SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Melissa Ohden wants Congress “to give a voice to other survivors like me.”
What Ohden “survived” was a saline abortion at a hospital in Sioux City.
The founder of the Abortion Survivors Network, Ohden told her story in early September in testimony at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
She admitted later that was not easy, but she found a greater challenge in listening to “Democratic representatives” defend the act that was meant to end her life,” she said in an interview with The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.
“However, my greatest joy is knowing that I did something that God called me to do,” explained Ohden, who now resides in Kansas City, Mo. “I really do believe that testifying was part of his plan for my life. I also am getting immense joy from hearing from even more survivors who have seen my testimony, and from the outpouring of support that I’ve received from people around the world.”
The hearing came about as part of the Judiciary Committee’s probe into Planned Parenthood’s activities spurred by the release of 10 videos by the Center for Medical Progress, based in Irvine, Calif.
The videos, filmed undercover, show physicians and others associated with Planned Parenthood describing the harvesting of fetal tissue and body parts during abortions at their clinics. Also discussed are what researchers are charged for the tissue and parts.
Top Planned Parenthood officials dispute what the videos show, saying they have been edited to manipulate the interviews and any mention of money for tissue and body parts is related to customary handling fees charged the researchers. The center stands by its videos.
“There is something wrong when health care and women’s empowerment is based on someone’s life ending,” Ohden said on the Hill Sept. 9.
“I should have been just another statistic, but, by the grace of God, I am more than a statistic,” she testified. “I come here today as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a master’s level prepared social worker and, yes, as an abortion survivor.”
Ohden told those at the hearing that if her birth mother’s abortion would have taken place at a Planned Parenthood, rather than a hospital, she would not be here today.
“Completing over 300,000 abortions a year provides them (Planned Parenthood) with the experience to make sure that ‘failures’ like me don’t happen,” she said.
“As a fellow American, as a fellow human being, I deserved the same right to life, the same equal protection under the law as each and every one of you,” Ohden continued, “Yet, we live in a time where not only do such protections not exist, but my own tax dollars and yours go to fund an organization that has perfected the very thing that was meant to end my life.”
On Aug. 24, 1977, Ohden’s 19-year-old biological mother entered a Sioux City hospital for a saline-infused abortion — a toxic salt solution injected into the amniotic fluid surrounding the preborn child.
Although the mother told health care providers she was 18 weeks into the pregnancy; in reality, staff estimated the pregnancy at 31 weeks or seven months. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision established viability of a fetus — its ability to live outside the womb — as a benchmark for when states can restrict abortion. Most health care providers consider viability to be at 22 to 24 weeks.
The hospital’s medical records detail how Ohden “was delivered spontaneously in bed by a nurse” on Aug. 29, 1977, weighing just 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Ohden was placed in the care of the Iowa Department of Social Services and transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City. She was adopted and grew up in Storm Lake.
Despite initial concerns regarding her health following the botched abortion, Ohden has thrived. With a master’s degree in social work, she has worked in the fields of substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence/sexual assault counseling and child welfare.
In 2012, Ohden founded the Abortion Survivors Network, after recognizing the number of abortion survivors and how most felt alone. She is working on a healing ministry curriculum and a retreat for survivors.
“Republican House members and staff identified me as a potential witness for the proceedings,” she told The Catholic Globe. “Of course, I felt called to say ‘yes’ to their request and knew that, ultimately, I was called by God to do it.”
Ohden said she hoped her testimony would put “a name, face and voice” to the children whose lives were ended by abortion at Planned Parenthood and other facilities.
“I wanted people to get a glimpse of the bigger picture that I live with,” she said. “Abortion ends a life and forever changes countless others. It has led to a culture in which lives like mine are disrespected and the act of abortion is held up as a right, as something worthy of receiving our tax dollars.”
Even though Sioux City played a sad role in her life, Ohden expressed her gratitude “that God has redeemed and restored this place for me.”
“The very hospital where my life was supposed to end later — in 2008 — became the very place my oldest daughter came into the world,” she said. “Having lived in Sioux City as an adult and still having members of my birth father’s family in the area, I will always hold fond memories of the Sioux City area and be forever grateful to all who cared for me years ago and those friends and family that have been a part of my life.”
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Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.