Surviving the Scourge of Abortion

PHOTOGRAPH: Courtesy of Melissa Ohden

Advocates shine the light of God’s love

Every 26 seconds a baby’s life is lost to abortion. When Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden (pictured above) hear statistics like these, they shudder. What if 38 years ago, the abortion attempts by their own biological mothers —only months apart—had succeeded?

“I wish the world was a different place,” Melissa says in a voice heavy with emotion. “But what I’ve come to appreciate is just how God has made things good. I’m so grateful for His hand of redemption in our world.”

Melissa and Gianna are members of the Abortion Survivors Network, which Melissa established to educate the public about abortion and the prevalence of survivors. Both women spoke at the House Judiciary Committee hearing to defund Planned Parenthood in September, and both travel around the world to talk about the horrors of abortion. As the National Sanctity of Human Life Day approaches on Jan. 22, they—and countless other pro-life advocates—will continue their fight.

“No matter what a woman is going through, abortion is not the answer,” Melissa says. “When women’s empowerment and women’s health is based on another person’s life ending, there’s something wrong in our world.”

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Gianna always knew she was adopted. She knew her birth was traumatic and premature, that it had resulted in a lack of oxygen to her brain, which caused her to have cerebral palsy and an eventual limp.

But she somehow sensed she was not getting the full story of her birth. When she was 12 years old, she asked her mom about her limp—again. It was Christmas and her mom was preparing the family’s holiday meal.

“Why do I really walk like this?” she asked. “Why? What happened?”

Her mom started down the usual trail.

“Well, your birth mother was very young, and your birth was traumatic … ”

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit seemed to reveal to Gianna what her mother was struggling to say.

“I was aborted, wasn’t I?”

“Right,” her mom said, with some surprise and relief. “You actually were.”

“I wasn’t supposed to ever move or hold my head up, much less walk. But through the prayers of my adopted mother and grandmother, and by the grace of God, I learned to walk with a brace when I was 3.”
-Gianna Jessen

Gianna’s biological mom was 17 when she discovered she was pregnant. When she went to the abortion clinic, at 7½ months, the clinic offered her one option: a saline infusion abortion. During this procedure, a toxic salt solution is injected into the mother’s womb. The solution scalds the baby inside and out and in 24 hours the mom delivers a dead baby.

When Gianna was delivered alive, at 6 a.m. on April 6, 1977, the abortionist had not yet arrived for duty, so the stunned abortion clinic nurse called emergency medical services and 2-pound infant Gianna was taken to the hospital for medical care.

She stayed in the hospital for about three months before being placed in a foster home, and then at 17 months she was placed in another foster home, with a woman named Penny. Her prognosis was grim.

“I wasn’t supposed to ever move or hold my head up, much less walk,” Gianna says. “But through the prayers of my adopted mother and grandmother, and by the grace of God, I learned to walk with a brace when I was 3.”

Read what Billy Graham has to say about abortion

When she was only 4, she accepted Christ as her Savior, and during those early years, she learned to trust God with her whole heart.

“I always knew that there was someone I needed to sing to because I could sing,” she says. “And there was someone that I needed to help me walk and just help me with my very complicated life from the very earliest time. And I knew that Jesus was it.”

She remembers being very tiny and singing, Every day I look to you to be the strength of my life. And I’m climbing my mountain day by day, but I’m gonna climb it … And with all of her being, she would sing out, I am a promise. I am a possibility.

When she was 14, a family friend who knew Gianna’s story asked her mom if Gianna could come share her testimony at a pro-life meeting at a local restaurant. Ten people attended the meeting, including a local reporter and the story went national. Gianna quickly became a living example of the abortion scourge, appearing on The 700 Club and James Dobson’s radio program. Her story was chronicled in the movie October Baby, released in 2011.

“I am called to say the Name of Jesus,” she says. “God has made that perfectly clear to me. God is truly my Dad. He talks to me. Before the judicial hearing on Planned Parenthood, He said, ‘Whatever you say in there, you must say My Name.’ He made it clear.”

In fact, she believes that even as the abortion clinic was trying to snuff her out in her mother’s womb, God was doing His own work in her.

“I believe that as those wicked people were trying to take me out that God was just holding me, as a mother and father would,” she says. “Because the Bible says when your mother and father forsake you the Lord Himself will take you up. And He instilled in me a different kind of fire, one that cannot be vanquished.”

Gianna doesn’t understand the pervasive apathy regarding abortion in this country.

“No matter what a woman is going through, abortion is not the answer. When women’s empowerment and women’s health is based on another person’s life ending, there’s something wrong in our world.”
-Melissa Ohden

Her message to America is: “Why are we apathetic in the face of Planned Parenthood dismembering and selling baby parts? As Christians in this nation, why are we not standing up as a majority and saying, ‘This is not permissible anymore’?

“As a nation, we’ve got the blood of over 50 million children on our hands. And it cries to the Lord from the ground like the blood of Abel.”

Like Gianna, Melissa Ohden grew up knowing she was adopted. She learned of her birth mother’s failed abortion when she was 14, during an argument with her adopted older sister.

“You know what, Missy?” her sister snapped. “At least my birth parents wanted me.”

“That was a huge departure from everything we had been taught,” Melissa said. “We had both been taught that we were loved equally. And when I turned around to look at my sister and she saw my expression, she said, ‘Oh, you don’t know, do you?’ She told me to wait up for our parents and ask them and they would tell me the truth.”

That night Melissa learned that her biological mother, a college student, had become pregnant at 19 and had a saline infusion abortion. Years later, Melissa learned that it was her maternal grandmother who forced her biological mom to have the abortion. Her grandmother, a prominent nurse, had assisted the abortionist, and the procedure was performed at the hospital where she worked.

When Melissa was born alive, her grandmother ordered that she be left to die, and she told her daughter—Melissa’s birth mom—that her baby was dead. Two attending nurses fought for medical care for Melissa, and she was admitted to the hospital.

Melissa was heartbroken at this news. She had often thought she might someday share her adoption story, but not this. “I could never tell the world about this because it was so personal.”

At age 19, she felt the Holy Spirit nudging her to search for her birth parents.

After 10 years, she found her biological father. He was in Sioux City, Iowa, the same town where she and her husband Ryan had moved to so she could finish her master’s degree in social work. She wrote her father a letter, telling him of her forgiveness and that she lived in the same town as he did and would welcome an opportunity to get to know him. He didn’t respond. Several months later when she did a Google search of his name, she found that he had died. She was pregnant with her second child at the time, and after her daughter Olivia was born—at the very same hospital where she had nearly died as a preborn infant—her birth father’s family made contact with her.

Her life had come full circle in so many ways. Not only was Olivia born at the same hospital, but Melissa got a job supervising a team of social workers at the same adoption agency that had handled her own adoption. And when she took birthing classes at the hospital, she met one of the nurses who was present the night she was born. Also, after one of her birth mother’s cousins contacted her, Melissa made contact with her birth mother.

“We haven’t met yet, but we are emailing,” she says. “Remember, she thought for 30 years that I was dead, and she walked around with all of this guilt. I know I will meet her in God’s timing.”

In the midst of all of this, Melissa believes the Lord has shown her that, like Gianna, she should share her story upon every invitation. For three years she fought it, but the Holy Spirit continued to nudge her.

Today, Melissa’s anger toward her grandmother is long dead, and she has forgiven her.

“I grew up in such a loving and forgiving home,” she says. “I had to remember that Jesus died for my grandmother, and for that abortionist—just like He died for me. That’s one of the things I love to talk to people about. As Christians we know that we are loved and forgiven, but I think we have a hard time putting it into practice. Also, I’m not that far removed. I’m a sinner too.”

She feels called to tell the truth about abortion. “The truth is messy,” she says. “It’s not clean and neat. And the reason I have to tell the world that it was my grandmother who did it is because I need to help people to know that they are loved. They are loved by God no matter what anyone else does to them.”

If God can turn the evil circumstances surrounding Melissa’s birth into something beautiful, then He can certainly bring beauty out of any situation.

“My life is above and beyond what I would have expected it to be,” Melissa says. “I’m a mom. I get to trust God. I get to do what He has called me to do. It doesn’t get any better than this for me.” D ©2015 BGEA