Sarah Zagorski survived an abortion—that’s right, she survived an attempt to abort her, having been born alive as a result of a botched abortion, her mother refused to let the abortionist end her life. Join Scott and Sean for this amazing story, how that impacted Sarah and she has flourished in her life in spite of those circumstances. Her story comes from her chapter in the new book, Choose Life.
Sarah Zagorski is an advocate for life, foster care and adoption. She serves as Adoption Education Director for Pro-Life Louisiana.
Scott Rae: Welcome to Think Biblically, Conversations on Faith and Culture, the podcast from Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your co-host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics.
Scott Rae: We're here today with our friend Sarah Zagorski. Who's got a fascinating story. She is with a group called Pro-Life Louisiana and has authored an article in an upcoming book on abortion entitled Choosing Life, which is, I think the best way to describe that is a series of essays that's designed to sort of hand off the pro-life discussion to the next generation of folks. And her chapter is entitled Surviving Abortion. And I have to admit Sarah, when I read through the table of contents in my pre-publication copy of the book, yours was the first chapter that I went to because it was, just the title of the chapter was so arresting to me. I thought, I've got to read about this story and it did not disappoint. It was an incredibly compelling story. And so Sarah, welcome. We're so glad to have you on with us and to hear about not only your experience, but what you learned from that.
Sarah Zagorski: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so overwhelmed by God's great grace and love for us, and I believe he's going to use my story for good as painful as it was, as long the journey was. I do believe in the end it will save lives, so I'm so thankful for the opportunity to share more with that with your listeners today.
Scott Rae: So here you survived an attempted abortion. I don't think many of our listeners actually know someone who can make that claim, but I'm sure there's just this incredible story behind that, so I'm going to get out of the way and just let you tell us that story about how you survived an abortion.
Sarah Zagorski: Sure. So my birth mother, she was Hispanic immigrant from Honduras. She became pregnant with me and the pregnancy was the result of an affair. She had a relationship with a doctor in New Orleans and she was in crisis. And what I discovered over time is she was a woman vulnerable to abortion. And most of the women that choose abortion today actually are a lot like her. She already had children at the time. She was struggling financially, she lived in poverty. Her kids all had experienced foster care at some point in their life. She was a recipient of-
Sean McDowell: Meaning they'd experienced foster care in that they had been removed from the home?
Sarah Zagorski: Correct. They had been placed in foster care by the state because of her mental health issues and because of the extreme poverty we lived in. So she had all of these circumstances going on upon finding out she was pregnant with me. And I believe she also was a woman who had two previous abortions before her pregnancy with me, which is really important because what we know about women who choose abortion is once they've chosen it the first time, it's often easier for them to choose it again.
Scott Rae: Not surprising.
Sarah Zagorski: Yeah. So she had had two previous abortions in her history and she was looking for help. And she had a friend of hers that referred her to a physician who was known for helping women in poverty, women like her. And he was an abortionist, his name was Dr. Okpalobi. He was an abortionist who at the time was under medical review by Louisiana's board for performing a botched abortion that left the remains of a baby in a woman's uterus and she ended up having a full hysterectomy because of that. But she went to him with me at 26 and a half weeks. And he actually induced labor and delivered me breach at that age. And I wasn't breathing when I was born and he advised her to let me die on the table. And I believe, I think when I have gone over this story so many times in my mind and that moment and the question I always come to is, wow.
Sarah Zagorski: How did you find the courage to resist him? Because what happened was, she said, no, I'm going to sue you, if you don't get my daughter breathing again.
Scott Rae: Wow.
Sarah Zagorski: It's my belief. You know, it's my strong belief. She passed away in 2010 and we had many conversations prior to her death about the decision to see him in the first place, because I was very obviously devastated upon finding that out and had to do some identity stuff with myself about that. But I realized she was simply afraid and she felt she had no choice. And then upon seeing me, she, I believe it was that moment in time she realized, I can't do this, that despite the circumstances I'm in, I have to choose life now.
Scott Rae: Even though she had done this twice before?
Sarah Zagorski: Before, right.
Scott Rae: With abortion.
Sarah Zagorski: And also a little background on her, she had been attending a church in the city where she actually, I know it's really hard sometimes to even follow, but she had met my foster mom there and had a community of people who were very vocal about the pro-life issue. And I'm not able to go into some of those details in my chapter, but I believe it's her encounter with Christ prior of this and her relationships with some people in her life that gave her the courage to resist him in part, at least. So she did. She said, I'm going to Sue you if you don't get my daughter breathing again. And I was sent to Children's Hospital Trauma Birth Ward in New Orleans where I did recover. But that was really just the very beginning of my, I would say, my whole pro-life story, because I did struggle from that point on in some severe ways.
Sarah Zagorski: And that's the short version that I kind of open with in my chapter. I talk about that experience for her and how I deeply regret not being able to thank her for that decision because when I learned about it as a child, I didn't understand the gravity of the oppression she had experienced as a Hispanic woman, as a woman living in poverty, as being married to abusive men. I had no understanding and I didn't have the grace to see her as the victim she was in those situations. I definitely see them today.
Scott Rae: So how old were you when you found out about this part of your background?
Sarah Zagorski: So I would say I was about seven. I was told it by her, and then I also was told it by my foster parents when they thought it was an age where I could understand it. And I was also kind of in a war zone of an experience myself because I entered foster care for the first time at 16 months. And I went into foster care very idealistic about my birth family. I missed my birth family. I love my birth family. I long for them, my mom quickly had more children. So I'm actually one of 11 children.
Scott Rae: Wow.
Sarah Zagorski: And she had a set of twins the same year I was born. I was born in January of 90 and she had twins in November of 90. So I did not really have the ability, my soul, I think, to process everything as a child, because I was just processing the trauma of foster care and the trauma of losing my birth family. And I did reunite with my birth family and that's something a lot of people get confused about with foster care is they don't always understand that the goal of foster care is always, always, always reunification and with a birth family, the family of origin. And in my case, I've written about this extensively, but in my case that wasn't the best for me to be reunited with my birth family because we had abuse in our family. We had abuse from older brothers and abuse from my mother's husbands. And I think that was the state's goal, and it took this state almost eight years for them to terminate my birth mother's rights as a parent.
Sarah Zagorski: And then I was released for adoption when I was nine years old. So I grew up knowing all my siblings. I grew up knowing my birth mother. I grew up with that loss afterward, after my adoption, having that loss of them. And that's a part of the story that I think really shaped my pro-life convictions in a way that I can say shifted me from understanding the woman in crisis to also understanding it as the victim, the child victim in a situation as severe as our families was.
Sean McDowell: From where I sit, when you said that you were told at seven, I partly cringed and thought, my goodness, I have a son who just turned nine. I can't imagine telling a child that young.
Sarah Zagorski: Yes.
Sean McDowell: Even what abortion is, let alone just all the trauma that would create. So I'm curious, as much as you're comfortable sharing, how did finding that out, what are some of the challenges and unique struggles to having that background did you deal with, and how has your faith informed the way you dealt with them?
Sarah Zagorski: Absolutely. I think I held, I definitely held that choice against her as a child. And I really couldn't understand her. I didn't have the life experience. I was just the victim in it, myself, so I couldn't see through her eyes of what she was experiencing. So she would tell me, she's like, Sarah, I loved you. I was afraid. I didn't know what I was doing. And I was like, you knew what you were ... To me it was like, that's not true though. You absolutely knew what abortion was because you had abortions before. And of course, going through what I went through, I kind of grew up very quickly, I would say. So at seven, I was seven, but I also had gone through so much trauma and so much loss and so much grief and abuse and those things, so I grew very quickly.
Sarah Zagorski: So I did have those thoughts and those questions so very young. And then after my adoption, I wasn't able as much as I wish I would've been able to talk with her more about that. I did have a conversation with her or when I was a teenager around 17 about that decision and she was very angry with me for my lack of understanding her situation. And I think the Lord had to bring me to the place I am now. I'm 31 now and I'm a mother myself now. He had to bring me to a place that I wish I could have been prior to her death to have said, I forgive you and I understand the situation you were in. It was wrong what you did, but I definitely understand what brought you there. And I think also the Lord brought me to this question, which I think was so critical for me to come to was, would I have had the strength to resist that abortion physician myself?
Scott Rae: Wow.
Sarah Zagorski: If I would've had the life she had? If I would've been an immigrant from Honduras who came to America as a teenager myself, who was in abusive marriages, who already had children in foster care, who were struggling to survive, who were literally eating insects off the floor for food? Would've I had the strength to choose life with that kind of oppression myself? And that's the question that brought me the conviction and the ability to forgive her, to say, you know what, I don't know. I pray. I pray, I would've had the strength. I pray, I would've had the courage to resist that, but I don't know. And that really changed everything for me, that changed everything for me. And it brought me to a place of grace. And I think that God's given me that gift. I see it as a gift now, because when I look at a woman in crisis, that woman that's walking into that abortion clinic, I can extend that kind of grace to her because I've seen inside that darkness.So I don't know if that helps answer that question.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, yeah, it does. And this relates, and you may, in some ways, have answered it, but how you dealt with this. How does it relate to your coming to faith in principle? Did you come to faith apart from this? Was this what drew you to faith? What was that moment where you really owned your faith and said, I'm a follower of Jesus?
Sarah Zagorski: Wow. Yeah. So I encountered Christ myself as a child in my family of origin, in my birth family. I think I would say I encountered the suffering savior that we hear about in Isaiah, the savior, who has suffered and experienced rejection and loss and feels the weight of pain. And that savior reached out to me and that encounter, really, from that moment on. And I would say I was around that age, again, between five and seven when I had that encounter. And I think realizing that he was a savior for me, that he was going to rescue me in this deep despair I was in, that's what brought me to faith. And then I was able to, once Jesus found me and I received saving faith in Jesus, I would say that he walked with me through all of these different journeys I went through with my birth mother, of anger, of even hatred sometimes for her. And he walked with me through that as the good shepherd does, and really ministered to me. I would say that is what brought me.
Sarah Zagorski: And a lot of people don't have where they encounter Christ in a place of suffering like that. But for me, it's even hard to remember a time before Christ because it was a rescue moment for me. It was a rescue moment for me. I had no one, I had nothing. I was a destitute child and living in an abusive family. And he reached to me and my whole life changed after that encounter. But I think after that happened, I was able to heal. I began that healing journey because I had the Lord bringing me through these different segues of healing. And people, he brought people in my life, my foster parents were Christian.
Sarah Zagorski: And a lot of people ask me that question. When was the moment that the Lord found you and you received saving faith? And I think my foster family, they did share the gospel with me. So when I would go back home, I remembered what they had said about the Lord and about Jesus. And I think that was a big part of it. A big part of that journey is them planting those seeds in my heart, even knowing I would have to go back to that place of suffering. They planted those seeds and it fell on good ground. I hope that answers your question.
Scott Rae: That's really helpful. Sarah, let me go back to your mom a little bit in your article, you refer to her as the archetype of the abortion, vulnerable woman, and then sort of by extension to that, you make the point that most women who walk into abortion clinics are not villains, they're in similarly tough circumstances like your mom was in. What are some of the characteristics of that abortion vulnerable woman that your mom epitomized and that you described in this article?
Sarah Zagorski: Absolutely. And that wasn't something I came to realize until the last, I'd say five years or so when I began studying abortion, women who choose abortion. What you find out about women who choose abortion is that the majority are economically disadvantaged, up to 75% have experienced poverty. And poverty, meaning they rely on food stamps, or they rely on social services and charities to feed their children. And that was a big part of it. Also knowing that the majority of women who choose abortion are often African-American women, women that are Hispanic. Actually, the rate of abortion for women who are Hispanic is double that of white women. So women that go into abortion clinics have experienced oppression because of things that are unrelated to them, like things they haven't chosen. They haven't chosen that they're Hispanic. They haven't chosen that they're African-American. They were born into a system that unfortunately has prejudices towards them based on their ethnic origin.
Sarah Zagorski: So when I realized that, I connected those dots, that she was that woman. Also women who choose abortion, like I mentioned earlier, have chosen abortion before, so they've had an abortion in the past, and they're often victims of domestic violence. And that was an interesting correlation because my mother's first husband married her to get into America, essentially to get his citizenship here. He would beat her. And I began to study the correlation between women who choose abortion and those who've experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, and it's actually three times the rate of women who choose life or who choose to continue their pregnancy. So she was the perfect candidate for abortion in that she was vulnerable in all these areas of her life.
Sarah Zagorski: And the majority of women walking into an abortion clinic are those women. And when you begin to understand that, I think it's easy at times to, I think we've as a society, the pro-life world has become much better at this, but as a society, it's easy to assume that a woman is choosing abortion because of convenience, because she wants a continue her education, because she doesn't want her job to change, because she doesn't want to be a mother. And that is definitely, at times, the case. But statistically speaking, that is not the majority of women walking into an abortion clinic. The majority of women walking into an abortion clinic are not excited to be there. They're not happy to be there. They're devastated and they feel they have no choice but to end the life of their baby. And I think that changes how we reach those women, that changes how we speak to those women. It changes how we look at the abortion issue as a whole, on our, I would say, our methodology in ending abortion is completely shifted when we realize that.
Sean McDowell: Okay. So talk about that a little bit. How does that frame the way we talk about this, our methodology, what does that mean practically speaking, when we realize, like you said, that the mother is not the villain here, but she is also a victim?
Sarah Zagorski: Right. I think, and this is hard because I work in the pro-life world every single day and our goal is to end abortion. Our goal is to suppose what abortion is. And I think there's a definite delicate balance because here's the thing, even though that woman is oppressed and a victim, it doesn't change the fact that abortion is a sin against God himself. It doesn't change that reality. And I think there's a way to convey that to women, and to say that there is a way out for you, there is a way to wholeness for you. That includes choosing life rather than ending the life of your child, because here's also the reality, as ending the life of your child isn't going to change your oppression. It is going to actually further the oppression you are in.
Sarah Zagorski: And that's the lie, of course, the abortion industry, I think, perpetuates is that ending the life of your baby will bring you some liberation, will free you from these different situations you're in. It'll free you from poverty. It'll free you from domestic violence. It'll free you from maybe the systematic injustice you're experiencing because of your race or because your color maybe. And that's what they, I guess, feed them. When in fact abortion doesn't have the power to do any of those things, only Jesus can deliver and set a person free from those things and bring the resources they need to sustain their family. Only God can do that.
Sarah Zagorski: But I think, sorry, to get back to the question, which is, what can the pro-life movement do to reach those women? It's not diminishing the truth that abortion is killing your baby, but it's also reaching them in a way with grace and saying, I want to help you with the real life you're living right now, because I think if we ignore those realities, that these women are suffering in grave ways is a big disservice to them. Because they will look at us like we don't know, we can't understand what they're experiencing.
Sarah Zagorski: And I've seen that look in women's face, the women that I've worked with that I've seen, it's like, they're telling me, you don't understand what I'm experiencing right now. You don't understand that I'm afraid for my life at home, I'm running from a domestic violence situation. You don't understand that I can't feed my kids and you're just telling me, choose life. And it's all going to be better. And that is not what I am saying, I am saying choose life because that's what God intends for us to do. And he will help you with the oppression afterward. And that's kind of the message of my writing is in this chapter is to say, I was able to escape this.
Sarah Zagorski: I would say, I often call my family origin, this cocktail depravity, because my mother chose life though. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to escape without that decision to choose life. And that's the first step and I hope that in my work with other women that they can get to that first step and choose life for their baby and say, Jesus, how can you help me escape this oppression? How can you help me get free of the oppression I'm in? That's where my heart is for women.
Scott Rae: Okay. Yeah, that's helpful, I think, because I think the pro-life movement for a long time has been reacting to the way abortion has been marketed as the only alternative for people who are in these kind of circumstances that you describe. And I think it's misleading to say that abortion is done for convenience, which is probably is true for some people that I don't think that's true for the majority like you're describing. I think there's a final line between understanding and sympathizing with the things that drive a woman to abortion and using those as the justification for abortion being morally acceptable. That's a fine line that I think we have to continue to walk because nothing is gained by alienating the women that trying to reach. But I don't want to give aid and comfort to the way abortion has been marketed as those factors giving moral justification. How have you walked, I know you walked that fine line in your chapter. How have you continued to do that as you've ministered in this area?
Sarah Zagorski: Well, I think talking with women about real alternatives, like the alternative of infant adoption, modern adoption allows for, I do a lot of work with adoption in Louisiana and promoting adoption in a way that women understand that when they place their baby for adoption today, it looks very different than it did 20 years ago, 30 years ago. And they have the opportunity to have a relationship up with their baby. Giving them an alternative like that and giving them that information, see, that's another thing my mother lacked is the information to make decisions that might have benefited her. And that's been a big part of my work, I don't get to go into that in my chapter very much, but working with women and telling them about adoption today, I was not adopted as an infant.
Sarah Zagorski: I was adopted from foster care, but I do believe if my mother would've had more information about adoption, all of the sorrow she experienced could have been minimized. I'm not saying it could have been fixed because that's something a lot of people hesitate with because they want to say, well, the solution is, the solution to this moral, this crisis is ... And look, there isn't a simple solution for poverty, for parental neglect, for abusive family members, for sickness. They're not simple solutions to any of those things and I'm not saying adoption is the solution for abortion either. I'm saying adoption is a life-giving alternative to abortion and that there will be sorrow in placing your baby for adoption, yes, but it's a very different sorrow than ending the life of your baby. It's very different. And it's what God intended.
Sarah Zagorski: I always say this too, we don't live in Eden. We do not live in a world where we're going to have a perfect formulation or things are going to end up perfectly. And I don't believe if my mother would've placed me for an infant adoption or any of her other children, her sorrow would've been gone, but I do believe it would've been minimized to some degree. And a lot of women just don't have those resources to know. And that's what the work of pregnancy care centers are. They do a lot of work in informing women about adoption. They work in a lot of social services with like Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America and some of these big organizations that do a lot of services for women to give these women information. And that's part of my work, I see that as part of my calling is to work with them to help reach women like her because there is a life-giving alternative to abortion and that is adoption. It's not a solution for all the crisis that women face, but it is something that can bring hope, I believe.
Sean McDowell: I've got a two part question for you. Number one, is there any reliable data on how many abortion survivors there are? And have you met any others?
Sarah Zagorski: Thankfully I'm very fortunate to have met some. I've worked with some. There isn't a lot of reliable data, unfortunately, because a lot of the records are sealed or a lot of, just like me, a lot of children who have experienced that were placed for adoption later and they don't come to know about that until later in life. But there is a group called the Abortion Survivors Network that is working to connect abortion survivors with each other. And I've been blessed to know them and to find out more, and I believe in the future, we will meet more because there's a lot more means for us to find each other with technology the way it is today. And there are so many more stories coming out, even in the last 10 years than there were. I think in the nineties, there was one that I knew of, one abortion survivor. Now there's a handful. So I can just imagine even 20 years from now how many there will be.
Scott Rae: So Sarah, one final question for you. Let's say that you're sitting across the table from a say, pregnant teenager, who's got a pregnancy that's a surprise, that is sort of would fit the classic categories of unwanted. I know you have a different notion of what constitutes an unwanted pregnancy, that's sort of an oxymoron for you. But for the expected mother in really tough circumstances, what would you say to her just by way of hope and encouragement?
Sarah Zagorski: If I had a woman that was sitting across from me in a similar situation that my birth mother was today, I would tell her that she's looking at her situation as clearly as she can, but she is in a place of oppression. And she has oppressive walls that have pinned her down where she believes that abortion is her only choice. But what's actually true is that one day she will be free of those oppressive walls, like I am free of them today. I was able to escape the oppressive walls of my birth family, but only because my birth mother chose life. See, I only had the opportunity for the Lord to rescue me because she made the decision to choose life. And that's decision is what brought me to where I am today. And although she can't see it today, because she's dealing with poverty, she's dealing with maybe things that are unfair to her, maybe domestic violence in her home, that those things can be overcome through faith in Jesus and through choosing life for her baby.
Sarah Zagorski: But choosing life for her baby is the only way that she will be able to be free. Abortion will not solve those problems she's facing right now. And I'm not saying that because I think that choosing life will be easy for her, it will not be easy. It was not easy for my birth mother to choose life for me, but it gave me the opportunity to talk to you right now and say, you can overcome this, you can overcome the fear that you're experiencing and reject abortion and give your baby the opportunity to escape the oppression you're feeling today.
Scott Rae: Wow, Sarah, this has been so good. And we so appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to tell your story to our listeners. This is an, I know Sean agrees with me on this, this is an incredibly compelling story. So thank you so much for being with us. I want to commend our listeners, your chapter in a new book entitled Choose Life, and your chapter is entitled, Surviving Abortion. So we are so grateful for you coming on with us, for your willingness to tell us your story. And may the Lord continue to use you powerfully as he has been already in the lives of some of these very abortion-vulnerable women that you come into contact with. I know our listeners will be remembering the work that you do in their prayers. And so appreciate your story and the courageous work that you're involved in. So very grateful, Sarah, for you coming on with us. Thanks so much.
Sarah Zagorski: Thank you for having me.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically, Conversations on Faith and Culture. Think Biblically podcast guest is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and online, including now our fully online bachelor's program in Bible Theology and Apologetics. Visit biola.edu/talbot in order to learn more. If you enjoy today's conversation with our guest, Sarah Zagorski, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, Think Biblically about everything.