It is standardly taken for granted in the literature on the morality of abortion that adoption is almost always an available and morally preferable alternative to abortion — one that does the same thing so far as parenthood is concerned. This assumption pushes proponents of a woman's right to choose into giving arguments that are based almost exclusively around the physicality of pregnancy and childbirth. On the other side of the debate, the assumption that adoption is a real alternative seems to strengthen the contention that a woman who wishes to abort is morally deficient, whatever the status of the foetus: that she is selfish or short-sighted in her refusal to bear the temporary physical burden of pregnancy.

In this article, I will argue that adoption is not a genuine alternative to abortion. It does not ‘do the same thing’, even setting aside the physicality of pregnancy. I will show that on the most successful model of parental obligation — a causal account that formalises the distinction between parent: progenitor, and parent: carer — birth mothers and fathers remain obliged, life-long, to their birth children even when the child is adopted out.