An image of a couple outside the Supreme Court holding a sign reading “We will adopt your baby” has sparked one of the first significant memes since the court overturned Roe v. Wade, hinting at how the abortion debate could continue to play out on social media.
The phrase has since been repurposed and put alongside a variety of images by people looking to point to what they say is the hypocrisy of the adoption message.
“It made me angry to see a couple who said, ‘We’ll adopt your baby,’ but they’re not adopting babies,” said Alexis Quasarano, 31, of California, who posted a meme with an image from the film “Raising Arizona.” “These people are just posting a photo for clout.”
Internet memes, which typically center on image-based jokes, have in recent years become a common way for people to express political opinions, offer critiques of opponents, and let out a little anxiety. And while abortion has been a political flashpoint for years, the adoption meme is among the first to take hold online.
Jason Hannan, an associate professor of rhetoric and communications at the University of Winnipeg, said that he sees the meme as the start of what could be a particularly hostile online discourse around abortion.
“The nastiness is just getting started,” he said.
NBC News has reached out to the people purported to be in the photo but has not received any responses.
The implication that adoption is an alternative to abortion has long been a message of the anti-abortion movement. More than 407,000 children were in foster care in the United States at the end of fiscal year 2020, according to a November 2021 press release from the the Children’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. Roughly 117,000 children were waiting to be adopted as well, the press release stated.
Some who have posted the adoption memes say that participating in the trend is a way to have a bit of control in a moment that feels completely helpless.
Memes have been found to have some value as an emotional outlet, most notably in research into Covid-related memes and pandemic stress. A study published in October 2021 published in a special issue of Psychology of Popular Media suggested that memes not only provide mood-boosting entertainment, but also can serve as a valuable communication tool for disseminating information about stressful issues.
When things are bizarre, it’s worth calling them out.
-Amanda Mancino-Williams, 40, who posted a ‘we will adopt your baby’ meme
“Everything is terrible … so I posted this meme because it gave me an ounce of serotonin,” Quasarano said, later adding that she hopes the memes spur people to “do more research and help people in need.”
Many of the memes use images of couples from television and film. The fictional couples are usually insidious characters, who would not make good parents. Then, the memers write the ominous phrase, “We will adopt your baby.”
Amanda Mancino-Williams, 40, also posted a version of the meme using an image of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Her take on the meme earned more than 104,000 likes.
“The photos of these grotesquely smiling sign-holders are completely bizarre,” Mancino-Williams said. “When things are bizarre, it’s worth calling them out.”
Kate Hunt, a lecturer in the department of international studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, said the memes “get to the point right away.”
Some studies show memeing and messaging that uses pop culture images get higher engagement on platforms like Twitter, and therefore spread quickly, according to Hunt.
“It’s something people can immediately say, ‘I’m comfortable retweeting this. I’m comfortable discussing this in this way,’” she said. “It can get people fired up.”
Kalhan Rosenblatt is a reporter covering youth and internet culture for NBC News, based in New York.