An interview with Melissa Ohden, founder of Abortion Survivors Network, an organization that helps those who survive abortions.
PIOTR WŁOCZYK: How do people react when they hear the name of the organization you have founded?
MELISSA OHDEN: They often think at first that it’s some sort of organization that helps women who have had an abortion. And then when I explain to them that this is not the case, their jaws usually drop (laughs). Most people do not realize that there are people among us who have quite literally survived an abortion, that is, doctors wanted to kill them in their mothers’ womb, but they somehow survived it.
How many people like that are there?
I do not know the exact numbers, but I have personally contacted over 200 abortion survivors. These people feel very alone in all this, the knowledge of being born as a result of an abortion can ruin their psyche. Survivors are extremely troubled by the thought that they were unwanted.
I started telling about my story publicly over 10 years ago. To my surprise, more and more people who had followed the same path as I started to contact me. So in 2012, we founded the Abortion Survivors Network, where we help each other overcome the traumatic experiences of being rejected and designated for elimination. Our activity is generally not public. These are very complicated and extremely delicate matters because most abortion survivors stay in their biological families. I think this happens in about 70% of cases.
This, however, is a bit surprising. One might suspect that such children are put up for adoption more often.
At first, I also suspected that such unwanted children, if they survive, usually end up – just like me – being put up for adoption. But it’s not like that. In such conditions, growing up under the care of biological parents is an additional psychological problem – once a child finds out about circumstances in which it was born – for example, because it is seriously ill, it is usually difficult for it to talk about it with its relatives due to the fear of consequences for family relations.
Which of these stories makes the greatest impression?
I know a man whose mother has had miscarriages three times. And he survived anyway. After that, however, he required 23 surgeries. Three attempts to get rid of the child – 23 surgeries. This is probably the hardest, most extreme story I’ve ever heard of.
In turn, one of us, Josiah Presley, has a deformed arm as a result of an abortion. It is a testimony to the horror of this crime.
Surely you are no longer surprised that people generally know either nothing or very little about the so-called late abortions.
People are shocked to learn that in some of our states there are no time limits to performing abortions. It is generally believed that abortions can only be legally performed at the early stage of pregnancy, but this is not true.
I do not know what Poland associates New Mexico with but in the US, among the pro-lifers, this state is called “the capital of late term abortions”. There are no limits. There is a well-known abortion clinic in New Mexico that does not skimp on advertising funds that provide abortions until delivery. Women come there not only from other states, but also from abroad. These are the consequences of the words: “a person’s life begins after childbirth”. In the light of the law, it is allowed to kill children who are just below the limit of survival outside the mother’s body or have already exited it.
More and more states are starting to introduce a 20-week limit, after which it has been proven that a child is definitely in pain, but such restrictions are only a matter of the last few years. In general, however, the abortion lobby is doing its best to lift any restrictions. I think most advocates of the right to abortion are unaware of what the reality is. I think most people do not know that a baby’s heart starts beating as early as 4 weeks of age.
What do you know about the circumstances of your birth?
All my childhood I grew up believing that I was born prematurely. It was only after many years that I found out the truth. In 1977, my biological mother, then a 19-year-old college student, had a saline abortion. It happened in Sioux City, Iowa. For many years I thought it was her choice, but it turned out that her mother made her do it. My grandmother was a nurse, she had connections in this hospital.
Saline abortions were a very common method of abortion in the 1970s. A toxic saline solution is injected into the amniotic fluid. This substance is, of course, a poison to the child. Subsequently, labor is induced and the woman gives birth to a stillborn child. Typically, such an abortion lasts 72 hours. In my case, it was five days. My mother’s doctor had trouble inducing labor, so I was exposed to the poison for a longer period than planned. But this method of abortion is history.
They changed the method because it looks bad?
No, because so many of us came out alive in the end. Abortionists are now using more effective methods. For example, they use a syringe to puncture a child’s heart to stop it working, and then induce birth.
That is why today there are not very many people who manage to survive abortion. This is really a rarity, although it still happens.
How big were you at the time?
The abortionist entered into the medical records that he estimated the pregnancy to be at the 20 week mark (halfway point of pregnancy). The idea was probably to speed up the procedure. In the case of late term abortions, it was necessary to stand before a special commission, but it was still possible to perform them. Since I weighed about 1.3 kg right after birth, it happened after the 30th week.
After birth, the baby is usually placed on its mother’s belly. Where did you end up?
In the medical waste container. I was supposed to die there. I was saved by a nurse who’s conscience was touched when she saw me. A few years ago, I was contacted by another nurse from that hospital. She told me that she had been following my pro-life activity for years and wondered if I was the aborted child who had been brought into intensive care by a nurse in front of her eyes. This woman said the following words which touched me profoundly: “That child was struggling to take a breath. It fought for every gulp of air. I couldn’t let it die”.
I got 2 points on the Abgar scale. I had problems with breathing, with my liver, I was suffering from convulsions. At the time, doctors thought that I also had a serious heart defect. My grandmother kept my biological mother convinced that I had died that day.
Caring for you must have seemed like asking for problems at the time, but you found a family almost immediately. What made your parents decide on difficult parenting?
I was adopted by two wonderful people. The first time they saw me was when I was in the hospital. Mom and Dad struggled with infertility for 15 years. I have an older sister who was also adopted. Doctors did not hide their concerns about my future from my parents. I was at risk of being disabled. And yet – as they told me many times – they fell in love with me as soon as they saw me. Only love can work such miracles.
What was the physical toll on your health after all this? A few years ago we published an interview in the weekly “Do Rzeczy” with Gianna Jessen, who, like you, survived an abortion in 1977. Her exposure to poisoning with saline solution and premature birth caused, among others, cerebral palsy, which she is still struggling with today.
In fact, it was Gianna Jessen who made me realize that I am not alone with my story. She was the first to talk about the experience of an abortion. However – and I consider it a real miracle – I am fully healthy and have two children of my own.
How did you find out about the truth?
Over the years I have learned the truth piece by piece. It started when I was 14 – my parents told me under what circumstances I was born. I felt crushed. I couldn’t understand it – how can you not want a baby? But now I am grateful that God had such a plan for me. People often ask me, “How can you forgive something like this?”. I say to them, “How can you not forgive it?” Wounds cannot be healed without forgiveness.
I have been looking for my biological parents for over 10 years. It was only in 2007 that I found out about them. It turned out that I lived in the same city as my biological father at the time.
Unfortunately, I was unable to meet him before his death. His family, however, found a letter that I sent him, contacted me, and it became a part of my life.
The story with your mother was completely different. It is a very heartwarming story.
In the same year (2007), I also found my biological mother’s parents. My grandfather replied to my letter and informed me that they did not maintain a relationship with my mother. Therefore, it was not possible for them to hand over my letter to her. It was only in 2013 that I managed to reach her. We exchanged letters with each other for about three years. Then I found out that it was my grandmother who insisted on having an abortion. We had to build a relationship because she didn’t trust me at first. I am not surprised – after all, she was hurt by her relatives. It made me realize what treasure – unconditional love – I was able to take from home. We finally met. Her daughters and my sisters told me that they always knew our mother had some terrible secret. Her life was full of remorse. She told me on my birthday that her biggest mistake in life was not to run away from the hospital and protect me.
The interview was published in the weekly “Do Rzeczy”.