Melissa Ohden is a survivor. She was born at 31 weeks of gestation, weighing just 2 pounds and 14 ounces. Because of severe respiratory and liver problems accompanied by seizures, her doctors were unsure whether she would survive. But she did survive.
Day by day her tiny body healed and grew. Perinatal technology in 1977 was primitive in comparison with today’s medicine. Her survival is not, primarily, the result of medical care. It is, rather, the result of doctors that protected her and gave her the chance to live.
At her most vulnerable moment, while she was newly born and crying for life, her mother, Ruth, was drugged and prevented from protecting her. Her grandmother had been desperately trying to kill her for the past five days. Only the doctors stood between Melissa and death. They recognized a fellow human being. She was horribly injured and fighting for her life. But it was her life and no one else’s.
Ruth was a 19-year-old student at the University of South Dakota. She and Melissa’s father wanted to marry but her parents forbade it. They insisted, instead, that she have an abortion. This was the last thing she wanted to do, but her parents made it clear that it was not her choice to make.
They believed the lie that abortion would make her life better. There has never been anything close to a clinical study that proves any medical or mental health benefits from abortion. But they forced her to the clinic anyway.
Once at the clinic, Ruth was told another lie. The abortionist told her that Melissa was only nineteen weeks gestation. Caustic saline solution was injected into her mother’s abdomen with the promise that the abortion would be completed in three days. Five days later Melissa was born.
Drugged and dazed, Ruth was never told that her baby was born alive. She was quickly separated from her daughter and taken home — never to return to the University.
Only the doctors were there to protect Melissa. Thankfully, they did. She has grown into a poised and strong woman. With a husband and children of her own, she was able to find Ruth and heal wounds that went far deeper than the skin. Today they enjoy a loving relationship that enriches both their lives and the lives of many in the extended family.
On Superbowl Sunday, Melissa appeared in a commercial that was slated to reach 99.9 million viewers. Her gaze looks straight at you while she asks, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me that my very survival was a mistake?” She is joined by others — many others.
They ask, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me that I shouldn’t exist? … that I should be dead? … that I deserved to die that day? … that I am subhuman? … worthless?” Nearly five hundred faces appear. Theabortionsurvivors.com estimates that there are 44,000 others in the United States alone. Each is a valuable member of the human family. Each has a story to tell.
But Fox refused to broadcast the ad. People who only want to be seen and acknowledged were denied two minutes of airtime. Instead, the commercial was shared on social media. Once more their voices were silenced, their lives devalued. When will it end?
How old does a person have to be before our society deems her fully human and worthy of sympathy, compassion and protection? That is the question before us today.
This is not a question of abortion. Whatever position you hold on the issue, that has nothing to do with a person who is living and breathing and totally independent of her mother. As Melissa’s story demonstrates, her survival did not affect the mother in the slightest — she didn’t even know her daughter existed until years later.
Melissa’s survival did, however, affect our entire world. She brought joy to her adoptive parents, love to her husband, life to her children and enlightenment to millions of people whom she has touched along the way. The same is true of every single person who ever lived. Each is a gift to the world.
That’s why we owe them the full protection of law. Every child born — whether premature, or full-term, whether injured before birth, or whole — should be given the same medical concern regardless of what happened before birth. Our own humanity is at stake. Even those who claim a so-called “right to an abortion” surely can agree that every human being has this basic human right.
Sadly, we live in a time when politics has become so radicalized that some are returning to the barbaric practices of ancient Rome. There, born-alive children were left to die at the whim of their fathers.
Last year, Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, explained how a doctor might “have a conversation” and decide to leave a newborn to die. That was not a slip of the tongue. He still holds to that position. States like New York and Illinois have stripped long-standing legal protections for newborn children out of state law.
Mayor Peter Buttigieg, the recent winner of Iowa’s caucuses was asked, point blank, to reject this position. Both times he declined. Even in Wyoming, we recently heard a reporter from the Casper Star Tribune criticize Representative Cheney for “going so far as” to say, “you cannot be for the people if you cannot protect the babies.”
This he cited as evidence that Cheney is “against abortion.” For the record, it is a statement against infanticide. There is a world of difference between the two. Cheney made this statement about a federal bill to ensure that children, like Melissa Ohden, would receive the same medical care as any other child born at 31 weeks.
Clearly, it is time for the Wyoming legislature to act. Current Wyoming Statute 35-6-102 clumsily but clearly states that a failed abortion should not affect the value of the born child. However, the only protection it stipulates is that the abortionist “shall not intentionally terminate” the infant that is born alive.
While the intent of the law is clear, its language is unacceptably weak. It allows newborn infants to die from exposure and neglect. Had Melissa been born in a Wyoming hospital, the law would not have protected her life.
Legislators who are serious about upholding the Constitution’s guarantees of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” should act to strengthen Wyoming law. Our resolve to protect a fellow citizen is only as strong as the actual laws that we pass.
We must not kick this can down the road. Current events prove that the weak language of Wyoming law is no small oversight. It is an existential threat to our valued fellow citizens.
Today, I learned that Sen. Cheri Steinmetz will introduce a bill to clarify our commitment to every born citizen. In order for this bill to be considered, it needs twenty senators to vote for its introduction. If you agree that every person born in Wyoming is a gift to Wyoming, ask your senator to protect her in law.
Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.