Oct 10, 2011
By Katie Flaherty
Abortion survivor and life rights activist Melissa Ohden shared her story with Ohio University students on Wednesday to raise awareness of the options, resources and support available to pregnant and parenting students on at Ohio University.
The crowd was rendered speechless as a healthy Ohden revealed that she is the result of a failed saline infusion abortion 34 years ago. She said she was delivered alive at six months gestation to a 19-year-old college student.
Self-described as putting a "face to the choice," Ohden shared statistics about abortions and tackled a controversial topic not often addressed even on college campuses.
Before sharing the details of her personal experience, Ohden put the issue in perspective with statistics from Guttmacher Institute that claim that 10 percent of college-aged women become pregnant in any given year and one out of every five abortions is performed on a college student.
Sophomore Sarah Owens, who volunteers at the Pregnancy Resource Center, said she found Ohden's speech very informative.
"I never take notes at speeches like this but I actually did because a lot of things she said stood out to me," Owens said.
Localizing her story, Ohden drew a clear comparison between her biological mother and most students today. She said that her mother was told by her own parents that she needed to have an abortion and, like so many others, felt like she had no other choices.
Born at only 2 lbs and 14 oz., Ohden said she was able to fit in the palm of a hand.
Compromised by the abortion attempt, she faced seizures, respiratory problems and blood transfusions before miraculously being sent home after only two months of hospitalization.
To draw attention to local abortion restrictions, Ohden said that said that in the state of Ohio, abortions are legal and allowed up until the time of birth.
Ohden explained that saline abortions, which involve injecting a toxic, salt solution into the amniotic fluid surrounding the preborn child, are no longer performed because of their low success rate.
"It's such an interesting statement for me that my life had to result from something being unsuccessful," Ohden said.
Ohden learned of her abortion survival at 14 and, as a result, struggled as a teenager with eating disorders and substance abuse. Despite her experience, she explained that she forgave her biological parents more than 20 years ago.
"My situation is unique, but so many of us struggle with forgiving people in our lives … if I wouldn't have forgiven them I don't know what kind of person I would be today," Ohden said.
At the age of 19, Ohden began to look for her biological parents and after 10 years of searching she only succeeded in contacting a few members of her extended family, including her grandfather.
Ohden said the widespread effects abortion has had on both sides of her biological and adoptive family.
"So many people say abortions are just about a woman and a child, it's not just about a child, it's about men like my father its about grandparents like mine, its about aunts and uncles, it's about children," she said.
Ohden's forgiveness and understanding of her family's choices paved the road for the activist life she leads now. With a degree in social work, she has worked in areas of substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence/sexual assault counseling and child welfare. Since attempting to contact her family in 2007, Ohden has been traveling around the world publically sharing her story, beginning at Capital Hill.
Recounting her first public address in Washington, D.C., she explained her inner struggle with societal norms and perceptions and her ultimate choice to go public with her story.
"I was scared to death to come forward, knowing what people would potentially say about me and knowing what a risk it was to give up every hope and dream I had in my life to do something that I knew I was saved for," Ohden said.
Ohden is now very active politically, testifying before legislatures all over the U.S. as well as parliament in Australia. Despite being pregnant with her second child, Ohden continues to travel around college campuses giving a 'voice to the voiceless.'
Ohden encourages students to be informed and speak up for their beliefs.
"I hope whatever you believe, when it comes to abortion or other views in your life you learn not to be silenced the way that I was, because you don't have to be silenced."
Caity Fitzgerald, a senior social work major, said Ohden's speech had special significance for her.
"She (Ohden) never judged people or told them what choices to make, she simply allowed people to hear a different side of abortion and life," Fitzgerald said. "When she spoke of stats on pregnancy and abortion on college campuses, ironically I felt as though she was speaking to me specifically, because I was that one pregnant girl on campus."
For more information about Melissa Ohden, visit her website or contact the Pregnancy Resource Center at 740-592-4700 or email to email@example.com.