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Two transracial adoptees with different views on abortion agree about cultural trauma

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Abortion rights opponents sometimes tout adoption as an alternative to abortion. For many adoptees, it's not so simple. That's especially true for transracial adoptees, children adopted by a family of a different race. Reporter Megan Schellong of member station WKAR is Chinese and was adopted by white parents. And she brings us now the story of two transracial adoptees with very different feelings on abortion.

MEGAN SCHELLONG, BYLINE: By the time Jeancasia Nolen was in her mid-20s, she'd already had three abortions.

JEANCASIA NOLEN: I regret them, first of all. They'll haunt me for the rest of my life.

SCHELLONG: And Nolenunderstands her situation is complex.

NOLEN: I'm a hypocrite for having abortions and saying now I'm anti-abortion.

SCHELLONG: She was adopted into a white family. And growing up, Nolen says she had a really hard time because of her parents' mental illness and alcoholism.

NOLEN: I faced every type of abuse that you can imagine.

SCHELLONG: But in her late 20s, she started practicing Christianity. That's when her stance on abortion changed.

NOLEN: And if you really feel - really feel - like you can't or don't want to do this, well, then let's look at the best scenario for that child.

SCHELLONG: She's happy about the Dobbs decision and says women in the situation she was in should reach out to family and friends for support. Marla Horn (ph), 20, and a part of Gen Z, sees it differently. Horn, like Nolen, was raised by white parents. She's a Chinese adoptee who grew up in a conservative Christian home.

MARLA HORN: And then they would kind of use that to apply it to their political leanings.

SCHELLONG: Influenced by her adoptive family, she grew up believing abortion was wrong, until 2020, when the murder of George Floyd sparked a personal racial reckoning.

HORN: When you are a person of color and you're viewing something like this, it's way easier to kind of think about your own reality.

SCHELLONG: It shifted her views on everything, including getting her to gradually think differently about abortion and adoption.

HORN: Adoption may not be this saving grace. There's a lot of systemic issues within adoption.

SCHELLONG: Horn says those issues include the trauma resulting in neglect, abuse and abandonment. Nolen knows that firsthand. Even with her traumatic experiences as an adoptee, she believes people should give their children up for adoption because of the family she was able to create. She has three biological kids and one adopted son.

NOLEN: My husband and my children are enormously grateful that my mother gave me an opportunity to do this precious thing called life.

SCHELLONG: But Nolen says transracial adoption should be a last resort because it creates feelings of grief surrounding the loss of one's own birth culture. Nolen grew up in a household that did not celebrate her heritage. And when she went back to her birth country of Colombia, visiting made her feel more estranged.

NOLEN: I can't speak my own language. I don't know their traditions. I'm an outsider everywhere.

SCHELLONG: While Horn had a more positive transracial adoption experience, she's still critical of it.

HORN: Something that I really treasure, but I acknowledge the amount of grief and especially that a lot of other adoptees go through.

SCHELLONG: Throughout childhood, her mother exposed her to Chinese traditions through media and adoptee groups, but Horn never took any interest in her birth culture until college, and says she still feels a kind of disconnection.

HORN: There's something we just don't know about ourselves.

SCHELLONG: Like when she joined the Chinese American Students Group at her university.

HORN: I was scared that I didn't know enough about being Chinese.

SCHELLONG: Now Horn is happy to be exploring her birth culture at a pace she's comfortable with. While Nolen and Horn disagree on abortion, they both agree transracial adoptions can be traumatic. For NPR News, I'm Megan Schellong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Schellong
Megan Schellong is the local producer for Morning Edition on WKAR.