Book Review: A Feminist Analysis of Adoption

24 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2015

See all articles by Nancy E. Dowd

Nancy E. Dowd

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 1994


The law of adoption is in flux and under attack. Riveting, tragic cases like DeBoer v. Schmidt are evidence that the system is wrong and in need of overhaul. Perspective and politics are everything in such reform.

In Family Bonds: Adoption and the Politics of Parenting, Elizabeth Bartholet has constructed a powerful argument for adoption reform that challenges the ideology and practical structure of adoption. She confronts the bias in the current social and legal regime in favor of the biologic family, a bias that skews support toward expensive technologies to facilitate biologic reproduction or some facsimile. Bartholet's fundamental argument is that we should deemphasize and strictly regulate reproductive technologies and shift support to a deregulated, reformed adoption system that encourages adoption (pp. xx-xxi, 35-38, 44-48).

There is much to chew on here. In this review I explore a feminist analysis of adoption. Adoption has received relatively little attention from feminists. Yet it touches many areas of feminist concern: reproductive choice and reproductive technologies, including abortion and surrogacy; definitions and concepts of family; parental rights and roles; gay and lesbian rights; the intersection of gender, race, and class; gender roles (even though criticized as essentialist); issues of sameness and difference; choice and the contexts in which women's choices are made; and the valuing and devaluing of mothering and nurturance. There may well be, then, not simply "a" feminist analysis of adoption, but multiple analyses of adoption from the range of feminist thought.

In this review I first set out the methodology and structure of Bartholet's argument. I evaluate Bartholet's thesis from a feminist perspective and present a potential feminist construction of adoption. Then I examine in particular the role of birthparents in adoption. My working thesis is that feminist analysis might have profound implications for birthparents, who are often marginalized and stigmatized by the adoption structure. It might also suggest a more child-centered view of adoption, one that might generate an entirely different procedural structure and require greater protection of family stability. Finally, a feminist analysis might realign birthparents and adoptive parents from a paradigm of adversarial relations to a shared (even if different) model of parenthood.

Keywords: feminism, adoption

Suggested Citation

Dowd, Nancy Elizabeth, Book Review: A Feminist Analysis of Adoption (1994). Harvard Law Review, Vol. 107, p. 913, 1994, University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Nancy Elizabeth Dowd (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0930 (Phone)
352-392-3005 (Fax)


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