Democracy Under Assault
Theopolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right

Michele Swenson

Pre-Roe v. Wade Adoption Black Market in America
The Era of 'Lost Birds' and the Magdalene Laundries

Welfare Reform in the ‘90s became a vehicle for limiting women’s options to marriage or child relinquishment, harkening to pre-Roe proscriptions of reproductive control for women. White babies were regarded a valuable commodity in post-World War II America, when single white women were often coerced to surrender babies to a burgeoning adoption black market, with doctors or lawyers often acting as baby brokers. Conversely, single black women were compelled to keep babies, or risk charges of "abandonment" for attempted placement of children for adoption. 1

Also coincident to this time was the experience of the "Lost Birds"—the appellation applied to thousands of American Indian children stolen from reservations, whose birth certificates were falsified to categorize them as "white" for easy assimilation into extensive baby-trafficking channels. 2

It was the era of the notorious "Magdalene Laundries" in Ireland, where women accused of any perceived sexual transgression were condemned by the Irish Catholic Church to lifetime imprisonment performing unpaid labor, likewise coerced to relinquish babies to the demands of the underground U.S. adoption network. At the end of their lives these women were buried in unmarked graves, unworthy of the least recognition. 3

Consequent to the Roe decision’s return of most childbearing decisions to women, sources of children for the illicit adoption market shifted outside the country, to places like Central America and Russia. Like the Argentinian government, which greatly restricted the sale of contraception in 1974 toward the goal of doubling the country’s population by the end of the century (and subsequently became the agent of widespread black market adoptions—the subject of the movie "The Official Story,") the Paraguayan government has also attempted to take "ownership" of babies from lawyers who have stolen them from their mothers. A Russian mafia was reported in 1998 to traffic in drugs and guns as well as babies, preying on poor, vulnerable pregnant women. 4


1 Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy & Race Before Roe v. Wade, Rickie Solinger, 1992

2 'Lost Bird' finds her nest, Rocky Mountain News, 5-3-07 3A

3 Magdalene Laundries, 60 Minutes, 1-3-98

4 Nightline, ABC, 1-5-96; Public Eye, CBS, 5-27-98; Prime Time Live, ABC, 4-15-98