Abortion survivor stirs pro-lifers to ‘keep moving forward’

Melissa Ohden

Aug. 29, 1977, was supposed to be the day that Melissa Ohden was delivered from her mother's womb as a "successful" abortion.

But she lived.

Ohden shared her story with nearly 800 people at the 38th annual Respect Life Convention Oct. 26 at St. Charles Convention Center with the hopes that it inspires people "to keep moving forward" in the pro-life movement, especially on those days when it might feel too difficult.

It's taken Ohden, now an international speaker on pro-life issues, most of her adult life to piece together what happened when she survived a failed saline infusion abortion at a Sioux City, Iowa, hospital in 1977. She was born at about seven months gestation, and the nurses at the hospital took care of her before she was adopted into a loving family. Her biological mother was coerced into the abortion, she said, by Ohden's maternal grandmother, a nurse.

"People expect me to hate her — I don't hate her. I love her in that radical way Jesus loves every one of us," she said.

In a saline abortion — a method largely no longer used in the United States because of failure rates — an unborn child typically is saturated in the solution for 72 hours. Medical records show that Melissa was in the solution for five days. She doesn't have any known health issues from the abortion attempt; additionally, she and her husband, Ryan, have two biological children.

At the age of 14, Ohden accidentally discovered what had happened to her as an infant. Her adoptive parents hadn't planned to tell her, but circumstances surrounding her older sister's teenage pregnancy led them to tell Ohden what had happened. She eventually reconnected with members of her biological family around the time she was 30 years old.

"I had a lot to learn about how abortion affects all our lives," she said.

In 2012, she founded the Abortion Survivors Network to raise awareness of those who have survived an abortion attempt, as well as provide support to survivors and collect statistical data on the number of abortion survivors.

Survivors "need someone to say, 'You are not alone,'" she said.

About two years ago, Ohden connected with her biological mother through another family member. The two have corresponded with one another, but haven't met in person. Ohden said her mother had doubts that Ohden could love her. A year ago, she told Ohden, "I was robbed of you," because she spent more than 36 years of her life believing that her child had died in the hospital.

But now the truth is setting her free.

"Fifty-seven million other women and men, who unlike my mother, are not set free," Ohden said.

Respect Life Awards

The Cardinal John J. Carberry and Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas Awards are presented annually at the Respect Life Convention to an individual and Catholic high school or parish youth group for their efforts in furthering the pro-life cause.

The Cardinal Carberry was presented to Emily Newsham and Jim Reardon for their combined 48 years of service in planning the annual Respect Life Convention. Newsham, who attends St. Paul Parish in St. Paul, helps coordinate the convention luncheon. She has been involved in other pro-life efforts, including a 12-year March for Life participant and in Catholic education. Reardon, a member of St. Alban Roe Parish in Wildwood, coordinates the convention's exhibits. He has been been involved in the pro-life movement since 1973 and has been on the March for Life 17 times.

The Bishop McNicholas Award was presented to the high school youth group at Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, led by youth minister Kristina Radley. The group has traveled to the March for Life, participated in the Helpers of God's Precious Infants Mass and procession to Planned Parenthood, 40 Days for Life, held a baby shower for Our Lady's Inn, and sponsored a pro-life movie night, among other activities. 


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