Forcing faith-based agencies out of the system is a disservice to women

Mary Beth Waddell is Senior Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Hill on  July 15, 2018.

The House Appropriations Committee marked-up the fiscal 19 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Rep. Robert Aderholt’s (R-Ala.) amendment to protect faith-based child welfare providers from government discrimination passed 29-23.

Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. have removed faith-based agencies from their child welfare systems because they operate according to tenets of their religious faith.

In response, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (H.R. 1881/S. 811), was introduced in Congress by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), to protect these agencies’ ability to continue helping those in need, without threat of government punishment. This bill is the basis for the amendment.

During debate, amendment opponents tried to paint it as “discriminatory,” when, in fact, it stops discrimination. I appreciate the Members who spoke to point this out and want to further discuss Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-Wash.) comments supporting a birth mother’s right to choose whatever agency she wishes and her child’s adoptive parents. Her points are well taken and advocated by birth mothers.

Women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant are often scared, nervous, overwhelmed, and everything in between. These emotions are exponentially compounded by the hormonal changes in their bodies. Kelly Clemente and Adrian Collins were college students when they found out they were pregnant.

Kelly’s first thoughts were, “Nothing matters anymore. My life is over.” She describes being afraid and feeling like everything was chaotic, loud, and overwhelming. Similarly, Adrian describes being afraid, ashamed, and enveloped by loneliness as she hid her pregnancy for months.

For Kelly, it wasn’t until she thought of her sister whom her parents adopted, that she felt calm and peace. She then decided to make the same brave decision her sister’s birth mom did, to place her son for adoption. Adrian too made “the heart wrenching decision” to place her daughter for adoption.

Amid feeling that her life was out of control, Kelly knew she could determine the agency she would work with and the family who would adopt her son. Adrian also wanted the freedom to choose her agency and daughter’s adoptive parents. Both women had specific desires for their children and wanted the right to ensure those desires were met. Kelly chose Bethany Christian Services (BCS) and Adrian chose Hope’s Promise.

At BCS, Kelly found patience, kindness, and love. Even with supportive parents, Kelly says her case worker was, “the first person that saw and heard [her] and made [her] feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel [she] was trapped in.” She knew her burden was being shared.

Adrian describes Hope’s Promise as a loving and safe place. Her case worker was one of her greatest advocates who provided hope and encouragement. With each encounter she has she got greater clarity, direction, and a renewed sense of hope. The support she received continued throughout her initial postpartum journey of healing, until she felt strong enough to be on her own.

BCS and Hope’s Promise showed these ladies what it was like to walk with someone through their brokenness — through the hardest time of their life, when they feel ashamed, scared, and alone. Both say their stories would have different endings had they not gone through a faith-based agency.

Adoption is a wonderful thing, but a difficult road to walk. It is crucial that birth mothers are able to find a place where they feel the way Kelly and Adrian did about their agencies.

As birth mothers they know what’s at stake. Kelly notes that, “It’s not fair to take away birth mothers’ right to a faith-based agency because these women don’t just have a physical problem. Some of these women are at their weakest moment spiritually.” And Adrian understand that, “removing faith-based agencies […] may create unnecessary fears, anxiety and possible depression for birth mothers who already face a difficult decision.”

Forcing faith-based agencies out of the system is a disservice to these brave women. We should listen to them, rather than a false narrative, and support enactment of this great amendment so that women like Kelly and Adrian get the assistance they desire and deserve — not limit their options and make their experience more difficult.