Abortion Survivors Break Their Silence: An invaluable resource in Post-Roe America

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. This appeared in the February issue of National Right to Life News. Please share with your pro-life family and friends.

For most of us, Melissa Ohden is the face of a “failed abortion.” You may be aware of the CliffsNotes version of Melissa’s utterly breathtaking story, one that amazes me to this day. In 1977 she survived a saline infusion abortion, a technique that was so dangerous (to the mother) that it is virtually no longer used anywhere. She was adopted by a loving family who raised her as their own. 

Melissa knew she was adopted, but not until her sister had an unplanned pregnancy did she learn that she had survived a hideously painful 5-day prostaglandin abortion. Through a series of events—discussed at length in her book You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir— she discovered her birthparents had been engaged to be married—they had dated for four years before her birth mother became pregnant with Melissa. She is convinced her birthparents would have carried Melissa to birth before her grandmother stepped in. To her delight she and her birthmother have since reconciled. 

In 2012 Melissa founded The Abortion Survivors Network (ASN), which has connected with more than 700 abortion survivors, friends, and family members. The ASN is the only healing and advocacy organization for abortion survivors, friends, and family members

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NRL News: You begin the book with this epigram:

To my community of abortion survivors around the world:

May this book show you that you are seen,

You are heard, and you are not alone.

Whether you break your silence publicly

or whisper it quietly, you matter…

Abortion Survivors Break Their Silence is a book that shines a light in the darkness.

What did you mean?

Melissa: Abortion survivors exist throughout the world. You wouldn’t know that, of course, by looking at mainstream media reporting of abortion survivors. Up until now, those of us who share our stories publicly—what our lives entail─are the only examples other abortion survivors have.

It’s just implausible for many survivors to speak up because of family dynamics and expectations; it’s not healthy. But survivors shouldn’t have to share their story to be validated. I want them to know that if they never share their story publicly, their story and their life matters. Our worthiness is not tied to speaking out. 

NRL News: All books have a history. What brought you to collaborate with Cindy Lambert and write Abortion Survivors Break Their Silence at this particular point in time? 

Melissa: Honestly, it’s been a long road to get to 2024. This book has been on my heart for years. In early 2020 after we launched “Faces of Choice” as a successor to “Face the Choice,” I felt like the next logical step in terms of awareness about survivors was this book. I admire Cindy’s work and particularly Unplanned, and I’m honored she said yes to working with me on it. 

From 2020-forward has been a progression of one change after another in terms of publishing. When the Supreme Court took up the Dobbs case in 2022, I honestly was kicking myself that the book hadn’t been released yet. I honestly thought it would have been an important part of raising awareness and education regarding it. What I came to recognize after Dobbs overturned Roe is that the timing of this book is actually perfect. This book is needed now more than ever.

NRL News: You make the extremely important point not just that abortion survivors have lacked a voice in the national abortion discussion but also that the country is all the poorer for missing their real life stories.

Melissa: Stories are powerful. And the most powerful stories tend to be those most often buried under the weight of secrets, shame, cultural perceptions or cultural narratives on issues like abortion.

NRL News: Dr. Christian Francis is the CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She wrote this about the book: “Melissa Ohden and Cindy Lambert shine a light on this little-talked-about aspect of the fight to defend the dignity of all human beings, and they beautifully give voice to these courageous individuals.” There is that constant theme of giving voice to the voiceless.

Melissa: All of us in the movement give voice to the voiceless preborn, but survivors also give voice to the voiceless survivors out there and the women who share their stories give voice to the other women like them who have been voiceless for so long.

NRL News:  You write “This closely held secret [that she had survived the attempted abortion at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa] that, once revealed, defined my life from that point forward. At first I was angry, feeling betrayed and misled. I thank God, however, that those angry feelings eventually gave way to an even deeper closeness between my birth mother and me—a closeness that remains to this day. I marvel at how tenderly and wisely my adoptive parents handled my identity crisis after this shocking revelation.”

I would imagine that all people who find out they survived an abortion could easily be filed with rage. Do you find that to be true and do many reconcile with their birthmothers?

Melissa: Anger is a normal response to a violation or an injustice. It’s connected as well to the fight or flight response, which survivors are very much impacted by in utero. So it makes sense that most survivors tend to report anger when first finding out. But the anger is a mix of complicated emotions─not necessarily at the person who did it, but at the circumstances. And the truth is our life was endangered. That has impacted our lives. Owing to the brutality of the abortion process, we may be left with a disability. The feeling we have about our biological parents is more like grief, more sadness than it is anger. These are the people we expect to protect us from harm. But when we learn the story of how they came to have the abortion, there is great power in coming to know the person behind the story (often birth parents). When we learn more about them and their circumstances, it leads, more often than not I find, to love and forgiveness.

We actually have found that more survivors are raised by their biological mothers (at least in those that we’ve connected with) than placed for adoption. There’s a lot we need to talk about and learn from mothers and survivors who’ve been impacted by failed, stopped, and reversed abortions. These families have long been under-identified and as a result not served. This is very important.

Without support and healing, patterns of shame, neglect, and abuse can occur. Obviously a “successful” abortion is not the solution. What is the solutions is having an honest understanding that abortions can result in live births. All the parties involved─the babies who survive the abortionist, the women who experience this, the families impacted by this─all need medical, mental, emotional, familial, social support at the earliest point of intervention.

NRL News: There are twelve stories in Abortion Survivors Break Their Silence. I assume you were limited only by space constraints and could have included many more, right?

Melissa: Let’s just say there may be another book in the works already…..

NRL News: Bring us up to speed on The Abortion Survivors Network.

Melissa: We’ve connected with over 700 survivors worldwide, which we know is just the tip of the iceberg. This last year, we began our support groups for moms, and we have separate groups for adoptive parents—although many connect to us themselves; you can contact us anytime–this is what we’re here for! We also held our first annual “Babies Survive Abortions Awareness” month this past September and will do annually going forward. Be on the lookout for more incredible stories and educational campaigns. We also launched our Advocates and Ambassadors─these are survivors who are trained how to share their stories and raise awareness in their states and countries. Always lots going on, and we’re so humbled by how we’re called to serve. You’ll see us at the National Right to Life Convention later this year and learn more through some of our Ambassadors’ stories.

NRL News: Any other areas I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to address?

Melissa: We’re working at ASN on various forms of training for Pregnancy Resource Centers’s, adoption agencies, sidewalk counselors, even medical professionals. That way they can talk with women whose babies survived an abortion as well as adoptive parents and survivors. More to come on that. This is also an important policy area that we’ll be talking about soon.

NRL News: How can NRL News readers and all pro-lifers order copies of Abortion Survivors Break Their Silence?

Melissa: The book is available wherever books are sold. You can find links on our website: www.abortionsurvivors.org where you can click through to purchase and see incredible stories not included in the book.

NRL News: Thank you, Melissa.