Ryan Scott Bomberger thanks his lucky stars that Henry and Andrea Bomberger, a Christian couple from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, adopted him in 1971, when he was six weeks old. Then, after taking Ryan, who is biracial, into their home, the Caucasian couple adopted nine more kids—of all races and hues—and reared them alongside their three biological children. According to Ryan, he and his siblings had a near-idyllic upbringing. “Our parents exemplified compassion, wisdom, and unconditional love,” he wrote in an email. “They weren’t out to save the world, just love kids that needed to be loved.”
By all accounts, Ryan did well in school and, accepting his parents’ faith, he spent his undergraduate years at Messiah College. He later attended Pat Robertson’s Regent University where he earned a Master’s in Communications.
Now, more than a decade after completing his studies, Bomberger is a man on an anti-abortion mission and he makes no bones about wanting to broadcast his message. As the creator of the “black genocide” billboards that went up in Atlanta earlier this year, his impassioned advocacy of adoption is deeply intertwined with anti-choice rhetoric.
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Bomberger owes his existence to rape and says that he can imagine his birth mother’s suffering. “Rape is evil,” he said via email. “The child born of rape is the only beauty that comes from such a life-crushing experience.” He acknowledges that many anti-abortion activists—though not him–make an exception for women who have been impregnated by rape or incest. “I don’t believe that following an injustice to one precious human being with injustice to another [the unborn child] is justice at all,” he wrote.
Bomberger spreads his bombast on a host of websites: thisisryan.com; toomanyaborted.com; theradiancefoundation.org; and creativeminorityreport.com, among them. He’s also developed the oddly-named shouldhavebeenaborted.com, which perpetuates a slew of myths about prochoice beliefs. “I am one of the unwanted children,” he pontificates. “I am the one that the abortion movement preaches will never live a happy life.”
Say what? While Bomberger and I don’t hang in the same circles, as far as I know no prochoicer has ever tried to predict a fetus’ future. Instead, we focus on women, zeroing in on how unwanted pregnancies impact their lives. What’s more, adoption has always been part of the mix. In fact, that’s why many women’s health facilities provide comprehensive services, from abortion to adoption, for those in need. At the same time, we’re realistic, acknowledging the pain of the approximately 40,000 women a year whose babies are surrendered to adoptive homes throughout the 50 states.
Ask anyone who has relinquished a child, and they’ll tell you: It doesn’t matter if the placement occurred before Roe or more recently—there’s always anguish. According to the Adoption Education Center, “All birth parents must deal with grief.” And it’s not something that can be swept under the rug. “Unresolved grief can cause problems in a number of areas,” AEC’s website reports. “It can affect romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, the ability to work effectively, and a person’s feelings of happiness and usefulness… Some need professional help to deal with the emotions that accompany the loss… Just about all birth parents wonder how their son or daughter is doing, especially when the child has reached the age for important events.”
These findings don’t surprise reproductive rights activist Susan E. Davis. Davis says that she became a women’s health advocate in 1961, after a close friend became pregnant out of wedlock. “When I came home from college I called Sheila. Her mom told me that she’d gotten pregnant and was living with her aunt 35 miles away,” she begins. “I can’t describe the feelings I had because unwed pregnancy was so shrouded in secrecy and shame.”
Still, I immediately called Sheila and said, ‘I’m coming to see you.’ My mother let me borrow her car and for the next few months, until Sheila delivered in July, I went to see her two or three times a week. Sheila had originally thought she’d marry the baby’s father, but the guy’s mother didn’t like her so they didn’t tie the knot. It was heartbreaking when she had the baby. She held her once, then gave her up for adoption. She later got married—twice—but it took until maybe 10 years ago for her to tell her two children about their older sister. Sheila has put out feelers for the child she gave up, but her daughter has never responded. Sheila is a very upbeat, loving woman but I know this remains a deep wound for her.
The devastating after-effects of adoption were further hammered home for Davis when another friend recounted something that happened to her two decades after she placed her newborn with an adoptive family. “Joan told me that one day she developed a horrific migraine. She said her entire body ached and she felt absolutely awful. Later, she realized that the headache coincided with the 21st birthday of the child she’d given up. She was grieving. Her body remembered what had happened.”
“Sure, adoption should be an option,” Davis concludes. “But there is a tremendous element of loss when a woman gives up a child–and it lingers.”
Ryan Bomberger glosses over these realities, and instead focuses exclusively on his grateful-to-be-alive message. But since he and his birth mother have never met, her life trajectory remains a complete unknown. I only hope she’s as happy and fulfilled as he is.