Adoption in Australia

Despite one in six Australian couples being infertile 1 and many wanting to adopt children, adoption rates have dramatically declined over the past 4 decades to as little as 70 per year.

autumn leaves adoptionThe small number of adoptions is largely due to our society’s indifference and opposition to adoption, 2 as well as a low regard for pregnancy and of the child in the womb in general.

It is apparent that Australia’s dismal adoption policies have gone hand-in-hand with its broadening of abortion laws (already up to birth in Victoria). For the past 10 years, around 100,000 babies have been aborted annually in Australia; with 97% of these abortions being carried out on healthy babies – whose mothers are physically healthy.  3


  1. Late-term abortions
  2. Adoption versus abortion
  3. Adoption statistics
  4. Changing attitudes
  5. State adoption laws
  6. References

Late-term abortions

The claim that late-term abortions (over 20 weeks gestation) are done only in cases of severe or lethal abnormality, or to save the mother’s life, is completely false. Nearly 50% of late-term aborted babies are healthy 4 ; with another large percentage having only suspected or minor abnormalities. As Queensland Dr David van Gend commented, “In many cases these are babies older than those in our hospital nurseries, who might have been born alive and adopted to loving parents, but were instead ‘terminated’.”  5

It is important to point out, even though there are large numbers of babies who manage to survive the abortion, they are, as a matter of routine procedure, simply left to die or callously killed. Surely, adoption would have been a more preferable and caring alternative for these babies?

Adoption versus abortion

Women do not choose abortion because they think no one will adopt their baby. Women often choose abortion because they view adoption as a fate worse than abortion. It is common to hear teenage girls and women say, “I could never give my child up for adoption!” In their minds, adoption is abandonment – the abandonment of a visible, cuddly, kissable baby.

Abortion on the other hand is the elimination of an abstract, unseen, pre-baby. This is the illusion maintained by our society, and predominantly abortion clinic staff. It is then no wonder that adoption is perceived as the harsher of the two choices. But when abortion is seen and understood for what it really is, the equation flips. It becomes impossible to maintain that abortion is the more loving choice. 6

Adoption statistics

There  has  been  a  dramatic decline  in the  number of  local  and  overseas adoptions in Australia since the early 1970s. In 1971–72 there were 9,798 adoptions, which declined to 1,052 in 1991–92, and then to 576 in 2005–06. 7

Low rates of adoptions in Australia are attributed to the low number of children who need placement – which is largely the result of the cultural acceptance and practice of abortion. Low rates of international adoptions are attributed to long waiting times (from two to eight years) and high cost (up to $40,000). The following table shows the most recent adoption figures, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:  8

Type of adoption






Local adoptions
(adoption within Australia)





   61 (15%)

‘Known-child’ adoptions
(adoption by relatives, step parents or carers)





129 (31%)

Intercountry adoptions
(adoption of children born





  222 (54%)








Local adoptions by state and territory for 2009 – 10 financial year:

Qld – 10       NSW – 13       Vic – 18       WA – 12       SA – 2       ACT – 2       Tas –2       NT – 2    9   

Changing attitudes

While the first adoption legislation in Australia in the 1920s fostered relatively “open” adoptions, a second wave of legislation passed in the 1960s had emphasised the importance of a “clean break” from birth parents and enshrined the principle of secrecy around the adoptive status of children — who were to be raised by their adoptive parents “as if born to them”. This principle was meant to provide adoptive parents with heirs without fear of stigma or interference from the biological parent/s, but also operated to allow the unmarried mother, her child, and her family, to be shielded from the shame of an “illegitimate” birth. 10

Subsequent revelations decades later of the history of the treatment of “removed” children, whether indigenous, white Australian, or the British children who travelled to Australia in imperial forced migration schemes well into the twentieth-century, had a profound impact on public perceptions of adoption. The notion of “coming home”, mobilised with great effect by indigenous Australians to account for their experiences of separation from family into institutions or adoption, came to stand for the adoptive experience generally. This concept stigmatised adoptions – as entailing loss, removal from roots and pain, while at the same time idealising the birth family, which minimised if not shutting out the role and experiences of the adoptive family.  11

Recognition of the effects of previous adoption policies resulted in dramatic changes in 1970s and 1980s. Beginning in the mid 1970s, all Australian states and territories reviewed adoption legislation and embarked on reversals of previous practices throughout the 1980s. National Adoption Conferences, convened in Australia in 1976, 1978 and 1982, brought together people affected by adoption with professionals and researchers. These conferences served as important for activism and agitation on adoption law reform. Workers in the field began to tend towards the view that children should be with their biological parents where possible. 12   Sociologist Rosemary Pringle suggested as late as 2002 that adoption in Australia had lost virtually all social policy credibility.

Then, in 2005 and again in 2007, two significant reports from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services (2005 and 2007), highlighted that adoption has re-emerged on the political agenda as viable social policy.

The 2005 report not only endorsed inter-country adoption (adoption of children born overseas), but suggested that adoption, rather than foster care and other out-of-home-care, might also be in the best interests of many Australian-born children. This is contrasted with the current negative attitudes to adoption found within the state and territory welfare departments responsible for processing adoption applications. These attitudes ranged “from indifference to hostility”.  13

State adoption laws

Each State and Territory has its own legislation governing adoption matters within that State and Territory. As of 2010, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia are currently undertaking parliamentary reviews of their adoption laws.

ACT: Adoption Act 1993

NSW: Adoption Act 2000

NT: Adoption of Children Act 1994

QLD: Adoption Act 2009

SA: Adoption Act 1988

TAS: Adoption Act 1988

VIC: Adoption Act 1984

WA: Adoption Act 1994


  1. ABC Health and Wellbeing
  2. Kate Murphy, Marian Quartly, Denise Cuthbert (2009). “”In the best interests of the child”:
         mapping the emergence of pro-adoption politics in contemporary Australia”. bNet.
  3. South Australian Abortion Reporting Committee, 2006, Fourth Annual Report, Table 4a
  4. Herald Sun 20/5/2010
  5. Herald Sun 28/1/2010
  6. Adapted from ‘Opening the door to adoption, by closing the door to abortion’
  7. Adoption Fact Sheet Children by Choice
  8. Ibid and 2009-2010 update from AIHW
  9. AIHW Table 3:4 Local adoptions 2009-10
  10. Kate Murphy, Marian Quartly, Denise Cuthbert (2009). “”In the best interests of the child”:
    mapping the  emergence of pro-adoption politics in contemporary Australia”. bNet.
  11. Ibid
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid

Note: Article’s Abortion statistics, Changing attitudes and State adoption laws have been adapted from  WP: CC-BY-SA