WASHINGTON — Women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy are often unaware that they have an opportunity to give the greatest Mother's Day gift of all: adoptive motherhood.

Jo Ann Davis wants to make sure they know.

Davis, a Republican congresswoman from Virginia, has reintroduced the Adoption Information Act (H.R. 1229), which would require that adoption information be given to pregnant women who seek advice from federally funded clinics.

The Adoption Information Act, which Davis introduced in October 2001, received strong support at that time but was not brought to the House floor for a vote.

Reintroduced March 12, the bill has more than 20 co-sponsors and is gaining support.

“Opinion surveys consistently find that the general public views adoption as an attractive option in the case of an outof-wedlock pregnancy or other situations in which the mother is unable to care for the expected child,” Davis said. “Yet very few women choose adoption when confronted with an unwanted pregnancy. I believe this is in part because adoption information is not available to them and they often have to search for a provider of adoption services.”

Specifically, the Adoption Information Act would require nearly 5,000 family-planning clinics that accept Title X funds to provide a detailed pamphlet of adoption information to all people inquiring about alternatives to abortion. The pamphlet must include a comprehensive list of the adoption centers available in the state where the services are provided, including address and telephone information.

In addition, those distributing brochures would be required to orally inform women that the pamphlet is provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and contains adoption information for that state.

Last year the Office of Population Affairs ruled that clinics must offer pregnant women counseling for prenatal care and delivery, infant care, foster care, adoption and abortion. But, according to this rule, referrals to agencies that provide in-depth counseling about these options can be offered “only upon request.”

NARAL Pro Choice America (formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) maintains that abortion clinics follow this procedure and inform women about the adoption option. But they do not provide referral information unless pregnant women request it.

According to NARAL spokes-woman Deborah Bagocius, “Title X-funded clinics are required to give what's called ‘nondirective options counseling’ that includes discussion of carrying the pregnancy to term, adoption and abortion, and must include referrals to any option upon request.”

Caroline Fitchett, executive director of Oregon NARAL, stated that Oregon laws “currently offer pregnant women information about adoption, and she [the pregnant woman] does not have to ask for adoption information before it is given.”

However, specific referral information is not provided unless the woman specifically requests it, and Davis believes the Adoption Information Act would resolve this problem.

Not Top Option

Eleanor Ruder directs Bridge for Life, a crisis-pregnancy center in Queens in New York City. She said there is still much work to be done in overcoming a prejudice against adoption.

Of the hundreds of women the center has helped during the past 11 years, only about five or six have chosen to put their babies up for adoption, she said.

“Women don't want to hear about it,” Ruder said, calling it a nationwide problem.

She explained most women in crisis pregnancies think they have three options: abort, have the baby or place the child for adoption. Adoption is often viewed as the worst of the three options because, though a single mother might not be able to provide well for the baby, such a mother might feel she will be “even worse” if she “abandons” her child to someone else. And some take the attitude, “If I can't have the baby, no one can.”

But Ruder still supports Davis’ bill. “We should definitely try to give [mothers] information,” she said. “It might plant a seed. Even if she ends up having the abortion, she might feel so crummy about it and if she's pregnant again, she might consider adoption.”

And she remarked that with the possibility of “open adoptions,” a mother can now keep in touch with her baby and be reassured the child is being well cared for.

Loretta Cooper, adoption facilitator and vice president of the Academy of California Adoption Professionals, thinks the Adoption Information Act is necessary but hopes it would go a step further than providing a list of agencies and an oral option for adoption.

“I've been doing adoption for 20 years,” she said. “When it works, it is so right. I'm very much an advocate of adoption. Any way that the adoption can be promoted I'm for it. But I believe there is a lack of education with regard to adoption. The girls need to meet with an adoption professional that would take time with them and educate these girls and give them information. When a girl knows completely about her options and understands adoption, it takes away the fear, and she is less likely to change her mind.”

Davis admitted the training of adoption professionals is a necessary accompaniment to the Adoption Information Act.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Jim De-Mint, R-S.C., included language in the Children's Health Act that made grants available to adoption organizations for programs to train health center staff to provide adoption information and referrals to pregnant women on an equal basis with all other courses of action. However, those referrals are now provided only upon request.

The Adoption Information Act complements the DeMint language in that it provides a clear mandate to put adoption information and statewide adoption referrals into the hands of all pregnant women who visit family-planning clinics, regardless of their intentions when they go to a family-planning clinic.

If passed, the Adoption Information Act, though not comprehensive, would be another step in the education process.

“Adoption is an option for unwanted pregnancies, and information must be readily available for women who are seeking answers on how to handle an unwanted pregnancy,” Davis said. “This legislation will help facilitate this need.”

Mary Ann Sullivan writes from New Durham, New Hampshire.