Two Christian women, 18 years and a half-continent apart, faced painfully similar decisions — what to do about the baby.
Yet, a generation later, their work with women and children confronting difficult circumstances has brought them to different conclusions about abortion.
The first woman, Niki Tucker, learned she was pregnant in 1982, only nine years after the U.S. Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion. When justices overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, she couldn’t help but recall the choice she made 40 years ago.
Tucker, then 20, faced an uncertain future.
She and her fiancé broke up a few weeks before she discovered she was pregnant. She begged him to take her back so they could marry and raise the baby, but he walked away. Then her stepfather threw her out of her mother’s house.
Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “The Atlas Factor: Shifting Leadership Onto the Shoulders of Jesus” by Lance Ford. To donate, click here.
“‘Don’t come over here till you’ve gotten rid of that thing’ — those were his exact words,” Tucker recalled.
Devoid of support from her ex-fiancé and her family, she turned to the Newland Street Church of Christ in Garden Grove, California. As a teenager, she had begun attending that congregation alone.
Making her way between the pews to the front, Tucker stood before the church with a message: She was expecting and wanted to give the baby up for adoption.
The response, Tucker said, was one of support, not shame.
A family offered to house Tucker for the last three months of her pregnancy. The minister told her about a couple who had asked him about adoptions a week earlier.
Soon, the couple — fellow church members in their 30s — met with Tucker, who agreed to work with an attorney to facilitate an open adoption.
After the birth, Tucker watched as the congregation welcomed the baby — and his adoptive parents — into the church family.
“One of the other ladies at church came to me, and she said, ‘Oh, let’s just go take a look at that little mistake you made, shall we?’” Tucker said. “And she said it in the nicest way. She wasn’t being mean at all. … I just didn’t feel judged there.”
But the second woman, Jennifer Griffith, remembers fleeing her church out of a sense of shame.
“You want to hide it,” she explained.
Griffith was 17 when she tested positive on a pregnancy test in 2000. Raised in Fort Worth, Texas, by anti-abortion parents, Griffith felt like she had limited choices.
“I like to say abortion wasn’t even an option,” said Griffith, whose mother was with her when she found out she was pregnant.
That left three options: marriage, single parenthood or adoption.
“I wanted the child to have two parents,” said Griffith, who knew she didn’t want to marry the baby’s father. “That was my biggest push to go in the direction of adoption.”
Her mother, who had done extensive work with pregnancy crisis centers in the area, had connections to Christian Homes and Family Services, a nonprofit adoption and foster care agency associated with Churches of Christ in Abilene, Texas.
Wanting to escape judgment, Griffith moved into the nonprofit’s maternity home and began taking classes at a nearby high school. On the weekends, she’d visit her family in Fort Worth, though she stopped attending the West Freeway Church of Christ — where she grew up — during her pregnancy.
“You don’t want people to look at you,” Griffith said. “You don’t want the shame and the stigma.”
Reality of adoption decisions
Women who courageously place their children for adoption, such as Tucker and Griffith, deal with a range of emotions.
In Tucker’s case, she said she doesn’t know what might have happened if she had received support from her family or the baby’s father. Perhaps she would’ve kept the baby.
Her second night in the hospital after giving birth, she questioned her decision.
“I remember standing outside the nursery at 3 a.m. just crying, saying, ‘I could just walk in there and take him and leave, and nobody can stop me. I can just go,’” Tucker recalled. “And then I thought, ‘And where would I go? Where would I live? How would I feed him? How would I feed me?’ But … I had no support, so I said, ‘No, this is the right thing to do.’”
Tucker’s hesitation to give the baby up for adoption is not uncommon.
Women with unintended pregnancies who are denied abortions and carry to term rarely place the baby for adoption, according to an article in Women’s Health Issues, a peer-reviewed journal.
The researchers cited the Turnaway Study, a five-year project that recorded the decisions of 956 women who sought abortions at 30 clinics across the U.S. from 2008 to 2010. Of the 231 women denied abortions due to late-term pregnancies, only 14% of participants reported intent to place the baby for adoption or to consider that option.
And only 9% — 15 of the 161 women who gave birth — placed their newborns for adoption.
“Among women motivated to avoid parenthood, as evidenced by abortion seeking, adoption is considered or chosen infrequently,” the authors concluded. “Political promotion of adoption as an alternative to abortion is likely not grounded in the reality of women’s decision making.”
More often, women denied abortions opt to parent.
However, the cost of child care, added responsibility and a lack of support can increase the likelihood of poverty and children ending up as wards of the state.
‘A patch on a corpse’
The foster care system is ultimately what changed Tucker’s perspective.
After giving her baby up for adoption, she moved to Texas and received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Abilene Christian University — motivated by her experience with an unintended pregnancy — before returning to Kern County, California, to work with Child Protective Services for seven years.
“I made the choice to keep the baby and felt that others should make the same choice,” Tucker said of her decision to carry her pregnancy to term and place the baby for adoption. “When I started working for CPS, obviously, I saw what happened to children who were unwanted and began to take on a different view.”
Children sexually trafficked, sold for drugs, on the brink of starvation — these were only a few examples of the abuse she witnessed, Tucker recalled.
“People have no idea what happens to these children,” said Tucker, now a member of East County Church of Christ in Gresham, Oregon. “I saw children who were so damaged by the abuse at the hands of their parents that I knew there was no way they were going to have a productive life.”
More than 400,000 children remained in foster care nationally in 2020, with 117,000 awaiting adoption, according to federal data.
The U.S. government reported a national rate of 8.4 victims of maltreatment per 1,000 children in the population.
Tucker sees early life intervention and decreasing unwanted pregnancies as possible solutions.
“You’re putting a patch on a corpse when you’re doing the group homes,” she added. “The need is when they are infants, not when they’re 16 years old, and they’re acting out because of the abuse that happened to them.”
Families facing crisis
Prevention and intervention is a specialty of Lilyfield, an Oklahoma-based organization associated with Churches of Christ.
The nonprofit provides social services for at-risk families and offers foster care for minors in state custody. It served about 1,500 clients in 2019 through counseling, preventive care and empowerment programs.
That number increased to more than 2,100 clients in 2021, and organization leaders expect it will continue rising after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill in May 2022 that banned abortion at conception.
“We’ve seen a higher number of families … facing significant crisis situations over the last two years,” said Dr. Amy Emerson, a pediatrician who serves as Lilyfield’s board president and as an Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs board member.
More than 8,000 children remained in the Oklahoma foster care system during 2020, with a median stay of 13 months, according to federal data.
While there is no federal definition for children waiting for adoption, 3,614 minors under state care in Oklahoma are described as “children and youth through age 17 who have a goal of adoption and/or whose parents’ parental rights have been terminated.”
Lilyfield’s goal is to decrease the number of children in foster care at the source: struggling families.
“We truly want to be not just with families who are struggling with removal of children or neglect, but we really want to step in and see what happens if we can be present before DHS (Department of Human Services) gets involved,” said Emerson, a member of The Park Church of Christ in Tulsa.
“Every one of those numbers is a child who has been removed from a home, and when a child is in state custody, that means the government is now responsible for raising that child,” she added. “I think we all know that’s not God’s design.”
‘Notoriously … pro-life’
Griffith’s experience with adoption led her to share her mother’s passion for anti-abortion work as she aged.
“I think a lot of people have a misconception that Christians just sit back and are not helpers,” Griffith said. “And I would say that Christians are notoriously involved in the pro-life movement. … But you can always be involved more.
“I remember someone who did a baby shower for birth moms, so instead of baby stuff it was self-care-type things. And that’s just such a visible, tangible, apt way to say, ‘You’re loved; you’re not bringing the baby home, but you’re carrying a baby … and we want you to be cared for.’ I think that speaks volumes.”
Today, Griffith serves on the board of directors for Christian Homes and Family Services, the same organization that once served her. Her son, Jake, whom she placed for an open adoption with a Christian couple, turns 22 years old in September.
The life upheaval that followed her unintended pregnancy was not permanent.
When Griffith returned the following year to her high school in Fort Worth as a senior, most students had already moved on to new gossip. She began retraining for soccer and went on to play in college.
“I feel like my story may not be the average,” Griffin said. “It really feels like everything went right.”
Tucker, on the other hand, worries about the lives of those for whom everything went wrong.
This article originally appeared at The Christian Chronicle.
Audrey Jackson, a journalism graduate of Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, is The Christian Chronicle’s associate editor for print and digital.