Abortion bans and the foster care system.
By Nicole McLaughlin JD, Executive Director, Plummer Youth Promise
Subject: Abortion bans in the wake of the Dobbs decision will harm children; adoption and foster care are not a solution.
Expertise: I am the Executive Director of Plummer Youth Promise, a MA foster care provider serving youth from birth to age 22.
The government was never meant to be a parent, and the government should not force someone to become one. If my 20 years working and volunteering in the child welfare system has taught me anything, it’s that the government has no business deciding when and if a family should be created or expanded. Abortion bans enacted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade will hurt children by perpetuating a vicious cycle that separates families by forcing youth into a foster care system that is overburdened and underfunded. The human cost of this is immeasurable; the financial costs are avoidable.
Presently, I serve as Executive Director to Plummer Youth Promise, a Massachusetts foster care provider for youth ages birth–22. Although at times it is necessary for the safety and well-being of a child, the separation of a child from their family leaves wounds that can take a lifetime to heal. On average, the youth we serve have been in foster care for 7.5 years, nearly half of their childhood. On average, they’ve been moved more than 6 times, each transition compounding their trauma. Because Plummer Youth Promise operates in Massachusetts, I am freer to speak out on this than some of my colleague foster care providers in states with pending abortion bans and or draconian restrictions.
Grossly treating children as commodities, the Supreme Court cites a short supply of infants at a time of high demand for adoption as solace for people forced to carry a pregnancy to term. The Court also suggests that Safe Haven Laws, which allow people to give birth and anonymously leave their babies at a hospital or fire station, are a welcome solution. Both points ignore the more than 100,000 children currently in the U.S. foster care system awaiting adoption. Moreover, the vast majority of people denied access to abortion do not place their children for adoption, deciding instead to do their best to parent them.
But parenting requires financial resources. And many of the states likely to enact abortion bans do not exempt from their definition of maltreatment the inability to care for a child due to a lack of financial resources. This means that people can lose custody of their children for no reason other than being poor. People seeking abortions are often poor: three-quarters of people seeking abortions have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. And nearly 1 in every 4 women who gave birth between 2015 and 2020 in the 13 states with pending or active post-Roe vs. Wade abortion restrictions, lives below the poverty line. It’s not a leap to conclude that abortion bans will likely result in more children entering the foster care system.
The increase in family separation will be experienced most strongly by families of color. Centuries-long racist practices have produced undeniable correlations between race, ethnicity, poverty, abortion, and family separation. Children of color are already removed from their families at more than twice the rate of white children and stay in foster care for about 9 months longer. Abortion bans, which are being enacted in states with high populations of people of color, will likely perpetuate racism that has long and shamefully plagued the child welfare system.
Each year, more than 20,000 young people age out of the foster care system with no family to count on. These youth face high rates of early parenting, among other things. In fact, young people in the foster care system are twice as likely as their peers to become pregnant by age 19, and many of those who do become pregnant will have a second pregnancy before they reach 19. Forcing them to unwillingly carry pregnancies to term will worsen an already harmful intergenerational cycle of trauma and state involvement with the family.
It’s a cruel irony that at a time when states are implementing bipartisan legislation passed under the Trump administration to prevent children from entering foster care, the Supreme Court has freed states to enact legislation that will propel the opposite result. States currently enacting abortion bans would better serve children by enacting policies that will keep families together rather than tear them apart.
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