There’s a missing voice in Roe v. Wade debate: abortion survivors

It is almost with us: the US Supreme Court decision so long delayed and so tensely awaited. In all likelihood, as in the Court’s leaked draft opinion, abortion law will be thrown back on the states.

The past weeks have seen turmoil across the country, with many reacting in shock and anger to the threat to Roe. Such reactions have given rise to large gatherings supporting abortion access – and also to graphic demonstrations, bombing of pregnancy care centres, and threats of violence from a small but active cadre.

However, to set against the anger and fear felt by many who see abortion as a basic right, other voices have arisen saying that this same “right” nearly killed them – nearly ended a life they are very thankful to have. These are the voices of abortion survivors: those born after a failed attempt at abortion. They join their testimony to that of women whose abortions failed, were voluntarily reversed in the case of medical abortion, or were simply denied, and who are grateful their child is alive.

The former voices are limited in number – a few hundred have linked up in the US – while silenced are millions of voices of those who did not live to tell the tale. Speaking for them, however, are those who, with their mothers, underwent an abortion procedure and survived.

Melissa Ohden is a survivor of a failed abortion and founder of the Abortion Survivors Network. Her story is filled with anguish and hope. Melissa survived a saline abortion attempt at 31 weeks gestation when her young mother was forced by her own mother to submit to an abortion. The abortion procedure used involved injecting a saline solution into the uterus to poison the foetus whose birth would then be induced.

Melissa was born alive and placed among medical waste, but a nurse heard her faint cries and movements and she was rushed to intensive care. Her grandmother, another nurse in the hospital, had previously demanded the baby be left to die as is common in these circumstances. The newborn was then put up for adoption while her birth mother Ruth was kept in the dark about her daughter’s fate. At the age of 14, Melissa accidentally found out about her ordeal as a baby, but only many years later was she reunited with her birth mother and extended family.

When she first met her birth mother, Melissa was haunted by the regret in her eyes; she later came to experience and share her mother’s joy. Talking about Ruth to the press, Melissa said “I knew that I wanted her to know that she was forgiven, but I never could have imagined that her story was difficult as it is, and I never could have imagined how much joy it would bring me to have her in our family’s life. Ruth is just very, very special to us.”

Last June, Melissa gave personal testimony in front of the US Senate in a hearing on protecting Roe and women’s health describing her experience as an abortion survivor. She asks: “[H]ow can access to abortion, the very act that should have ended my life, simultaneously be my fundamental right to exercise?” And she comments “There’s something deeply disturbing about the reality in our world that I have a right to an abortion but I never had the simple right to live.”


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