Negative stories from the foster care system may be responsible for much of the stigma against adoption, even though mothers have the choice of offering a child for adoption privately or through a small center. There are almost 112,000 children waiting to be adopted in the foster care system, the average wait time being 31.8 months. Around 55 percent of the children have been placed with families three or more times, Kirk noted.
Studies show detrimental effects on children the longer they stay in the system, deficits in education, relationships, and an uptick in future criminal activity.
As a result, pregnant women "think their children are better off dead than placed with an adoptive family," Kirk said.
Yet many Catholic parents are waiting to adopt and love a child, especially if they are not able to have any of their own, panel members insisted.
Once the prohibitive costs of the process are removed from the equation, "everyone starts looking at adoption for what it really is, it's the greatest act of love," Mary L. Ball, J.D., founder of Holy Family Adoption Agency, said at the May 15 CIC panel.
Birth mothers "want more for their child than they can give them," she said, while a married couple is also looking to give a child unconditional love.
"I really think that adoption is the missing link in the pro-life movement," she said. "We don't talk enough about it."
Dr. Grazie Christie, a radiologist and a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, agreed, and shared her own decision to adopt after having four children.
"We didn't need a child. We had plenty of children," she said of her family, yet "we had so much" and wanted to adopt as "an act of love." They adopted a child from outside the U.S.
Yet she wasn't ready for the skepticism and criticism she faced for her decision.
"We got a lot of negativity from people around us," she said, including questions and observations like "You're crazy," "You don't know what you're going to get," "You're going out to get other people's problems and bring them home," and "Don't you have enough children?"
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"I was pained by it," she said, but when she received her new daughter and began caring for her, "it was hands-down the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me."
More married couples, upon finding that they are unable to have children, are turning to fertility treatments or in-vitro fertilization, but there are thousands of babies available for adoption, aching for a home, Dr. Christie said.
Ultimately, Christians and pro-lifers should be doing much more to promote adoption even if they themselves can't adopt children, panel experts insisted.
"We have to very much, very specifically, very purposefully build a culture of adoption," Dr. Christie said. "It has to be seen as yet another way that God matches children with their parents."
"We all have a duty to practice this kind of radical hospitality" and "welcome the stranger," Kirk said. And today's stranger is the unwanted child in danger of abortion, she added. "Every couple is called to think about what they're doing to help the orphan, to help the widow."
This doesn't necessarily mean that all couples must adopt a child, however.