about 8 years ago. It was all because of my view of choice. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself that now because NOW has left married women and mothers behind. That is where I disagree with them. Just because a woman chooses to have children and/or get married doesn’t make her any less of a woman or a human being. NOW needs to gather up those women it left behind. Its their views that are just as important. Reproductive rights should not be the only thing NOW looks at. When adoption has hurt and violated women and children, NOW, the ACLU, needs to stop and realize that they have left behind many whose rights have been violated.
Fine letter, Marley. When are they going to get it that adoption has nothing whatsoever to do with reproductive rights? Once the child is born, the reproduction is done, and the child is a separate being with rights of her own.
I called NOW back in the 70s, after I lost my child to adoption.
I asked the woman on the phone what NOW was doing for mothers like me..I wanted to keep my child and I hoped that NOW would support the right of single mothers to raise their children.
The NOW woman was silent for a few moments and then said: “Well, that is why we have to make sure that abortion stays safe and legal.”
When are they going to get it that adoption has nothing whatsoever to do with reproductive rights?
If you knew anything about Eugenics and it’s goals you’d see the picture bigger. Adoption is only one means of eugenics operating “under other names” to achieve it’s goals. It’s about the “control” and “elimination” of certain groups. Those deemed “fit” and “unfit.” The have’s and the have not’s. 78% of abortion clinics are in poor neighborhoods. Blond haired, blue eyed caucasians are the “premium” baby in adoption.
Adoption IS about reproductive rights! It IS about “controlling” the reproduction of the have not’s for the interests of preserving the have’s.
Baby dumpsters eliminate all hassle of dealing with mothers. Leave it to the adoption industry to come up with one more way to fulfill the ultimate dream of adopting a baby without a mother.
It doesn’t take a genius to comprehend none of it is about the birth itself – unless your an adopter who needs the child they raise to believe it’s all about “being born” thus eliminating anything else connected to it.
NOW cannot be fixed. NOW is not going to suddenly wake up and start supporting the right of all mothers to mother, because NOW knows exactly what it is doing in its advocacy for adoption.
NOW has no modern moral authority as long as it supports adoption because adoption is built on a power-over, patriarchal, demonizing, superstition/myth foundation.
NOW has been the enemy of real mothers for as long as there has been a NOW.
NOW is an irrelevant bunch of phoney baloneys who want to be viewed as socially advanced but who are really even more old-fashioned and backward than the ordinary folks they laugh at.
NOW is run by elitist narcissists who consider adoption to be their right and also a prime part of their agenda for the world they want, a world where giving birth is denigrated but seeking societal validity and personal satisfaction through raising children must remain an option for themselves for both personal and political reasons.
Anon’s reference to eugenics was absolutely pertinent to NOW. The eugenicists also regarded themselves as superior, socially advanced intellectuals (and yes, some were “feminists). The main target of the eugenicists was “unwed mothers,” a traditionally demonized, hence easily exploited, population. Eugenics was a prime component of the Third Reich and the Nazi’s modeled their eugenics beliefs and experiments on the US’s strong eugenics movement. After WWII when euguenics became a no-no due to its embrace by the Nazis, US eugenicists simply became adoptionists.
I just heard the baby snatched by a woman who slashed the mother’s throat has been found. It’s interesting listening to the talking heads discuss why women snatch babies. It’s the same as adoption, just not as slick.
This kidnapper had evidently miscarried, a common denominator in these things. Another common denominator is the need for the snatching woman to solidify her relationship with her significant other with a baby. The snatchers believe a baby will fix their problems and/or give their relationship the validity of a real family, hence personal prestige. Also, it appears women who cannot or will not give birth often fear they will lose their significant other. All of this is pretty interchangeable with adoption, and also helps explain why the spoiled memnbers of NOW so zealously support adoption instead of the right of all mothers and babies to be together.
The Mutter pronounced, “It’s the same as adoption, just not as slick.”
Having been adopted, I resent the suggestion that the kidnapping of that infant (and slashing the throat of its mother) is related to adoption. I realize some people are not going to be convinced otherwise. I just want you to understand that some of us adoptees don’t agree.
Previous Anonymous, I have to say I agree.
IMO anyone who’s incapable of seeing the distinction (like, the Nutter) is as almost as crazed as the person who committed this heinous act.
“I just want you to understand that some of us adoptees don’t agree.”
Sure I understand. Some adoptees believe their adoption story was “a love story” about a couple who only wanted a baby. They just can’t face how their adopter’s were really “needy” about it.
Don’t be upset at Maria Elena Salinas. Turns out her columns were actually ghost written by her husband, a Miami journalist named Eliott Rodriguez. The two are now duking it out in divorce court. For more details go to The Miami Herald website and check out columnist Joan Fleischman’s column.
First of all.. wait what’s ur name? …Marley?… Oh that’s right no one even knows you.. you are a nobody but ok, why shouldn’t you go on and on about shit u don’t even know… if u feel so strongly about this stuff maybe u should do something about it instead of sitting on ur ass and writing crap about accomplished women like Maria Elena.. hmmm. maybe you’re jealous? Nah but why should you be jealous of good looks and lots of emmy nominations… ah oh well… I’m glad this amuses people =)…
haha Marley what’s -her- face is full of crap… anyone who stares at a computer screen for hours to write blogs about this shit is a loser… nothing better to do?
She deserves the award because she has accomplished many things.. just because of this one view doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get it.. people aren’t perfect
i fully agree with the last 3 people. the person who bashed eliott rodriguez can go do something to themselves because you know nothing about what really goes on in their lives.
I read the comments in this website and it seems to me that people are not being understanding. First, I think salinas deserves to get the award for all the things she has done for many people. Second, i think that just because she doesn’t think alike with some people it doesn’t mean she is not worthy enough to receive this award, in my point of view she is perfect for this award. Third, I think people are judging this women without knowing the reasons for their choice, I think that to judge someone you have to know them well and need to have gone through the same thing they did and I don’t think anybody would like that. Plus, if we want to stop all of this problems we have to start by putting bad people in jail and helping people in need, example are these women who leave their babies, maybe if we offered help to them in anyway it could prevent them from leaving their babies, but sometimes people(including myself)find it easy to not help and just blame it on someone else. Understanding is a big part to solving this type of problems, but also helping is another part to the solution, but it is within us to decide what we shall do. Help and understand to find a solution ignore it and keep blaming people when it is too at some point are fault. Its our choice and only we can decide!! Please think about it and you will see it is true.