The most important person on Capitol Hill one recent weekday was not Paul Ryan or Mark Zuckerberg or anyone with a position of political or business power. He was a 10-year-old boy, whose hand I shook before his birth mother told the story of how he is in the world today.
The star speaker was a radiant Kelly Clemente, who told her story of being a pregnant teenager in 2008. She had a family who supported her as she faced the emotional challenges of her situation. Because of this -- and because of Bethany Christian Services, which helped her in the adoption process -- she was able to make the right choice for herself and her unborn child.
That baby turned into an articulate boy who has thanked Clemente for placing him for adoption. And as Kelsey Harkness points out in the piece accompanying the video interview she did with Clemente, “According to the National Council for Adoption, a nonpartisan group that advocates adoption, for every 1,000 abortions and births to unmarried women, there were only 6.9 adoptions.”
Whatever your politics on abortion, it’s hard to look in the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, a birth mother and an adoptive mother, and see anything but courage, gratitude and love.
As important as the abortion debate itself is, adoption can be a meeting ground for people from different sides of the issue. At an event at the Heritage Foundation where Clemente spoke, Ryan Bomberger, a fellow panelist, declared that we cannot talk about abortion without talking about adoption. “We’re failing as a nation in rising to the challenge of finding forever families for children in foster care,” he said. This should be a nudge to our consciences, whatever our politics on abortion or anything else.
The occasion for the Heritage panel was some recent controversies -- and laws and lawsuits -- involving choices in foster care and adoption. As if these weren’t difficult enough issues for scared mothers (“I’ve never met a selfish birth mother,” Clemente shared) and giving families, we're in danger of letting awareness and support for adoption and the kids in our overburdened, unsustainable foster-care system get swept up in the polarization we’ve become all too comfortable with.
During that same Heritage Foundation panel, Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption said: “We need to keep children first” in the adoption-policy debate. And in our daily lives.
The testimony of the likes of Kelly Clemente -- and presence of her son and his adoptive mom -- is an invitation to take a deep breath as a culture, and a few steps back. Let’s not lose sight of a little boy saying “thank you” to a woman of courage, who as a teenager made a choice that was hard, but so tremendously loving. He was clearly a living, breathing expression of gratitude to his adoptive mom, from the looks of them walking into the Heritage Foundation the other day together.
There was so much news out of D.C. this past week, including the speaker of the house not running for reelection. But to those of us witnessing the expressions of love and gratitude at the Heritage Foundation panel, the message of the week seemed quite clear: The most important person in D.C. this week is no one who will be a household name. The most important people in the life of a child are those who love him or her most. There’s such power in this country, so close to home, that we don’t always appreciate, celebrate and support it. That’s typically the case in life, and we must look around more and see where the Kelly Clementes and the families stepping up to the plate are -- whether we are policymakers, church leaders or neighbors -- and give them love and assistance.