June 2002

Jessa Crispin

nonfiction

Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion and Welfare in the United States by Rickie Solinger

Every once and a while my father and I will have a political discussion that will end with him telling me, “You may have liberal tendencies, but you truly are a conservative at heart.” I never really believed him until I read Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion and Welfare in the United States. My conservative core came up to the surface swinging.

The book is divided into four sections: abortion, adoption, welfare, and a concluding chapter that focuses on foster care. The abortion chapter is set up to challenge your beliefs about what “pro-choice” means which, Solinger seems to hope, will carry you through the rest of the book agreeing that motherhood is a right, not just a choice. This, however, does not work, especially in the last two sections.

The thesis of the abortion chapter is abortion may be legal, but it is not available to a great deal of women thanks to legislation forbidding federal funding for the procedure. Feminists and pro-choice activists tend to ignore this side of the issue, keeping abortion not a right but a consumer decision. “I use the term ‘rights’ to refer to privileges or benefits of being a human and specifically a woman in the United States, privileges or benefits that one can exercise without access to any special resources, such as money.” (Emphasis author’s.)

Of course, this is a principle with which it is easy to agree if you are already pro-choice. Solinger assumes that if you agree with this chapter (abortion should be a right, not just a choice) then you’ll make the leap to the other chapters (all reproduction is a right, no matter the extenuating circumstances).

It’s a shame, because Solinger makes excellent points that are lost under her false logic. She changed the way I thought about international adoption; it had never occurred to me that the babies were not orphans or abandoned, and that the INS knew this. I’m sure this never occurred to many adoptive parents either. She also argues that pro-choice activists are being counterproductive with their “We won’t go back to the Back Alley Butcher” campaign. It portrays women as weak creatures that need protection from clothes hangers and brutal abortionists. I was with her all through the abortion chapter and most of the adoption section. Then it dawned on me: Solinger doesn’t take the children involved into account even once.

The birth parents profiled in the adoption chapter had given up their children mostly in the 50’s and 60’s when being a single mother was not acceptable. Many of these women tried to find their birth children through private detectives. Solinger interviewed them to find out how the reunion went, but did not interview a single child. The children’s desires and rights were not even mentioned. She continues this indifference throughout the last two sections.

When it comes to Solinger’s beliefs on welfare, I’m hesitant to comment. I don’t want to come off sounding like a fascist. I believe that welfare is important. I believe it helps people. However, I believe welfare should be, when at all possible, temporary, and I certainly do not believe that welfare should be used to pay women to raise their children. It’s ironic that while Solinger rails against the stereotype of the “Welfare Queen” she also includes quotations such as, “Ain’t no white man going to tell me how many babies I can have, ‘cause if I want a million of them, and I can have them, I’m going to have them. And ain’t nobody in the world going to tell me what to do with my bod, ‘cause this is mine and I treasure it” (Doris Bland of Mothers for Adequate Welfare).

Solinger never states “Mothers should be paid by the government to raise their children,” but it is definitely implied with all of the stories of women who just want to be with their children. She argues that, by god, it’s every woman’s reproductive choice, even if they don’t even make enough money to support themselves. What she forgets, however, is that having a child is not merely a biological process. And “can” does not equal “should.” So when she doesn’t bother to mention any statistics about children in poverty, it tells you a lot about how slanted her theories are. I have a feeling that if faced with statistics (such as how children in poverty are more likely to have developmental problems due to malnutrition and exposure to environmental toxins, drop out of high school, commit crimes, to become pregnant as a teenager, etc. [taken from National Center for Children in Poverty]), Solinger would argue that they’re just proof women need more money from the government to raise their children. Solinger is just as bad as the anti-choice extremists who care only for a fetus at the expense of the mother; she cares only for the mother and completely disregards the well being of a living, breathing child.

I started reading the book very excited. I was inspired by her take on the pro-choice movement and was very enlightened about adoption. I ended the book, however, ranting and throwing it across the room. It really is too bad that Solinger’s extremism undermines her good ideas. The book had so much promise.