Two women who survived abortion are hoping their stories can help sway House Democrats who are blocking legislation that would ensure care for other newborns.
Melissa Ohden, founder and director of the Abortion Survivors Network, detailed how she was born alive after her 19-year-old mother's botched abortion. Ohden was "laid aside" after her surprise birth, while her grandmother demanded nurses leave her to die. Meanwhile, one nurse rushed the 2-pound, 14-ounce Ohden to the NICU, shouting, "she just kept gasping for breath, and so I couldn't just leave her there to die!"
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"It's easy to talk about women's reproductive rights until you recognize that without first the right to life, there are no other rights," Ohden said. "How do you reconcile my rights as a woman who survived a failed abortion with what's being discussed here today?"
Ohden says she has connected 287 abortion survivors through the Abortion Survivors Network, 184 of whom are women.
"I'm alive today because someone else's ‘reproductive right' failed to end my life," she said.
Ohden's birth was the result of a botched saline infusion, which is a late-term procedure where a poisonous solution is injected into the amniotic sac, burning the baby alive. Doctors determined that Ohden was delivered at approximately 31 weeks gestation, which contradicted the abortionist's prior indication that she was 18-20 weeks at the time of the procedure, she testified.
Ohden visited Capitol Hill as part of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Threats to Reproductive Rights in America." The hearing comes in the wake of several state laws that have radically expanded abortion access up until the point of birth, as in Illinois and New York, as well as state measures to restrict access based on the ability to detect a heartbeat or for a baby to feel pain, as in Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, or Alabama. Ohden's testimony went beyond those state measures and addressed bills that would ensure that physicians provide newborns who survive abortion with life-saving care; Senate Democrats defeated the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, while House Democrats have prevented it from coming to a vote.
The hearing also included testimonies from pro-choice speakers such as actress Busy Philipps, who recently started a pro-choice social media campaign aimed to encourage women to share their abortion stories with the hashtag "#youknowme." Philipps drew headlines once again Tuesday after her exchange with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas) on Capitol Hill regarding abortion survivors.
"Would you agree that somebody who has survived an abortion has a right when she's born to life, to control over her body where someone else doesn't take her life?" Gohmert asked.
"Although I played a doctor on television, sir, I am actually not a physician," Philipps responded. "I don't believe that a politician's place is to decide what's best for a woman. It's a choice between a woman and her doctor."
"What about a baby and their doctor?" Gohmert asked.
"I'm not speaking about birth, sir, I'm speaking about abortion," she said.
Christina Bennett, director of communications at the Family Institute of Connecticut, discussed how her mother was pressured to abort her after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. She says her mother made a last minute decision to keep her despite her doctor's insistence that she follow through with the abortion.
"As a pro-life feminist, I support bodily autonomy," she said. "But abortion impacts two bodies. I am a unique individual—and just as my heart is beating today, it was beating inside of my mother's body."
Bennett, an African-American woman, discussed her experience visiting the National Museum of African-American History, which she said reminded her of the injustices her ancestors face, even arguing their suffering is parallel to the persecution of unborn Americans today.
"While [the museum] showcased examples of the progress black Americans have made, an ache remains in my heart because of the denial of equal protection and due process to another class of people—the baby in the womb," she said. "Abortion is not a victimless act. We just can't hear the voices of those who have been silenced and discarded."