Katherine Heigl Adopting Korean Girl

"Grey's Anatomy" actress joins Madonna and Angelina in adopting transracially.

ByABC News
March 31, 2009, 11:42 AM

Sept. 10, 2009— -- Katherine Heigl is about to become the latest celebrity to adopt a child from another country, joining Madonna and Angelina Jolie.

Heigl announced on the Ellen DeGeneres show, in an episode scheduled to air tomorrow, that she and husband musician Josh Kelley are adopting a special needs child from Korea.

"It is a little girl, and she'll be 10 months at the end this month," Heigl told DeGeneres, according to People magazine. "She was actually born the day before me in November, which I thought was really serendipitous and just kind of like a sign. I realized just recently that I basically forfeited my birthday for the rest of my life."

Heigl's sister Meg was also was adopted from Korea, according to People.

"Her name is Naleigh," Heigl said. "I am naming her after my mother and sister Nancy, Leigh. So we call her Naleigh."

She said her new daughter will be coming "real soon."

"I wanted to tell everybody so you don't think I stole a Korean baby," she said, laughing.

RadarOnline, which first broke the news of Heigl's impending adoption, said it had been in the works for about six months. Heigl and Kelley were married in December 2007.

But the idea of adopting was planted long ago. The "Grey's Anatomy" star told USA Today two years ago that it was "always planned."

"I'm done with the whole idea of having my own children," Heigl told the newspaper.

Heigl joins other well-known celebrities who have adopted transracially and overseas.

Recently, Madonna fought the Malawai government and won the right to adopt 4-year-old Mercy. Two years earlier, she adopted a boy from Malawai, David Banda, now 3, with ex-husband Guy Richie.

But Madonna was widely criticized the second time around for adopting overseas when there are an estimated half-million children in foster care in the United States.

Not everyone's a critic, however.

Adoption advocates say that the need to place children in good homes knows no borders.

"I think that this construct of one child versus another is really unhealthy," Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and advocacy group, told ABCNews.com. "They both need homes. How can we put one kid against another?"

"On the positive side -- and I think it's mainly positive -- maybe they can help normalize this process," Pertman said about transracial adoptions. "If Angelina Jolie and Steven Spielberg and Hugh Jackman did it, it must be OK. And that normalization is good for kids."

"The big negative is this notion of adoption as baby buying and something only people of privilege get to do, that Madonna stepped to the front of the line, and how is Angelina going to raise all these children," he said. "It's this notion of children as trophies. And it's just not true. There is no evidence she's doing anything illegal or unethical. She's simply getting more attention."

But the attention that's paid to celebrities who adopt transracially diverts attention from the real story facing African-American children and adoption, experts say. There was a small increase in transracial adoptions from 17.2 percent in 1996 to 20.1 percent in 2003, according to a study by the Donaldson Institute.

The study found that African-American children are still disproportionately represented in foster care and remain less likely than children of other racial and ethnic groups to be adopted in a timely fashion. While black children accounted for 15 percent of America's child population, they represented 32 percent of the 510,000 children in foster care in 2006.

In many cases, black children, particularly older ones in foster care, are still viewed as "special-needs" children because they can be more difficult to place with parents, white or black.

As a result, some adoption agencies will subsidize the adoption costs, through state or other funding, to make transracial adoptions less expensive for prospective parents, according to Joan Jaeger, outreach and communications coordinator for the Cradle, an agency outside Chicago that specializes in transracial adoption. It can mean the difference between $13,000 for a black baby and $29,000 for a white one, Jaeger said.

Tom Cruise with son Connor, adopted with ex-wife Nicole Kidman

Hugh Jackman recently spoke with ABC News' Barbara Walters about his decision to adopt mixed-race children, including son Oscar, who he has said is African-American, white, Hawaiian and Cherokee.

"It was like, where's the need?" he told Walters. "The need was obviously mixed-race children. And that was it."

Today, adoptions from African countries, particularly Ethiopia, are taking off in much the same way that adopting from China was once popular.

"I think you could draw a straight line from Angelina Jolie's adoption to the increase in Ethiopian adoptions," Jaeger said.

Mary-Louise Parker adopted her daughter Caroline "Ash" Aberash from Africa, although she has not publicy identified the country.

"I can't adopt 500 children, but I did adopt this one beautiful little girl, and it was an amazing thing," she told an audience during a Q&A with a journalist from the New Yorker. "Especially after having been to a Third World country, and having seen the desperation there, and the need, and all the children, and holding those children and seeing them and touching them."

Not everyone is happy to see celebrities traveling abroad to adopt a black child. "I don't want to say they shouldn't," adoptive parent Brockway said. "Children everywhere need a home, but we do have a large number of children who are in foster care, and a lot of them are African-Americans."

Fisher and daughter Olivia Luna

She told the magazine she is unfazed by her daughter's different race. "I had no preference; I felt we belonged together," she said.

Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute believes every child, no matter from what country, deserves a home. "We should not be pitting children against each other," he said. "And where do we get off telling people how they should form their families? The question should be how do we set up policies and practices that enable all of these children to get homes?"

Some policy changes under the Clinton administration have had a significant impact on transracial adoptions, Pertman said. One was to limit the time children would be in temporary care before becoming eligible for adoption and another was to tie financial incentives states receive to how many kids were placed in permanent homes.

Then Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act in 1994, which essentially mandated color-blindness in adoptions. Pertman said it has not worked to significantly decrease the number of black kids in foster care, despite the slight increase in transracial adoptions.

Part of the reason is that white parents still need to be trained in how to raise black children, everything from how to do their hair to how to talk to them about racism.

"The problem is we don't live in a colorblind society," said Pertman, who supports changing the law. "Race is still an issue. You enable parents to do a better job when you're color conscious."

Robert O'Connor, an African-American who was adopted by white parents and now studies transracial adoptions as an assistant professor of social work at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn., agreed.

"It's very important to believe in biculturalism versus assimilation," said O'Connor, who grew up on a rural farm and a suburb in Minnesota where he and his brother were the only black people in town. "Parents need to make sure their homes represent not just their culture but the child's culture, and it can't be what I refer to as 'cultural tourism.' The family needs to see themselves as a family of color as opposed to a white family that adopted a child of color."