When Texas legislators considered a bill earlier this year requiring medical care for babies who survive an abortion, news outlets reported the state had received no reports of such cases happening. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, called a similar effort in his state “redundant” and “not a productive use of time.” And a spokesman for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said a proposed bill to protect abortion survivors, which Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed, “would criminalize doctors for a practice that simply does not exist.”
But a network of abortion survivors begs to differ. Melissa Ohden survived a saline abortion in the summer of 1977, and her mother’s family secretly placed her for adoption. Ohden discovered the truth about her birth when she was 14 and later founded the Abortion Survivors Network, which she said has about 300 members.
Data supports the incidence of babies surviving abortions.
Earlier this month, Fox News reported data from Arizona, Minnesota, and Florida that showed 40 babies were born alive after attempted abortions from 2016 to 2019. Nationwide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 143 infants died between 2003 and 2014 after surviving an abortion.
“Even though the pro-life movement has known about survivors and a little bit of the data, the reality is the mainstream culture at large has not known about us,” Ohden told me.
In Minnesota, doctors reported 11 babies born alive after an abortion since 2016. Arizona officials reported 10 in 2017, and Florida reported 19 since 2017, including two this year.
Radical late-term abortion laws started the conversation.
Concern about medical care for abortion survivors arose earlier this year after states began adopting radical laws that allow abortions up until the moment of birth. In a discussion over a late-term abortion law in Virginia, state Delegate Kathy Tran and Gov. Ralph Northam, both Democrats, appeared to support infanticide. Soon after those remarks, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a bill requiring doctors in the state to give “appropriate medical treatment” to babies born alive after an abortion. The law, which took effect Sunday, imposes a fine of at least $100,000 for doctors who violate it.
Abortion survivor and pro-life advocate Gianna Jessen said if abortion survivors aren’t real, then it wouldn’t hurt anyone to pass the legislation.
“We know, of course, that it does [happen], and we know that they know that it does,” she told me. “I think that it is an incredibly horrific use of time to leave a baby, any baby, to die, without care. But to leave a baby who has the will and tenacity to live through someone attempting to end its life, there is a coldness there that is unfathomable to me, and a wickedness that is beyond description.”
But even pro-life advocates didn’t realize how many abortion survivors existed.
The news of 40 babies born alive after abortions has surprised some pro-life advocates. John Smeaton, chief executive of the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, called it a disturbing realization that more babies survive abortion attempts than he had ever imagined. Connor Semelsberger, an attorney with the U.S.-based Family Research Council, told Fox News the numbers are “a lot higher than we’d ever suspect.”
Ohden encouraged her fellow abortion survivors to speak up for life.
“Somehow, I have the right to an abortion, but I never had the right to live in the first place? That’s really absurd,” she said. “And I think our culture has to hear those kinds of stories. The stories of survivors, the stories of women who regret their abortion, the abortion workers, they have to hear those stories that have been silenced in order for us to change.”