Monday, November 2, 2015

Gianna Jessen: Teen Abortion Survivor

In the wake of the Planned Parenthood expose videos, I've been doing a lot of research on abortion. I've consulted both pro life and pro choice sources, not because I think it's important to balance out opinions, but so I can get all the facts. Pro life sources tell me the stories pro choicers won't. But pro lifers focus on the morality of the issue and I need to know the medical details. So I consulted Planned Parenthood, health sites, and testimonies of maternal abortion survivors for that.

I also discovered another kind of abortion survivor and read her biography. Gianna Jessen's birth mother, Tina, became pregnant at seventeen. She knew about the pregnancy early on and planned on carrying her full term. But at an appointment with Planned Parenthood, Tina was told she shouldn't try to raise a baby while living her mother, who was on welfare, and she didn't have the means to support herself. This was seven and a half months into her pregnancy. For perspective, I was born at eight. Her local Planned Parenthood wouldn't perform an abortion that late in the game, so they referred her to a clinic that could.
It has a haphazard, chop shop kind of place. After injecting a saline solution into Tina's womb, which was intended to choke and burn Gianna, the doctor went home. The nurse on duty fell asleep at her desk. When Tina came to fetch her after her water broke, she said "Okay" and put her head back on her pillow. So on April 5, 1977, Tina delivered her child alone.
Gianna during a recent congressional heading and an image of a saline birth used as a visual aide

Gianna's body should've been charred and mottled by the saline at this point. But by some miracle, she not only lived, but did so with minimal scarring. She does have cerebral palsy as a result of the solution cutting off oxygen to her brain. But it's less severe than many cases. After intense physical therapy and several surgeries, Gianna can walk unaided and played softball in her early teens. She stopped because at age fourteen, she began traveling the country, speaking and singing at benefit dinners, rallies, and debates.
Gianna performing at a Right to Life rally at age sixteen
At first she preached to the choir. What prolife organization wouldn't want a living, breathing witness standing in front of them? But before a year passed she accepted calls to speak on panels where she stood alone. She endured ridicule, booing, bullying, media skepticism, and was arrested multiple times for peacefully protesting at clinics around the country. As a teenager she was accused of being her adoptive mother's prop, although she usually spoke and performed alone, and her mother was accused of exploiting her for the prolife cause. In fact, Diana DePaul traveled around giving prolife talks before she ever adopted Gianna, and her daughter didn't know her birth story until age twelve. Diana's own activism gave her an idea of what Gianna might face some day. She encouraged her to adopt her stage name (Jessen) in middle school to keep her personal separate and avoid harassment. It hasn't worked, I follow her on twitter and see her fending off people who wish her dead daily. I've received such a retort myself when I sent an ill-worded tweet that made it sound like I didn't think she had a right to live.
I do. I've known for a while that babies have survived abortions. At fourteen I heard the story of Ana Rosa  Rodriguez, who made it out of the womb mostly intact, in casual conversations with a girl who'd recently graduated high school.

When I began researching abortion, I kept running into stories about Ana, Gianna, and a handful of other prominent survivors. I saw the same names so often I thought they were the only ones in existence. But after reading Gianna's story, I learned there's an Abortion Survivors Network that serves an estimated 44,000 former aborted babies living in the United States. A tiny handful, like Gianna, have made abortion their crusade and travel the world sharing their stories. Most are hair stylists and lawyers and homemakers and teachers quietly living their lives.
Many have disabilities and medical issues caused by the abortions. And many do not. A good number of survivors are twins. If you want to survive an abortion, it helps to have a brother or sister sitting in front of you.
Abortions done as late as Gianna's are generally frowned upon. I've only found one clinic in the country that advertises procedures past twenty six weeks. But under Roe v Wade, states can't forbid a woman from an abortion at any point in her pregnancy if she decides it's problematic to her health. So what's health? According to Doe v Bolton, a Supreme Court companion case decided the same day as Roe, health includes "all factors-physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age."
If I found myself pregnant several months from now, I could justify an abortion just because I'm unmarried and think I'm young. No actual health problems required.
I've been blogging about ageism since eighth grade, almost five years now. In all that time, I can't think of a single topic I've covered that showcases more blatant prejudice and discrimination. Abortion is the ultimate example of ageism. At no other time in an American citizen's life can the fourteenth amendment consider you a nonperson. At no other time will your age matter so much that the laws dice it down to weeks. At no other time is your status as a minor such a strike against you.
I can understand the pro choice mindset. I'm not entirely sure when a lost pregnancy is the death of a soul. But even if you don't believe life begins until some certain moment, you can't deny that Gianna is alive and human today. You can't deny that she wouldn't have been so if the saline succeeded. Isn't abortion murder because it cuts off a life that would and could have been?
There are more abortion survivors living today than we care to admit. But not all them get the chance to live. ANS founder Melissa Ohden, who testified with Gianna before the House of Representatives, spoke on how she could've been drowned in a bucket of formaldehyde. But she didn't. And no matter how inconvenient her existence may be to pro choicers, she's here today.

Gianna: Aborted, And Lived to Tell About It, was first published in 1995, and she was seventeen at the time it was written. Beyond a few chapters dealing with her birth and adoption, it's entirely focused on her activism as a teenager. I was the same age as Gianna when I started caring about world issues in general and ageism in particular. But while I simply turned to blogging she became an activist. I'm glad that the world has teenagers strong, determined, and passionate enough to make a difference in the world.
Especially when they're fighting for fellow children. 

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