The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne has apologised to mothers who placed their children for adoption, after a report by Australian Catholic University’s Professor Shurlee Swain and PhD student Christin Quirk outlined the hospital’s role in past practices.
The study revealed that of the roughly 26,000 babies born to single mothers at the hospital between 1945 and 1975, more than a quarter were given up for adoption.
Professor Swain was commissioned by the Women’s to undertake the study after the hospital was contacted by former patients claiming that they were coerced into signing adoption papers. Under her supervision, Master of Philosophy student Christin conducted the research and authored the report.
“In hindsight, these women feel that they were coerced into signing consent: being told that the only alternative to adoption was for their child to grow up in an orphanage,” the study found. “Single mothers were further humiliated when told that it was not permitted for the father’s name to appear on the birth registration of their illegitimate child.”
“Women were powerless to speak up and challenge social norms that venerated the nuclear family and scorned the single mother. As such, there is a great deal of anger directed towards the hospital which, in the minds of these women, was responsible for not only protecting their rights, but advocating on their behalf.”
Hospital Chief Executive Dale Fisher said she hoped the hospital’s efforts towards understanding its role in past adoption practices would be accepted as evidence of its regret and sorrow.
“On behalf of the staff, past and present, of the Hospital, I apologise to every woman who felt she had no choice but to relinquish her baby for adoption while in our care,” she said. “I understand many relinquishing mothers experienced, and continue to experience, feelings of grief, pain, anger, helplessness and loss, and for this I apologise unreservedly.”
The hospital yesterday submitted the report to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices.