How Will You Answer?

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About Melissa Ohden

Melissa Ohden was born on August 29, 1977.  Medical records of her delivery at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Sioux City, Iowa, indicate that she was admitted to intensive care on that date after “Saline infusion for an abortion was done but was unsuccessful” on August 24, 1977 and a pitocin drip was started on August 27 to induce delivery. 

She was erroneously estimated by medical personnel at the time of the abortion to be about 18 weeks’ gestation, when in fact she was closer to six or seven months’ gestation. The medical staff, prompted by a nurse who heard Melissa's cries and observed her moving after the abortion, did not expect her to live due to respiratory distress and other complications.

Melissa, nonetheless, survived and was adopted.  She learned from her adoptive mother at age 14 about the circumstances of her birth and sought to retrieve her medical records, which are available along with other information on her website.  She revealed her biography publicly two years ago and has spoken to groups around the country about the value of human life.  She and her husband Ryan have a daughter, Olivia, and live in Sioux City.

 

Born Alive Legislation

The core question posed by cases like Melissa Ohden’s is whether or not a physician attempting an abortion is entitled to the death of the fetus whose life he is seeking to end, or whether a child who survives that attempt, at any gestational age given changing standards of viability, is entitled to the same legal protection as any other child born by natural means, whether prematurely or full term.  The question is one of legal presumption and the onset of obligation to provide treament that operate irrespective of the intentions of the abortionist.  In August 1981 the Philadelphia Inquirer published a “Sunday supplement” that addressed what it called the “dreaded complication” of abortion, that is, those instances where the unborn child who is the object of the abortion instead survives the procedure.

In that article, Willard Cates, M.D., then chief of the abortion surveillance branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, conjectured that some 500 children per year may survive an abortion attempt.

Whether that figure is valid today is influenced by many factors, and a conclusory statement is hindered by the abysmally incomplete nature of abortion reporting and the disincentives any abortionist would have to aggressively treat a child whose viability or survivability, given the conditions under which the child was delivered, was questionable.  Unborn children near or beyond viability have survived abortion by various methods, including saline injection, prostaglandin use, partial-birth techniques where dismemberment had not begun, and conceivably administration of digoxin.  The pool of unborn children delivered near the 21st week of pregnancy is not reported in week-by-week detail by the states, the CDC or the private Guttmacher Institute, but the number is clearly not negligible. 

According to 2011 data for a state that carefully and promptly reports data, Minnesota, of all abortions performed (11,071), six hundred and thirty, or 5.7 percent of the total, were performed at 16 weeks of pregnancy or after.  Sixty-nine, or just over six-tenth of one percent, of these 630 were reportedly performed at or after 21 weeks of gestation and 67 of these 69 were performed at an estimated gestational age between 21 and 24 weeks (between 19 and 22 weeks post-conception).  Note that Minnesota is not a late-term abortion epicenter the way other states like Maryland, which has no abortion reporting system, have become in recent years.  The state of California also has no such reporting system, which enabled the inventor of the partial-birth abortion method, Dr. James McMahon, to avoid ever reporting to any government agency, until he voluntary submitted documents to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in 1995.  The lack of reporting laws may play a part in why certain states become havens for late-term procedures. 

New York City (and not the state) also has a relatively strong and contemporaneous abortion reporting law.  In 2009, the most recent reported year, there were 87,273 induced abortions in New York.  Of these, 6,486, or 7.4 percent of the total, were performed after sixteen weeks of pregnancy, with 1,979 (2.3 percent of total abortions) of the 6,486 at 21 weeks or later of gestational age (19 weeks post-conception).  New York City acknowledges that it does not have gestational age for 1,038 abortions in 2009.  These figures roughly accord with the CDC statistic for 2008, the most recent year available, showing that 1.3 percent of U.S. abortions that year were performed at or after 21 weeks (that is, at or after 19 weeks post-conception), a figure close to the midrange between Minnesota and New York City one to three years later.  Overall, this midrange percentage would yield a national estimate of 15,600 abortions at or beyond 21 weeks’ gestation (19 weeks’ post-conception).  Viability increases with fetal age but survival of children born at 21 weeks post-conception has occurred.   The Mayo Clinic website cites 23 weeks’ gestation, or 21 weeks after conception as the stage at which some premature children may survive with intensive care. Other reports of survival of early prematurity are here.

The federal Born-Alive Infant Protection Act was signed into law on August 5, 2002, by President George W. Bush.  The law defines “person,” “human being,” “child,” and “Individual” to include “every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”  This measure was adopted by the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent on July 18, 2002 and by the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote under suspension of the rules on March 12, 2002.  The full story of the passage of BAIPA is told in Professor Hadley Arkes’ book Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, 2002). 

In addition to the federal legislation, several dozen states have approved “born-alive infant protection” laws to ensure that the presumption of protection exists for these injured children may or may not survive the attempt to abort them.  In Illinois, the debate on various versions of this measure spanned the period from March 2001 to May 2005 and resulted in the initial defeat of efforts to provide additional assurance that any child born alive as a result of an induced labor abortion would receive the same medical treatment as a child intended to be delivered alive.   There were four key votes (Obama cast others as well) cast by Obama on versions of this bill in 2001 and 2002.

 

What Then-State Senator Barack Obama Said and Did

In 2001, State Senator Obama spoke against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, a bill to recognize any child who has achieved "the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother" and then shows signs of life (heartbeat, breathing, or "definite movement of voluntary muscles"), as a legal person.  Obama said that "whenever we define a previable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a -- a child, a nine-month-old -- child that was delivered to term."  In this speech, Obama neglected to mention -- but the text of the three-sentence bill made crystal clear -- that what he referred to as a "previable fetus" was in fact a human infant, all the way outside the mother and alive, although often with a lifespan to be measured only in hours due to extreme prematurity.  Obama did indeed make it quite clear that he did not regard these live-born humans as enjoying basic constitutional protections.

In 2002, State Senator Obama spoke against SB 1663, a bill to revive a measure of protection for viable babies during abortion.  (A 1975 Illinois law that was intended to provide some limitations on post-viability abortions had been eviscerated by a 1993 federal court order based on a consent decree.)  SB 1663 would have required the presence of a physician other than the abortionist in such cases, with certain exceptions, to care for a live-born child.  Obama argued that this would "burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform an abortion . . . [I]t’s important to understand that this issue ultimately is about abortion and not live births."  The audio track of Obama's remarks was posted by John McCormack in a post on The Weekly Standard blog, here).  Obama also indicated that he trusted the single doctor -- the abortionist -- to take care of any live-born infant.

This final version of the bill included language that was a “virtual clone,” in the words of NRLC, to the unanimously approved federal bill stating that it had no import for the legal scope of Roe v. Wade.  Despite this fact, and his later protestations to the contrary, Obama opposed the measures, appearing to value the outmost boundaries of Roe rather than protect the lives of babies like Melissa Ohden and the many others who have been documented to survive abortions at or near the point of viability.  More information on the names, dates, and details of individuals who survived attempted abortions and lived to tell their stories later on can be found at this web site.

Following is a listing of known cases, dates, method of abortion and citations for stories recounted at theabortionsurvivors.com and at general media web sites.

Additional Abortion Survivors

Those Who Lived to Adulthood

NameBirth Date  
Abortion Method
Amy CharltonApril 21, 1976Saline (3 times attempted)
Gianna Jessen
April 6, 1977Saline
Melissa OhdenAugust 29, 1977Saline
Heidi Huffman1978
Suction abortion; Ceasarean later
Ximena RenaertsDecember 16, 1985Unknown
Ana Rosa Rodriguez  October 1991 
D & E
Victoria G.March 7, 1992 
Unknown
Sarah BrownJuly 13, 1993Saline; intracranial injection (mentioned in Jessen Testimony, House Judiciary Committee, 4/22/96, Brown lived 5 years but ultimately succumbed to complications due to abortion.
Baby GraceAugust 4, 1999Partial-birth abortion

 

Babies Who Lived Awhile but May Have Survived with More Treatment

Shanice OsbournJuly 20, 2006Dilation procedure, unclear (evidence of air in lungs of baby deposited in medical wastebag)
Baby Hope
1999Partial Birth Abortion
Baby boyJuly 7, 1979 
Baby lived for 12 hours or more unattended and unwarmed, survived four days more when finally treated.
Baby
July 1974prostaglandin abortion
Baby boy 
1973
Hysterotomy; well-known case of Dr. Kenneth Edelin convicted of killing a viable baby; conviction overturned on improper jury instructions.

 

Additional Resources

The authoritative study of original documents in the debate over the born-alive measures in Illinois by the National Right to Life Committee, released on August 28, 2008.

Partial transcript, Barack Obama defends the idea that an abortionist should make sole determination of a child’s ability to live after surviving an abortion.

Column by Ross Douthat, New York Times, describing the President’s views on abortion.

Column by Rich Lowry, National Review Online, on Barack Obama's record on abortion.