Defending life for foster youth
A former foster youth explains why suffering doesn’t negate the pro-life argument
Tori Hope Petersen remembers when her speech class debated abortion during her junior year at a public high school in Ohio. As she sat at her desk, listening to her fellow classmates argue, she thought about when her biological mother told her she was conceived in rape.
Even as a 9-year-old, Petersen had guessed it. Her mom never talked about her dad, and when Petersen brought him up, her mom would get upset. While they sat watching television one day, Petersen asked her mom if her dad had raped her. Her mom cried as she said yes. Petersen remembers feeling grateful to her mom for letting her live. When Petersen promised not to tell anybody, she remembers her mom giving her permission because “it might help someone else.”
That’s what Petersen did in front of her high school class. When it was her turn to speak, she told her fellow students what her mom had been through and said, “I am really grateful for my life.”
But life wasn’t easy for Petersen. She spent a brief period in foster care at age 4. After returning home for a while, she re-entered the system at 12 because her mom, who was post-abortive, suffered from mental illness and was abusive and neglectful. Petersen lived in 12 different homes before aging out of foster care at age 18. She faced abuse and was never adopted because she was considered too old. As a ward of the state, she was under many restrictions that, combined with frequent moves, left her feeling isolated. The same year as that speech class, she attempted suicide.
Women often abort unplanned pregnancies out of a concern that they will be bad moms or that their children will end up in foster care. Supporters of abortion have historically cited the abuse and neglect of unplanned, unwanted children as a reason for legal abortion—especially since the foster care system often fails to provide the support children need. But to pro-lifers like Petersen, the solution is not to eliminate unplanned children but to serve them.
In the early days of legal abortion, abortion advocates promoted the procedure as a preferable alternative to giving birth to children who could suffer. Activist Larry Lader wrote in the months following the Roe v. Wade decision that “the abortion revolution” should bring with it “an era when every child will be wanted, loved, and properly cared for; when the incidence of infanticides and battered children should be sharply reduced.” The National Abortion Rights Action League, known as NARAL, echoed that in June 1978, saying legal abortion will “greatly reduce the number of unwanted children, and thereby curb the tragic rise of child abuse in our country.”
Many people who support legal abortion still have this mentality. Shout Your Abortion founder Amelia Bonow told me in an email some of the consequences she foresaw of banning abortion, including that “people will have children they didn’t want and cannot care for.” Some former foster youths cite their own experience to support abortion, expressing concern their children could end up in the same situation. A post-abortive 23-year-old and former foster youth Lexis Dotson-Dufault talked about her experience at an event hosted earlier this month by the Charlotte Reproductive Action Network. “If I did not have an abortion, my life would not be how it is now,” she said. “I had just gotten out of foster care and … I very much know that my child may as well—probably would have ended up in the foster care system because I had no support.”
The connection between foster care and abortion came to the forefront in recent weeks when Olympic gymnast Simone Biles invited her Instagram followers to share their “unpopular opinions.” When one follower said “abortion is wrong,” Biles responded: “I’m very much pro-choice. Your body. Your choice.”
“Also, for everyone gonna say [sic] ‘just put it up for adoption,’ it’s not that easy,” she continued, speaking from her own experience as a former foster youth and how difficult it was.
“Foster care is really hard,” affirmed Petersen. “It is, to this day, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.” But to her, the difficulty of foster care doesn’t excuse abortion: “We need to end the injustice and the suffering, not end the life of the potential sufferer.”
Now 25 and married with two biological children and an adopted young adult son, Petersen and her husband are certified foster parents. Through an organization she started called Bring Beloved, Petersen collects stories from foster youth and puts together resources for children in the system. She also tries to inspire foster youth with her own story. Despite her difficulties in high school, Petersen earned a full-ride scholarship to college after becoming a state champion in track and field. She continued as an All-American track and field athlete in college and, this summer, earned the title of Mrs. Universe 2022 through pageant competitions. She uses her platform to bring attention to foster youth.
To her, the clearest solution to the brokenness that children experience is not death but the life that comes through Jesus Christ, and she encourages Christians to imitate Him in how they treat unplanned children. “Being pro-life, it really matters around our kitchen table and in our backyards, just in our everyday life,” she said. “God did not call us to comfortable lives. He called us to glorify Him and reflect Jesus, and that's not comfortable, but it’s worth it.”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.