The first in a series of new pro-life videos aimed at college students features a young, dark-haired woman addressing an audience at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “My name is Melissa Ohden,” she says in the video titled “Face the Choice.” “I stand before you today the product of an unsuccessful abortion attempt.”
Ohden’s eight-minute video is one of seven produced by Feminists for Life, a nonsectarian, nonpartisan grassroots organization that is dedicated to eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion, primarily a lack of practical resources and support.
The videos will be released throughout the school year.
“Women deserve better than abortion, and these videos clearly show that we can refuse to choose, and we can say No to the status quo,” said Feminists for Life president Serrin Foster.
The first installment was released in October on the Feminists for Life website and on YouTube. It relies largely on person-to-person distribution, a “ground fire word of mouth,” said Foster. Other methods include sending the e-mailed link to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for distribution to dioceses.
In her video, Ohden says, “I truly feel that if my mother as an undergraduate student would have felt that there were more supports and more options available to her … that she would not have made that fateful decision to end my life.”
Pregnant college students often have no maternity insurance, no day care and no housing solutions, which magnify the difficulty of their situation. Feminists for Life partners with students, faculty and administrators to address these and other issues by providing lectures and resources and hosting pregnancy-resource forums. “We promote birth mother-friendly policies,” said Foster.
Ten percent of all college-age women become pregnant each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, formerly the research arm of Planned Parenthood. National statistics show that the same age group has the highest number of abortions.
Even on Catholic campuses, the numbers are not much different, said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which works to renew and strengthen Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles shows that support for abortion actually grows among Catholic college students over their four years on campus.
“As much as abortion has been a major political issue and certainly is a common topic of conversation for Catholic students, the sad fact is that very few Catholic students are truly familiar with the horrors of abortion,” said Reilly, naming partial-birth abortion and unsuccessful abortion attempts as examples of the infrequently-discussed aspects of abortion. “Young people need to hear these firsthand accounts.”
The speaker in the upcoming January video is a former abortion supporter who converted to the pro-life fight after her own abortion. Karen Shablin, a health policy expert and former state Medicaid agency head, told her story to more than 80 students in October at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
Junior Beth Walsh is president of the pro-life student group that invited Shablin. “Feminists for Life opens up the dialogue between both sides of the abortion issue,” she said. “It’s a very powerful idea that they want to unite everyone, to find common ground — that we all want to help women.”
Attendees at a Students for Life of America conference held at Catholic University were the first to hear all seven Feminists for Life stories at once.
In addition to the stories of Ohden and Shablin, the other five videos include women who chose to deliver their babies and continued their college careers, as well as women whose own mothers faced the same challenge. They are:
• a woman who was raped, but chose not to abort, and who now works with women involved in sex-trafficking,
• a pregnant college sophomore who was deserted by her boyfriend, but who delivered her baby and graduated on time with honors,
• a birth mother who made an empowering choice for herself and her child, despite a lack of support from those she counted on the most,
• a former Feminists for Life intern who became pregnant during her senior year and experienced firsthand the pressures and struggles of an unintended pregnancy during college. She graduated on time with a degree in nursing shortly before delivering her daughter.
The final story is of a woman whose mother, like Ohden’s, faced the pressure of abortion. She was urged by her doctor and family to abort, but risked her life to save her baby. The little girl was born healthy and now works daily with pregnant women, particularly college students, in crisis situations.
“What’s important about these people,” said Foster, “is that in their own personal lives they have these amazing professional jobs where they’re serving others.”
Ohden’s story is of surviving her mother’s abortion attempt. When she was five months pregnant, her 19-year-old mother chose to abort. Doctors injected a saline solution, and over five days “numerous rounds of pitocin were delivered to my mother to induce labor and dispel my dead body.”
But Ohden’s mother delivered her daughter alive at 2 pounds 14 ounces, jaundiced, and in respiratory distress. Doctors warned of potential emotional and physical disabilities.
“Despite these ominous forebodings regarding my future, I was wanted,” said Ohden. She was adopted, and the doctors’ predictions were unfulfilled.
“I’ve spent many years of my life being ashamed and guilty about the abortion attempt that my biological mother underwent. I’ve also struggled with very strong feelings of guilt for being emotionally, physically, and mentally able,” she says in the video. “I as well as you know that every year millions of babies are not as lucky as I was.”
Caitlin Devine, a junior at Georgetown University and president of her school’s pro-life group, called the Ohden video inspiring.
“So much of the time, the baby’s existence, comfort and future are ignored in the midst of arguments over legal matters,” she said. “The most powerful part to me was when she said that her mother deserved better than abortion and so did she. We are really as a society failing women if abortion is the answer. We can do better, and America can do better.”
Ohden’s story has a happy ending. She graduated from college and obtained a master’s degree in social work. She has provided counseling to abused children, helped adolescents recover from substance-abuse disorders and mental-health issues, and counseled women who have survived domestic violence and sexual assaults.
And in a twist that brings her story full circle, this spring she gave birth to her first child, a girl, in the same town, in the same hospital, in the same maternity ward where her own mother attempted to end her life 30 years before.
Dana Lorelle is based in Cary, North Carolina.
The “Face the Choice” video featuring Melissa Ohden is available at FeministsforLife.org.
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