As word spread last week that a house of the Russian Parliament had voted to prohibit adoptions of Russian children by American parents, Russian adoptees in the United States made appeals to President Vladimir V. Putin, asking Russia not to hold needy children hostage to international politics.
With the proposed ban apparently rolling through Russia's legislature, a loose network of hundreds of adoptees and their American parents started writing letters to the Russian leader, and they are planning a joint appeal to the country's ambassador in Washington after Christmas.
One leader of the effort is Tatyana McFadden, who was adopted at age 6 with spina bifida, paralyzed from the waist down, by Deborah McFadden of Clarksville, Md.
"I probably wouldn't have survived in that orphanage," said Ms. McFadden, who is now 23 and a multiple medal winner at the London Paralympics, among other top racing honors. "Closing down adoptions would ruin thousands of lives."
The bill to end American adoptions has passed one house of the Parliament and could pass the other next week. Mr. Putin has refused to say whether he will sign or seek to alter it. It arose in response to a new American law imposing sanctions on Russian officials accused of violating human rights, a law Mr. Putin has called an arrogant insult.
As the adoptees, many of them young adults or teenagers now, make their own appeals to Russia, several American groups involved with adoptions and child welfare have asked their members to write legislators and President Obama to call for strong diplomatic measures.
"Right now, the main thing is to ask Mr. Putin not to sign it," said Randi Thompson, the executive director of Kidsave, a child-advocacy group based in Los Angeles and one of the organizations urging clients to contact Washington. While her group works in Russia to promote domestic adoptions, Ms. Thompson said, international adoptions remain the only alternative for thousands of children, many of them older or with disabilities that make them hard to place.
In Moscow on Friday, in the strongest public statement on the issue yet from the United States, Ambassador Michael A. McFaul sharply criticized the bill, saying in a statement and in Twitter messages, "The welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to other issues in our bilateral relationship."
It is not clear whether the ban, if signed into law, would affect adoptions already in progress, but the threat has put adoption agencies and hopeful parents on edge, leading many to look to other countries. Even without the proposed ban, sending children to the United States had become more contentious within Russia in recent years, and some regions have slowed or virtually halted such adoptions.
Katherine Horton, 49, a research professor in Alexandria, Va., and mother of one girl she adopted from Russia in 2008, traveled there last February and spent a week getting to know Polina, a girl now 19 months old whom she was also working to adopt. Ms. Horton has spent thousands of dollars on repeated medical tests and screening procedures and had expected to return in May to make final arrangements.
But the months have dragged on without action or explanation from local Russian officials, and on Monday she made an excruciating decision.
She notified the orphanage that she would give up her application for Polina.
"As heartbreaking as it is for me, it is the right thing for Polina," she said. "This could drag on for years, and the longer she stays in an institution the worse off she'll be."
"It kills me," she added. "I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about her, wondering how she is, if she is warm."
Some 45,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans since 1999, according to State Department records, but after reaching a peak of 5,862 in 2004, the numbers have declined steeply, to 962 in 2011. Experts say the decline has resulted in part from a welcome push for domestic adoptions and foster care in Russia. But it also reflects increasingly stringent screening, paperwork and expenses for prospective foreign parents and a nationalistic reaction that has led some local officials, like those Ms. Horton faced, to hamper American adoptions.
That reaction and increased screening that some adoptive parents call unnecessarily repetitive and costly were stoked by wide news coverage in Russia of episodes in which adopted Russian children in the United States were abused and died -- tragedies, all agree, but rare events that led to criminal punishments.
While adoption agencies applaud Russia's efforts to nurture domestic adoption, which is not a strong tradition, they note that tens of thousands of children still languish in orphanages and that parents from other countries are unlikely to meet the need.
"If the ban is adopted, some number of children will end up living in orphanages until they are old enough to hit the streets," said Adam Pertman, the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research group in New York.
Erin and Keith Thompson of Huntsville, Tex., have visited Russian orphanages annually as part of a Christian mission. After having a son, they adopted Sasha, now 14, at age 12, and Losha, now 17, when he was 16.
"We have seen the hopelessness in those orphanages," Ms. Thompson said. When they met Sasha, she recalled, an orphanage official told them that every year at Christmas, the boy would ask Santa Claus for a family.
"There are so many children just waiting," she said.
Robbie Brown contributed reporting.nation
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.