Part of a series marking the tenth anniversary of the Leaven for the Loaf blog.
My first post about Melissa Ohden, back in 2016, included a video of her testimony to Congress about surviving the attempted abortion that was meant to kill her. After informing members of Congress about the number of documented abortions occurring annually, she went on to say “I was meant to be one of them. I should have been just another statistic.”
Melissa’s advocacy for abortion survivors had started years before. In 2012, she founded the Abortion Survivors Network. The Network is thriving, having brought together hundreds of people who have survived attempts to abort them. They are “more than a choice,” as ASN’s tagline proclaims.
Melissa was kind enough to reply recently when I asked her for an update on her work. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team at The Abortion Survivors Network, five of whom are also abortion survivors. We are fast approaching being connected with 600 Abortion survivors. We’re offering more supports and programs to not only survivors but family members, including the women who experienced failed abortions.”
What’s ahead for ASN, and how you can help
What’s ahead for ASN? “We’re currently growing so rapidly that in the next five years, I foresee that we’ll be offering multiple retreats a year, including for families. We’re starting right now to research and implement the best practices of healing and community support for survivors who have also had abortions, themselves, and what care is most supportive to children and teenagers. Contributing what we learn to journals and the pro-life healing community is all part of what we’ll continue to do.”
In New Hampshire, efforts have thus far fallen short to pass “born-alive” legislation to protect children surviving attempted abortion. Other states have seen more success. What has worked, where born-alive laws are enacted? “We’ve continued to see that sharing the stories of survivors, coupled with data about the incidence of born alive survivors is impactful. Just because there are Abortion survivors doesn’t mean born alive legislation isn’t needed (policymakers and the abortion industry attempt to paint that picture).”
What can a person do to support ASN and the survivors it represents? “The average person can educate themselves about born alive survivors (our websites are great resources), learn our stories, and educate policymakers and people around them about this. Most people really have no idea this happens and the frequency to which it does.”
A Congressional committee or subcommittee held a hearing this week on something called “Threats to Reproductive Rights.” Melissa Ohden was there to provide some perspective, clarity, and honest language, which is hard to come by when the day’s theme includes the words “reproductive rights.”
You see, Melissa survived an attempt to abort her. “All of these people here today had a privilege that I was not given. And that is simply: the right to be born…”
(If the video above is not displaying, look for it on the Facebook page for the Susan B. Anthony List under “videos.”)
I’ve written about her before in this blog’s “Voices to Trust” series. She continues to write and speak about her experiences, and to bring together other abortion survivors who want to tell their stories.
Her book You Carried Me is good to read and good to share. Maybe your local library, or your Member of Congress, could use a copy.
Second in a series of reports from the 2018 Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Part one is here.
My first look at the long list of speakers for the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference (PLWC) told me that there weren’t enough hours on the clock for me to be able to hear all of them. And then at the very first gathering – a Friday night dinner – the organizers threw an unscheduled speaker into the already-full program. I had never heard of her.
I thought Really? Sticking someone right after Serrin Foster? That’s just unkind. The longtime leader of Feminists for Life had keynoted the gathering with a challenging talk. She’s a tough act to follow.
I needn’t have been concerned. Savannah Marten could take care of herself.
Revolutionizing the Conversation
Conference emcee Abby Johnson introduced Marten, who’s the director of The Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo (Ohio). “She is someone who is willing to build bridges. What Savannah has done has absolutely revolutionized the conversation about what it means to be pro-life.”
What she’s done is push past her comfort zone, into working relationships with unconventional allies. That theme was to come up again and again during the conference.
Savannah said that three days into her job as The Pregnancy Center’s director, she was asked by a community leader what the Center was doing about infant mortality. “I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I was mortified that I had been in the pro-life community for seven years and hadn’t heard one person talking about infant mortality.”
I later looked up figures from the Centers for Disease Control: in 2016, New Hampshire’s infant mortality rate was 3.7 (deaths per 1,000 live births). Nationwide, the rate was 5.9. In Savannah’s state, Ohio, the rate was 7.4. “In my state, the state of Ohio, we are 49th out of 50 for African-American babies dying before their first birthday.
“The pro-life community should be number one in the community showing up for this topic. My life motto is…’what table do I need to be at to be able to use my voice of influence?’ We find the tables we need to be sitting at in order to effectively advance this cause. Where tables do not exist, we build them, and we invite our community to those tables.”
This is when I started taking notes. I knew I was about to hear a story worth sharing.
“I knocked on every door”
She began to educate herself by reaching out to people already working with at-risk women. “I knocked on every door I possibly could in my community. I said ‘I’m not here to talk about abortion. I’m not here to talk about politics. I’m not here to talk to you about anything other than why black babies are not making it to their first birthdays in our community.’ And they invited me to the table.
“These are people who have even stood outside of my pregnancy center with signs in protest. Now all of a sudden they’re welcoming me to the table.”
Faith leaders with whom Savannah had never spoken before were critical to the conversation. “We began to interact with the African-American faith community. Our center had existed for 32 years, and not one predominantly African-American church had any sort of partnership [with us]. I simply said ‘walk me through your neighborhood and talk to me about what is going on in your neighborhood. Talk to me about the babies.’
“And suddenly they began to talk. They began to want to sit down and hear about what we were doing at the pregnancy center.” Over time, mutual trust and respect developed.
Working with a hospital
Savannah’s next step was to approach the major hospital in her area, on behalf of her pregnancy center. “[Hospital representatives] learned that women come to my pregnancy center, at five or six weeks gestation, and they are the number one women at risk for infant mortality and low birth weight. [Later in pregnancy] this hospital cannot even get them to show up for their appointments. Most of them show up at the emergency room and deliver their children there. And we wonder why [children] are not making it to their first birthday.”
Meeting after meeting followed, progress coming by inches. Eventually, a breakthrough: “the largest hospital in northwest Ohio…gave us access to their scheduler.”
Now, “every woman who comes in [to The Pregnancy Center] for an ultrasound leaves our facility with an OB/GYN appointment scheduled for them. If they leave our center and they wait another six weeks to call [the hospital for an appointment], they’re not going to get in.
“We cannot be satisfied with handing these women pamphlet after pamphlet, and referral after referral. Women who are in poverty, women who are in crisis, need more than referrals. They need a life raft. That’s what we’re committed to do.”
Anyone who has been involved in interagency collaborations knows that conflicts arise, some of them irreconcilable. Savannah was faced with one shortly after the scheduling breakthrough with the hospital. “The same week that this hospital gave us access to their scheduler, they signed a transfer agreement with our city’s last abortion facility. I was plagued with this question: do we back out from providing thousands of women health care, because a hospital didn’t make a church decision? Or do we live by our core principle that says we come to the table to effect change and influence those in our community?”
She made a decision that brought her criticism from some pro-life allies. I think her experience is instructive. “Among unpopular opinion, we chose to continue our partnership with this hospital. If the abortion facility is going to enter into a partnership and influence our hospital, then the pro-life community should be at that same table advocating [for] what women in our community need.”
And by the way, that hospital has just accepted Savannah Marten’s application for a board position.
“This is how we effect change. We go to the tables we’re not comfortable in, the tables we’re not invited to, the tables that cause us to think differently and look at things differently.”
“We need Esthers”
Savannah Marten is Christian, and she used a Biblical reference to challenge her listeners at the conference. “We need Esthers to arise. We need Esthers who will stand up and catch the ear of the men and women of influence in our community. But we haven’t done that. We hide in our little pro-life communities. There’s no excuse. There’s no reason for us to hide. Because I have been crucified with Christ, and no longer I who live but he who lives in me. You have nothing to be afraid of. We already have the victory. Be joyful. Stay hopeful. ”
(The PLWC is a non-sectarian gathering, but that doesn’t mean any speaker is bashful about expressing her beliefs.)
She spoke about a community leader, a big-time Democrat, whom she has come to know during her tenure at the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo. One day he said to her, “I am now proudly pro-life, because you’ve shown me what true pro-life looks like.”
Savannah Marten could have dismissed as a distraction that long-ago question about infant mortality. She could have discounted it because it came from someone not supportive of her Center’s work. Instead, she had enough humility to acknowledge that she had something to learn. She had the guts to walk up to people she didn’t know and say “please show me around.” She had the patience to work to gain trust from hospital representatives.
And now, she wants to see more of us going out and finding, or building, those tables where conversations can take place.
As the “women’s marches” are winding down, I’m glad to hear from some pro-life women that their experience at the Washington March has been peaceful.
Abby Johnson, expecting twins and having contractions at the march, describes the excitement and encouragement of her fellow marchers – including those who, without apparent irony, support abortion.
Aimee Murphy of Life Matters Journal was interviewed by MSNBC. Aimee, like me, is a Trump skeptic. Possibly a very different political outlook from yours, but pro-life for sure.
Remembering some Voices to Trust
While pro-life women are peacefully nudging their way into the spotlight this weekend, this is a good time to look back on this blog’s Voices to Trust series. The women profiled in the series have stories of their own, the likes of which are not being featured in most coverage of today’s marches.
“9 Days for Life” kicks off today
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a 9 Days for Life project, based on the Catholic tradition of a novena, or nine-day prayer effort for a special intention. People of all faiths are welcome to join. Read more about the project and get some good ideas for social media work over the next nine days.
If you’re a Facebook regular, I recommend adding something to your feed if it’s not there already. Go “like” AbbyJohnson: ProWoman, ProChild, ProLife. As you probably know, Abby works with people who choose to leave the abortion industry and seek help making the transition to what is pretty much a new life.
This morning’s post struck me, particularly how it ended. Abby describes a former abortion worker’s first public speaking event since her departure from her former employer. Abby wrote,
“I have to tell you that it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. I know this may not be something you think about, but leaving the abortion industry is very lonely. When you work in the industry, all of your friends works [sic] in the industry, too. So when you leave, you leave all of your friends behind…the only support system you have. You feel very isolated.”
Read the Facebook post in full. It can be tough to envision the kind of outcome Abby describes when I encounter an abortion provider or other worker who promotes abortion – but just such an outcome is possible, even in a state like ours with an abortion-friendly culture. “Love wins, over and over.”