October is Respect Life Month. Begun by the U.S. bishops in 1972, its intent, at least in part, is to focus attention prior to Election Day on the broad implications of laws and policies that impact on the sanctity of life.
At the same time, we must never lose sight of the personal impact that such issues have on individual lives—for example, the impact that abortion has, on unborn babies and also on mothers in crisis.
Next week, we’ll discuss what must be done—and what the Church and the pro-life movement are already doing—to respond to the needs of women in crisis pregnancies; to offer life-affirming alternatives to the challenges that can otherwise lead them to see abortion as their only choice; and to help provide healing for the many women (and men) who are suffering deeply from an abortion experience.
This week let us consider the baby in the womb.
Among the most powerful testaments to the living humanity of the unborn child is offered by actual survivors of abortion—women and men who were aborted in the womb, but who, even as tiny infants, had the tenacity to fight for their lives and survive.
Their lives testify to the reality of abortion. No one can look at them, or hear their stories, and deny that abortion kills; that every successful abortion destroys a living, growing human being. They are living, breathing refutations of the abortion culture’s discredited claim that there is no meaningful life before birth. All who identify as “pro-choice” should ask themselves: would I be willing to look these abortion survivors in the eye and tell them, “You should not be alive. You have violated your mother’s right to choose.”
One such survivor, Melissa Ohden, has founded the Abortion Survivors Network. Click on this link to read some of their individual stories. Or read Melissa’s compelling book, You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2017), which I was privileged to review for the Catholic League several years ago.
Melissa’s story brings to mind the words of the angel Clarence in Frank Capra’s iconic film, It’s a Wonderful Life: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
That is true of all the people whose lives have been so crucial to Melissa: the nurses and staff who first heard her weak cry, got her to the ICU and continued to care for her over the ensuing weeks as she fought to live; her adoptive parents, who took her home and filled her life with love and support; members of her birth families who, when she sought them out years later, helped to make her whole. What awful holes there would have been in Melissa’s life—had she lived at all—without these people.
Then there was the pro-life man she met as she was entering a Planned Parenthood clinic to obtain birth control pills. Upon hearing her story, he invited her to join the pro-life cause, and gave her a rosary—which, she writes, began her slow, inexorable journey into the Catholic Church. Catholics who criticize pro-lifers’ prayer and counseling presence outside abortion clinics might ponder the awful hole that could have existed for Melissa without that man’s crucial presence in her life that day.
More powerful to contemplate are the awful holes that would exist today in the many lives that Melissa has touched so deeply, had she been successfully aborted—or had she been left to die without treatment after surviving the abortion procedure, as her maternal grandmother had demanded (and as government leaders like Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Ralph Northam of Virginia favor allowing—along with Barack Obama, who as a state senator once voted against requiring life-sustaining treatment for such babies).
Consider Melissa’s adoptive parents, for whom this “unwanted” baby, intended to be discarded, became such an integral, loving part of their lives and family; her friends, siblings and extended family members; all the people she ministered to during her career in social work, in the fields of mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence and child welfare; and those to whom she now helps bring hope and healing through her various pro-life ministries. And of course, where would the lives of her own husband and children be without her?
Most dramatic is the awful hole that would have existed—that did, in fact, exist, until Melissa found her—in the life of her birth mother. Melissa learned that her mother had not wanted the abortion, that as a pregnant teen she had been forced into it by her own mother. Learning years later that her daughter had lived, then meeting and forming a loving relationship with her, filled that awful hole in her life; and the relationship also filled the most awful hole in Melissa’s life: the mistaken belief that her own mother had not wanted her.
It is easy to see the holes that would exist in so many lives today if Melissa Ohden had not lived.
But what about the millions of babies who did not live? How many “awful holes,” in how many lives, exist today because the Melissa Ohdens who would have filled them were killed by abortion?
To the mind-numbing tragedy of more than 60 million innocent lives lost, add those countless millions of empty, wounded lives. That gives some idea of the true depth of pain and suffering that America’s abortion carnage has wrought.