Melissa Ohden is in certain ways unremarkable. She has a husband. She has two children. She goes to church. She has what appears to be a typical middle-American family life. What is remarkable is that she wasn’t supposed to have life at all. Ohden is one of many survivors of “botched” abortions — often euphemistically labeled “reproductive choice.” Welcome to the story of a grown-up “unviable tissue mass.”
Botched abortions are relatively common. Their existence is largely why Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted in 2013 of murder and manslaughter and now will spend the rest of his life in prison. Yet his occupying a new caged home is the result of technicalities: the location and age of his victims. Had he confined his dark surgical endeavors to cases of younger babies, inside the womb and not out of it, he wouldn’t today be labeled a serial killer. He’d be called a medical provider.
Ohden can be thankful she never crossed the path of Gosnell, a man who’d sever babies’ spines with scissors when they were born alive during “botched” abortions. It’s nonetheless a miracle that she survived what she did. The National Catholic Register related her story last year:
Beginning Aug. 24, 1977, for five consecutive days, medics in a hospital in Iowa tried to kill Melissa Ohden.
But she was not born yet. She was 31 weeks into gestation when a doctor drained the amniotic fluid from her mother’s uterus and replaced it with saline solution. Within 48 hours he calculated the caustic fluid would burn her skin, incinerate her lungs and eventually cause her heart to stop. Dead, her corpse would miscarry onto the delivery table and be trashed as an abortion statistic.
But the procedure failed. Still within her mother’s womb after two days, a Pitocin drip was introduced to induce labor, and Melissa was delivered five days later. Suffering acute respiratory distress and weighing a mere 2 pounds 14.5 ounces, she still managed “a spontaneous weak cry.” … Rather than abandoning her to die, a compassionate nurse nearby rushed her to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she was treated for severe medical complications. Two months later, she was welcomed into the loving arms of her adoptive parents and carried back to their home in Iowa.
While compassionate nurses still are common, not all “unviable tissue masses” are as lucky as Ohden. Just consider a heartrending story told by Caren Ní hAllacháin, an ex-nurse whose testimony appears at the SAVE the 8th website, which was devoted to the failed attempt to prevent the legalization of abortion in Ireland. As SAVE the 8th relates, quoting Ní hAllacháin:
“I was an agency nurse in Sydney Australia in the early 90s and I was on a ward one night when a woman had come in for an abortion. She was 22 weeks pregnant and had been told her baby had a chromosomal abnormality. I went into the sluice room and I saw the baby, a 22 week old baby boy, in a kidney dish in at the sink where all the clinical waste was flushed. He was small but he was perfect. You could see his toes, his hands, he seemed like he had blond hair. He was the full size of the kidney dish and he was alive. I could see the rise and fall of his chest, he was breathing,” she said.
“I was a young nurse and I did not know what to do. Because this was an abortion I wasn’t allowed to intervene, I couldn’t get help for the baby, I couldn’t hold him or comfort him, or get oxygen for him or ask anyone to help him live. To see that baby trying to breathe, and nobody helping him, was so distressing and it will haunt me for the rest of my life,” said Ms Ní hAllacháin.… “I never want any nurse to see the heart-breaking reality that I saw.”
The heartbreaking reality she saw was that it is kids killed by abortion, not just clumps of cells, a truth that even legislators admit to — sort of.
Just consider how someone who kills a pregnant woman can be charged with double homicide. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) tells us that, currently, “at least 38 states have fetal homicide laws.” There is also the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, federal legislation recognizing “that when a criminal attacks a pregnant woman, and injures or kills both her and her unborn child, he has claimed two human victims,” explains the National Right to Life Committee.
The aforementioned legislation reflects the assumption that at issue here isn’t just the “woman’s body” — as “pro-choice” activists claim — but a body within her body. You can’t have two homicides without two victims.
Now consider the schizophrenic law in Pennsylvania, where Gosnell plied his dark trade. As the NCSL informs, Pennsylvania statutes “define crimes against an unborn child, including criminal homicide, murder, voluntary manslaughter, and aggravated assault of an unborn child. Unborn child is defined … to mean an individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth.” So how is abortion legal in Pennsylvania? Do a medical degree and proper instruments somehow alter a child’s humanness?
Then there’s New Hampshire law, which dictates that a “fetus” can be a victim of crime after 20 weeks of gestation. Yet reports the NCSL, “This does not apply to ‘any act committed by the pregnant woman’ or ‘at the request or direction of the pregnant woman or for the benefit of the pregnant woman,’ nor does it apply to actions by a medical professional in the course of ... professional duties.’” So a layman killing a 20-week-old baby is murder, but a doctor killing one, at the mother’s request, is medicine?
Then, too, a father who doesn’t want a child cannot harm it in the womb without penalty, but a mother can. Case in point: 45-year-old Wisconsinite Manishkumar Patel was sentenced in October to 22 years in prison for putting an abortion-inducing drug in his girlfriend’s drink.
So what’s the logic? You can kill a child, who then somehow is not a child, if he’s in the right (wrong?) place at the right (wrong?) time, if you’re a professional doing it professionally, if you’re a mother and not a father. The baby is human until the mother within the context of the law of the particular state says he’s not, at which point he becomes an “it” and just a clump of cells, which, just may happen to look exactly like a baby breathing in a kidney dish. It’s dizzying.
Of course, dishonesty is inherent in this debate. Abortion’s proponents used to argue that there was a question as to when life begins; they also muddied the waters with talk of when the “clump of cells” becomes human. The first point — the life/non-life argument — isn’t even remotely serious. Even bacteria are correctly recognized as living organisms, never mind an embryo, to use popular terminology. As for “becoming human,” how is it that an intrauterine entity is not a child one day, but at a certain second of a certain day of a certain week, it magically becomes one, and that day is not the day of conception?
How does this humanizing transformation take place?
This is never explained because actually examining the matter risks revealing the truth. This is that abortion law and many of the attitudes shaping it reflect rationalization, a desire to fool ourselves about what we’re actually doing. Philosopher G.K. Chesterton might have been alluding to this when writing in 1932, “Let all the babies be born. Then let us drown those we do not like.”
Not only is it pretty hard to dislike a newborn, but this practice would also be braver and more honest. The ancient Spartans embraced it, mind you, killing babies deemed unworthy. In contrast, we want our murder clean and unseen, antiseptic and out of the way. It reminds me of an old Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon,” in which war had been made routine and was conducted via computer simulation. There’d be no bombs, bullets, explosions, rent flesh, or bloody scenes, just an attack on a city registered via bits and bytes; the affected people from that area would then obediently report to “disintegration booths,” where they’d be dispatched, quickly, with nary a trace left behind. The moral of the story was that removing the horror from the horrible perpetuates it.
It’s likewise with abortion. This partially explains efforts to ban the public display (by protesters) of images of its victims. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words” — in this case, of Truth — and it’s hard to rationalize away a dead body.
But as we gradually numb our consciences and descend further into the culture of death, some have even advocated killing children after birth. Just consider that, as I reported in January, a “University of Knoxville student recently said it was okay to kill young children who can’t communicate. He’s not alone, either. Two ‘philosophers’ justified ‘after-birth abortion’ in 2012. The next year students at George Mason University signed a petition to legalize the practice.”
Though eyebrow-raising, there is a perverse consistency to this. Think back to my question about what month, week, day, hour, minute, and second after conception the entity within the womb could suddenly become human. Well, it works the other way, too. Upon accepting that a child can be killed one second of one minute of one hour of one day of one week, why not the next second? And the next? Follow it out, and eventually you drop the pretense and start murdering grown people you deem inconvenient or “useless eaters” (à la Joseph Stalin or Hitler). It’ll just be an extreme late-term abortion, you see — maybe in the 117th trimester. Forbidding late-term killing is not principle but preference. It’s not a reasoned position but an arbitrary emotional one.
Likewise, there is nothing about unborn status, being on the wrong side of the birth canal, that renders a baby more kill-worthy. All it does is make the act more palatable emotionally, with the child being to an extent out of sight, out of mind. But as Dr. Seuss put it, “A person’s a person, no matter how small” — and no matter how unseen. And if we can kill a small one, we can kill a larger one, too.
Apropos to this, note that a tiny British baby, the weight of a can of Coke and smaller than his father’s hand, was delivered via emergency C-section March 15 after 26 weeks, five days gestation. The boy had stopped growing at 19 weeks, and doctors gave him little chance; in fact, they offered the parents, Jay Taylor and his wife, Katie, a “termination.” But the couple chose life and the boy fought for it, and he recovered. Little Theo Taylor is now known as Britain’s smallest surviving baby boy and is home — and the doctors now expect no further complications.
But many babies larger — much larger — than Theo have not been so fortunate. Just consider the case of “Dr.” Douglas Karpen, who runs three Texas prenatal-infanticide centers. In 2012, four women came forward to report how Karpen regularly engages in illegal and barbaric practices. Three of the women appear in an interview, posted on YouTube by pro-life organization Life Dynamics, Inc., in which they relate their experiences working at Karpen’s Aaron Women’s Center in Houston. The heart-wrenching video is entitled “Abortion Clinic Employees — ‘Babies born alive daily,’” and what follows are parts of their testimonials. I’m relating much of what they said verbatim (including stammering, etc.) because it best conveys their words’ emotion.
Reporting that babies would be born alive and then murdered “every morning,” former Aaron Clinic worker Deborah Edge said, “If we had … 20-something patients, of course, maybe 10 or 12 or 13 or 15 patients would be ‘large procedures.’ And out of those large procedures, I’m pretty sure I was seeing at least three to four fetus[es] that were completely delivered in some way or another.” She stated that Karpen (though neither he nor the clinic are identified in the video) committed these murders by snipping the spinal cord, jamming a dilator into the head’s soft spot, or, said Edge, “actually twisting the head off the neck, kind of with his own bare hands.” A colleague of hers, Krystal Rodriguez, chimed in and mentioned that the doctor would also sometimes force an instrument up through the stomach and then twist it. The third woman, Gigi Aguilar, recalled an incident where Karpen believed a baby was dead. But they learned that the abortion was “botched” because the child opened his eyes and grabbed the doctor’s finger. Unmoved, Karpen killed the baby, anyway.
More gruesome still, Edge mentioned that some babies were so large that they’d have to be torn from the womb “piece by piece.” “I’m talking about the whole floor dirty,” she said. “I’m talking about me drenched in blood.”
Also stating that Karpen “would do abortions way over 24 weeks,” Edge’s most wrenching testimony concerned the fate of breech babies. She said (her recounting of this was truly jarring), “Their toes would be moving; you could see the fetus’ toes moving.” Then Karpen would insert large forceps to yank the baby out and, Edge continued:
I remember — I-I-I have a visual, all the time I always remember this; it’s very disturbing to me.… He would hold the fetus by the feet and kinda’ pull down and insert the, the claws; and when he would squeeze them, you can see that, that baby’s toes spread open [reacting to the pain]. And I would always say “Oh, my goodness”; you know, and people say that these, that they don’t “feel.” Well, if they didn’t feel, why would their toes, you know, you know, their toes would be out hanging, kinda’ like in a “What’s goin’ on?” you know, you know, “Wh-where am I going?” And I remember [she said sighing], I remember clearly, every time he u-used that, that, that instrument, I remember those little toes [as she splayed out her hands], you know, opening wide. It was, it was a sad picture. I normally would turn around, kinda’ just hold and, you know, just turn around till he was finished.
And according to Edge, Karpen’s malpractice also extended to butchering grown women. As she put it:
There’s a lot of things. I mean, from … these botched abortions that he was doing, to hurting the patients on the table, to causing some kind of major problem with the woman’s — ripping a uterus and not letting the patients know; trying to stitch them back together and send[ing] them home with the package of gauze. And then they come back tomorrow so you can pull it out. But never telling the woman, “You know, hey, I ripped your cervix.… You need to get that looked at.” He would never tell the woman.… The women who go there have no idea what they’re getting themselves into.
While Karpen’s case was essentially swept under the rug during the Obama administration years, it was reported in May that he was under FBI investigation. Meanwhile, the Aaron Women’s Center is still open. Its very professional website boasts prominently on its homepage, “It’s all about you…”
Maybe this is true, too, in a way, reflecting a self-centered age in which the god of “Me” reigns. Abortion is supposed to be a “right,” a “reproductive choice” often made out of personal convenience. Then there’s the personal motivation called greed, which Edge and Rodriguez said motivates Karpen. Edge reported that killing a large baby would bring $4,000 to $5,000; Rodriguez chimed in, “As long as the patients had the cash, he was going to do it [the abortion] past the 25 weeks.”
One could also wonder, however, how many of these abortionists are homicidally inclined sociopaths (people without consciences), à la Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy. Note here that Gosnell would keep babies’ body parts in jars, like a serial killer collecting “trophies” from his victims.
Yet because such soulless souls are in the minority — and because the truth will out — abortion is, in a way, often a double homicide. For the mother tends to die, inside, with the child she kills. Just ask Brianna Sharbaugh, who has worked at crisis pregnancy centers for more than a decade and has counseled hundreds of post-abortive women. Reporting that the abortion often affects the rest of their lives, she wrote in 2015 at PJ Media of the case that had the greatest impact on her: that of her friend Maggie (not the woman’s real name).
After being coerced by her parents into abortion at age 14, Maggie’s “grades in school plummeted and she began pursuing destructive relationships,” wrote Sharbaugh. The girl got pregnant again at 16, and then ran away from home, fearing her mother would demand another abortion. Maggie eventually righted the ship somewhat, and six years later married a man who loved her and her son, and they had a daughter together.
Yet there was a persistent anger within. As Maggie “worked through counseling (over a decade after her abortion) she recognized that the anger was always directed toward her children,” wrote Sharbaugh. “She realized that every time she looked at her two living children, she was always thinking about the one child she never got to meet. She could not stop thinking about her third child, and the regret of her abortion was impacting her parenting decisions every day.”
So it was with “Laura” as well. Many years after she killed her unborn baby, she found herself married with three children but struggling with depression every December. “Laura could only think of the fourth child she wouldn’t be buying Christmas presents for,” related Sharbaugh. “Every holiday was as difficult as Christmas as she struggled with grief,” she continued. “Special anniversaries were a struggle as well, remembering what the spring air smelled like the day she had her abortion, knowing the day her child would have celebrated each birthday, kindergarten graduation — they all reminded her of the hole in her life ... the hole put in her life because of her decision to have an abortion.”
The Little Tell-tale Heart
At the spectrum’s other end are women confronted by reality “in time.” One is actress Tess Watley, who plays character Viola Brown in the new film about America’s most infamous abortionist, entitled Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. Watley explained in an interview that she has a deeply personal connection to the movie: In her younger days, she was actually at an abortion center on a table waiting for the “procedure.” Then a nurse did something she wasn’t supposed to do: She let Watley hear her baby’s heart.
The nurse then left the room for a spell. As Watley lay there for a few minutes, waiting, she started weeping. “I … decided it was something I couldn’t do,” she said in the interview. “I couldn’t kill my baby.” She then pleaded with women not to kill theirs. “My son has been so much joy to me.… When I look at him, I just can’t believe that I was going to kill somebody so precious that’s a whole generation of me,” Watley said about her now six-year-old boy, as she began breaking down in tears. “And I’m so thankful to that nurse for giving me the opportunity to change my mind and have my baby. And it’s been such a joy.… There’s days I just lay in bed and watch him sleep; I’m so happy to have him. So if you have that opportunity, don’t kill your baby.”
Then there’s, well, that seeing is believing. LifeNews.com reported in 2013 that up to 78 percent of women who view an ultrasound of their babies choose not to undergo an abortion. The site also quoted pro-life author Randy Alcorn, who recounted stories related to him by pregnancy center workers. One concerned a woman with child after a rape who was considering abortion. She said of her baby after seeing the ultrasound, LifeNews.com tells us:
She was blinking. She was just hanging out, looking around, sucking on her thumb.… It was so realistic, so lifelike. It looks like you can just reach right in there and pick up the baby.
I know they have a heartbeat at 4 to 6 weeks, but it still doesn’t feel as real to you until you see a human. It amazed me.
Thus does the abortion industry try to hide the truth. As LifeNews.com also informs, “Numerous former abortion providers have attested to this, including Dr. Joseph Randall, who was quoted saying: ‘They [the women] are never allowed to look at the ultrasound because we knew that if they so much as heard the heart beat, they wouldn’t want to have an abortion.’”
Of course. For what seeing an ultrasound or hearing a heartbeat does is present the stark humanity of dehumanized humans. Abortion-clinic workers will not refer to “the baby” but to “a clump of cells,” the “contents of the uterus,” “the pregnancy,” or the “products of conception” precisely because, whether genocide or some other horror, a prerequisite for treating people as subhuman is portraying them as such.
Then there’s the interesting parallel drawn by Michael Pakaluk, a philosophy professor at The Catholic University of America, in his essay “Questions for Pro-Choice People.” Asking, “Does the following seem to you a reasonable statement of the pro-choice view?” he wrote:
If each person will only agree to mind his own business, and leave his neighbors alone, there will be peace forever between us.... I am now speaking of rights under the constitution [sic], and not of moral or religious rights.... It is for women to decide ... the moral and religious right of the abortion question for themselves within their own limits.... I repeat that the principle is the right of each woman to decide this abortion question for herself, to have an abortion or not, as she chooses, and it does not become a pro-lifer, or anybody else, to tell her she has no conscience, that she is living in a state of iniquity.... We have enough objects of charity at home, and it is our duty to take care of our own poor, and our own suffering, before we go abroad to intermeddle with other people’s business.
Pakaluk then explains how he formulated the above argument, stating, “I arrived at that quotation by taking one of [antebellum politician] Stephen Douglas’s defenses of slavery, and substituting ‘abortion’ for ‘slavery’; ‘woman’ for ‘state’; and ‘a pro-lifer’ for ‘Mr. Lincoln.’” He then a little later asked “pro-choice” proponents, “Doesn’t the similarity between your defense of abortion, and Douglas’ defense of slavery, bother you in any way? Does it raise in your mind any suspicions at all that you might just be on the wrong side?”
It should — except that abortion advocacy is so often driven by the flesh, not philosophy. Chesterton predicted in 1926 that the “next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality.” The degradation is today all around us, and abortion advocacy is largely driven by a desire to avoid the consequences of sexual libertinism. As for the attack upon morality itself, consider that MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, Ph.D., actually said of prenatal infanticide on a 2013 edition of her erstwhile weekend show, “When does life begin? I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents — a powerful feeling, but not science.”
First note that it’s not the feelings of “parents” because the father has no say under law. Yet what of the notion that an objective reality such as when life begins is not objective but subject to “feelings”? At issue certainly is self-deification (“I will it, so it is so”) and the spoiled-brat mentality stating, like a child, this is the way it is “just because.” However, such irrational statements would be impossible had we not long ago embraced atheism and its correlative relativism — which has swept the West — and which makes, ultimately, everything relative to oneself. Were the world’s Perrys smarter, more intellectually honest, and perhaps even a bit more soulless, they’d take their thinking to its logical conclusion, drop the pretense, and simply embrace occultist Aleister Crowley’s maxim, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Virtually nobody accepts this, though, which is why most can be reached. One man apparently adept at doing so is founder and CEO of Living Waters evangelism-resource organization, Ray Comfort. In his video 180, he shows footage of WWII-era German citizens being marched through a Nazi death camp by Allied forces; going in and not knowing what awaited them, they were lighthearted.
Coming out, there were long faces and weeping.
Comfort says that people today should likewise go into abortion centers and see the reality of what they may be supporting (or, at least, take another walk through this essay). He also points out about the “woman’s choice” argument that killing people as Adolf Hitler did was his choice; it was “legal,” after all, and the victims were like many unborn babies in that they were deemed subhuman and inconvenient. Comfort then presents a sentence for those supporting prenatal infanticide to finish, one that has made people think and, he says, changed some minds. To wit: “It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when _________.” Can you fill in that blank?
If you can’t, tomorrow’s Melissa Ohdens will thank you. Speaking of which, Ohden has reconnected with one of the nurses who cared for her in the neonatal intensive care unit. In addition, she finally met her birth mother, who didn’t know she was alive and was wracked with guilt. Ohden also runs a non-profit organization, the Abortion Survivors Network, aside from tending to her greatest calling: helping her husband raise their two kids.
So because of her survival and actions, her children’s children and their children and all their descendants may, hopefully, live and breathe the culture of life till the end of time. My, it’s amazing what an unviable tissue mass can do.
What You Can Do
Readers are urged to either give this issue to pregnant girls or pro-abortion women or use it to frame a persuasive talk that can be given to others. As a reminder, there are many health centers that do low-cost or no-cost mother-child wellness checkups, provide ultrasounds for expectant mothers, and help to offset the costs of taking care of infants.
This article originally appeared in the November 5, 2018 print edition of The New American. The New American publishes a print magazine twice a month, covering issues such as politics, money, foreign policy, environment, culture, and technology. To subscribe, click here.