Policy Statement: Legal and Ethical Protection of Expectant and New Mothers

Origins Canada supports the legal and ethical protection of expectant and new mothers from reproductive exploitation during pregnancy, labour, delivery, and post-partum.

In order to ensure this protection, three elements must be present:

  1. The human rights of the mother must be upheld.
  2. The mother must be able to give informed consent.
  3. Adoption transactions must be free from coercion, manipulation, or undue influence.

Origins Canada supports the implementation of protections in Canadian adoption law and practice.

Origins Canada supports the following protections for expectant and new mothers:

During Pregnancy

Protection of the Mother From Emotional
Coercion and Solicitation 

  • Protection of mothers from pre-birth matching and meeting with prospective adopters prior to birth with the recognition that such contact can be emotionally coercive. The pregnant woman often develops a strong sense of obligation to produce her baby for the prospective adopters in order to fulfil their dreams of a child.
  • Prohibition of solicitation for babies, advertising babies for adoption, and prohibition of the encouragement of expectant mothers to surrender their babies.  This includes advertising such as “Dear Birthmother” letters and “Prospective Adoptive Parent Profiles.”
  • Recognition as a coercive practice the use of the term “birthmother” being applied to a pregnant woman in order to psychologically groom her for adoption by imposing upon her an identity which implies a role that she must fulfill by producing a baby for prospective adoptive parents
  • Recognition as a coercive practice the use of “commitment ceremonies” and “intent to place” forms signed during pregnancy in order to commit a mother to the surrender of her infant prior to birth.
  • Prevention of the relocation of mothers to other jurisdictions for purposes of the adoption of their child – recognition of this as human trafficking for adoption purposes

Counselling, Informed Consent, and Conflict of Interest

  • Any adoption related counselling provided to the mother must come from qualified adoption workers who are not in conflict of interest.  Conflict of interest includes any financial or personal interest in the child being obtained for adoption purposes by any organization, employee, or independent agent contracted by any organization.
  •  Government ministries providing adoption services can only be deemed to be providing unbiased service when the mandate of the ministry does not include minimization of the number of single mothers eligible for social assistance (an indirect financial benefit of adoption to the state).
  • Adoption counselling during pregnancy should concentrate on problem solving the short-term obstacles to parenting.

Labour and Delivery 

  • Those benefiting from an adoption transaction, including prospective adopters or their representatives, or any other individual or organization that would benefit financially, or from the procurement of an infant, are not to be present during labour, delivery, and the post-partum period at hospital, clinic, or any other venue.
  • Mothers are not to be presented with adoption related papers to sign at hospital, clinic, or any other venue until six weeks post-partum.
  •  Mothers should be provided with a document outlining all their rights as a mother in the hospital setting and otherwise, and including all legal rights.
  • Mothers should be given the choice of taking their babies home with them or receiving temporary care for the infant, such that no mother is pressured to make an adoption decisions before an infant is six weeks old.  Prospective adoptive parents may not provide temporary care.
  • Mothers considering adoption should be allowed to develop a natural mother-child relationship with her baby, including being educated about the importance of neonatal bonding and breastfeeding. Mothers should be encouraged to see and hold their infant. Mothers should be instructed by hospital staff in caring for and breastfeeding their infants as all other mothers in maternity wards. Doula services for all women who have given birth to be covered by provincial medical services plans. 

Post-Partum and Recovery 

  • Mothers should be protected by a minimum grace period of six weeks before the signing of consent, in order to allow for recovery from birth, or any other complications such as post-partum depression.
  • For informed consent, it is mandatory that mothers be provided cost free counselling pre and post birth from professionals who are not in a position of a personal or financial conflict of interest. Any counsellor in this regard should be fully versed in the area of adoption trauma and the lifelong negative consequences of adoption for mother and child and extended family members. Mental health professionals must be aware of the clinical diagnostic criteria and treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, unresolved complicated grief, and how these disorders are common results of the loss of a child to adoption

Legal Elements of the Surrender Process

  • Every parent has the right to independent legal counsel to advise them of the consequences of surrender and alternatives to surrender before signing any document surrendering their parental rights to their child
  • A revocation period of at least 30 days from the signing of the consent form must be provided to permit a mother to reflect and change her mind with no penalties imposed, no court hearings required, and the child returned to the mother forthwith upon request. During the revocation period the child shall not reside with prospective adoptive parents.
  • All efforts must be made to locate the father of the baby and obtain his consent.
  • Fatherhood to be determined by DNA testing without having to register on a “putative father registry” or “prove financial support of the mother” during her pregnancy.
  • Any agreement for openness and contact must be legally binding on all parties.
  • The mother must retain the right to notification of the death or serious injury of her child, and of any adoption disruption.

Copyright Origins Canada 2010