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We have all now seen in the news the arrest and trial of Paul Petersen, an adoption attorney in Arizona who has been indicted on 29 counts of fraudulent schemes and three counts of conspiracy, theft, and forgery. We should thus talk about adoption coercion and what exactly that means. 

What is Adoption Coercion?

In the case of the 29 Marshallese women coerced by Petersen, coercion is an exchange of money for the placement of a child for adoption. Adoption coercion is when there is any type of pressure, withholding of information or services, or purposeful manipulation that results in her choosing to place her child for adoption.

Coercion in adoption takes away a woman’s right and ability to make a decision. There are adoption coercion laws in place to protect women when placing their child for adoption, but they vary from state to state. But regardless of the laws of your state, an ethical adoption will ensure that the mother is placing the child on her own accord and without any form of coercion.

Now you are probably wondering what classifies as coercion. Maybe you are even feeling slightly panicked, wondering if anything was done in your adoption to make your child’s birth mother feel like she didn’t have a choice in her placement. Rest assured that everyone makes plenty of unintentional errors; rather than pointing fingers, the purpose of this article is to educate those pursuing adoption and shape the industry to a better standard moving forward.

Types of Adoption Coercion

There are many types of coercion in adoption, likely too many to list. There are legally recognized forms of coercion, subtle coercion that falls into a legal gray area, and then the type that is legal but perceived to be coercive by many. Adoptive parents walk a fine line of understanding and recognizing coercion and are expected to use their best judgement. In the haze of our desire to become parents, our judgement can sometimes be clouded by excitement, so it’s best to go in with clear vision and a firm understanding of what coercion in adoption is and why it is wrong.

Obvious Coercion:  Many states have laws that state that a spouse or family member cannot force a woman into placing her child for adoption, either by threat, ultimatum, or manipulation. Other types of very obvious coercions include:

  • Withholding counseling or prenatal care to the mother based on an adoption procurement
  • Telling a woman she is unfit to parent in order to obtain an adoption placement
  • Telling her she made a commitment and cannot change her mind after deciding on adoption
  • Using guilt or shame to force her to place her child
  • Terminating her rights while she is impaired or before she is ready

. . . and many more. A woman’s choice should never be taken from her in any way. If she comes to the decision of adoption placement, it should be because she has weighed all options, looked into all resources, and feels adoption is her and her child’s best choice.

While we have not listed all possible examples of adoption coercion, this will hopefully get your wheels turning and help you keep your ear to the ground and eyes wide open for any coercive behavior by yourself or the adoption professionals you are working with to ensure an ethical adoption match and placement. By starting your relationship off positively, you set yourself up for a healthy and loving open adoption! Rest assured, Adoption Choices of Kansas will never coerce a woman to give her child up for adoption. We provide lawful, ethical, and moral adoption services.

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