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For years, the Netherlands have been a very modern country when it comes to things like abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage. Modern in this case meaning that things are legal here that can hardly be discussed in other countries. I have the idea that this is the result of a largely secular society and, perhaps even more important, a largely secular government. The secular way of thinking has meant that what people are allowed to do seems to be based more on personal freedom and the right to decide for yourself about your own life, rather than religious ideas about what people should be allowed to do. Anyhow.

We have a new government since a week or three. The new coalition comprises two Christian parties and one socialist party. One of the two Christian parties is a relatively new one, and is now part of the government for the first time. From the beginning, it was clear that if they would become part of the government, one of the things they would want to do something about is the legislation on the subjects mentioned above: gay marriage, euthanasia, abortion. And so it has turned out to be. A discussion has been started on alternatives for euthanasia (palliative sedation) and abortion. Apparantly these alternatives need to receive more attention. So far I've heard the most about adoption as an alternative to abortion. It has been said that doctors need to tell women who ask for an abortion more about this alternative. In the discussion, some arguments have come up that really annoy me. These I would like to discuss here.

Officially, abortus provocatus is still illegal in the Netherlands. Doctors who perform abortion are however not prosecuted if they have a license and if the woman wanting the abortion states that she is in a "noodgeval": a desperate situation, loosely translated. What constitutes a desperate situation is left to the judgement of the pregnant woman. The law also states that any woman asking for an abortion should take a period of consideration of at least five days before the procedure will be performed and that she should be informed about alternatives to the abortion.

In 2006 the law concerning abortion was reviewed. The reviewing committee advised that the five day consideration period be removed from the law and changed into a flexible waiting period. During the research it was also found out that in the majority of cases, when women ask for an abortion, alternatives like carrying the baby to term and perhaps giving it up for adoption are not discussed. I think that this must have been an important reason for the call for more stress on the alternatives. I've heard things said about the physical and psychological pain that is the result of an abortion, and surely an abortion should never be done on a whim. But is adoption really a valid alternative?

First off, the way the discussion is being held now, you get the feeling the choice is between killing a child (abortion) and having it grow up with loving parents (adoption). But it's not that simple. For a pregnant woman, the choice is not between abortion and adoption, it is between ending a pregnancy and carrying the pregnancy to term. Then, if the pregnancy is carried to term, and the baby is born, the choice must be made whether or not to give up the baby. And IF the baby is given up, then finally adoption can come into play.

In the discussion about alternatives, much is said about the impact abortion has. I know some women who have had an abortion, and it's not a decision they've made lightly. Even if there is no true regret (and sometimes there is), still they sometimes think about and grieve for the child that might have been. Also, an abortion can be a painful procedure. Seen in this light, abortion is something to avoid. But is adoption then an alternative? I think not. Even if an abortion is painful physically, it's nothing compared to nine months of pregnancy and eventually labour at the end. Even for women who really want a child, pregnancy can be uncomfortable or even hard. Pregnancy can even kill you if you get an interesting condition like preeclampsia. Labour is painful for anyone and a pregnancy and birth will leave marks on your mind and body for the rest of your life. If your child is wanted, this can be a joyful thing. But if the pregnancy is unwanted and you're still left with the signs of it ever after? I think not.

Also, giving up your child is as hard a decision as having an abortion, if not harder. In the fifties many unwed women were forced to give up their children. In the last few years ever more stories have come from those birthmothers, telling how much it has hurt them to have been forced to do this, and how hard it has been for them to never see their children or know how they were. So, apart from the physical hardship of pregnancy and labour, giving up a child also means psychological problems for the mother. And then there is the child that is being given up. Without wanting to say anything bad about adoptive parents, many adopted children have problems with the idea that their own mother didn't want them. They have questions about where they come from. Even for the child who has no choices to make, adoption can cause psychological damage. When a child has no parents left, adoptive parents are a wonderful substitute. But that does not mean that adoption is an ideal solution for the problem of unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, it is already hard to find adoptive parents for children with problems in the Netherlands. Will there actually be people to adopt those extra children born if more mothers decide to give up their babies?

Now all this may come across as if I mean to say that abortion is actually better than adoption. I'm not sure which one is better. What bothers me about the discussion in the Netherlands at this moment, is that the people who are advocating adoption, seem to do this on the grounds that abortion is physically and psychologically detrimental to the woman undergoing it. I have no doubt that it can be. But a pregnancy, birth and giving up of your baby is to my mind just as detrimental if not more so. The Christian parties calling for adoption as an alternative, do so not because their main concern is the wellfare of the women. They do so because they believe life is given by God and an unborn life should be protected. This is the reason that they want to see less abortions and more unwanted pregnancies carried to term. It is their right to believe this and to try and persuade women to have their unwanted babies. But I think they should be more honest about this belief and not try to make it seem as if adoption is the easier of the two choices.

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