COLUMBIA—The best way to learn the true horror of abortion is to listen to the story of someone who has survived one.
Melissa Ohden is an abortion survivor.
In 1977, she survived a botched saline infusion abortion and was delivered alive at a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa. Today, her life’s mission is to tell her story to people in every corner of the world in an attempt to bring an end to abortion once and for all.
Ohden brought her painful but triumphant message to hundreds in Columbia on Jan. 9-10 during the “Proudly Pro-life Weekend,” which included a dinner at Seawell’s on Rosewood Drive and the annual Stand up for Life March and Rally.
People of all ages braved freezing temperatures and brisk breezes to make the annual march from the University of South Carolina campus to the steps of the Statehouse, where they clustered together, many holding banners and signs with pro-life messages.
The crowd included hundreds of Catholics, including many Knights of Columbus and about 600 young people, many of whom later attended the annual youth pro-life rally at the Township Auditorium. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone took part in the march and offered the opening prayer at the rally.
Everyone became silent when Ohden stepped up to the podium to tell her story.
The details are stark and heartbreaking. Her mother, a college student, hid her pregnancy from her family until the seventh month, and felt forced by them to undergo the procedure. Ohden’s own biological grandmother, then a nurse with a prominent standing in the community, was adamant that her daughter end the pregnancy.
The saline infusion method, which is no longer in use, was particularly horrific, because it involved injecting a toxic saline solution into a woman’s womb and then allowing the unborn to die. Ohden said while most babies suffered through three days in the womb before death, she suffered for five days before her mother went into labor and she was born alive.
Nurses at the hospital prevented her from being left to die, she said, and she was eventually adopted by a loving family. Although doctors predicted she would have many health problems, she came through the ordeal without any.
Ohden didn’t learn about what happened to her until many years later, when her own sister was facing an unplanned pregnancy. Then, she said, her parents decided to tell her.
“When I first found out about the circumstances of my birth, I was angry,” she said. “It was the biggest blow I ever could have felt. I couldn’t understand how anyone could make that decision to kill their child. But then I realized I have nothing to be angry about. I was given the gift of life, I was given the gift of my family, and I was born perfectly healthy and whole, praise God.”
She went on to earn a degree in social work and has worked as a counselor and advocate for victims of domestic violence and the mentally ill, among other fields. She is married and has two daughters. To show how life often comes full circle, Ohden said that the oldest, Olivia, was born at the same Iowa hospital where the failed abortion took place.
She spent many painstaking hours over the years trying to locate her biological family. She is in touch with her mother, but the two have not met yet, and she and her children have met her father’s parents.
Ohden said one of the most difficult things she learned was that her birth mother thought for more than 30 years that her child had died. It wasn’t until Ohden contacted her that she realized her daughter had been alive all those years.
“I was given my life for a very particular reason,” she said. “Each and every one of us are gifted in certain ways, are given different ways to share the precious gift of life. Any anger I felt toward my family quickly subsided to grief for men and women who feel forced to make the painful decision of abortion. Everything I do is about love, because love ultimately wins at the end of each day. Forgiveness is a deliberate decision you make, and it has set me free.”
She urged the crowd to make sure that love and compassion remain at the center of all their pro-life work, and that they especially make an effort to reach out to women who have had an abortion and are suffering pain and desperation because of it.
“My mother is undergoing some healing that comes from the fact that she knows her child is alive,” she said. “We need to remember women like her are why we do what we do, because so many people are in pain and need to be healed from abortion.”