Our guests share their dramatic stories of surviving the attempts to end their lives while in their mother's womb, providing a stark and undeniable counter argument to pro-abortionists who argue that a fetus is not a living human being. (Part 1 of 2)
Claire Culwell: God had a plan, and He gave me my voice for a reason and my life for a reason, and for such a time as this, so that we can put a face and a name with the babies that are not only being aborted but are surviving abortion procedures like Melissa and I have.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Claire Culwell is the survivor of an abortion when her birth mom was only 13 years old. And today, you’ll hear the heartwarming story of how the two women reunited years later and God’s redeeming work in their lives. You’re also gonna hear a similar story from Melissa Ohden. She’s been here before, and she also is an abortion survivor. And of course, this, by its very nature, is a sensitive topic. So you’ll wanna keep that in mind and have young children occupied elsewhere. You’re listening to Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, it’s hard to truly comprehend all that is happening in our country or has happened with regard to abortion - the taking of innocent human life. Since Roe v. Wade, nearly 60 million children have been aborted in the United States. And I hope that breaks your heart. It does mine. In recent months, we’ve seen this controversial legislation in New York and other states - maybe about eight states now - to ease restrictions on abortion, allowing the procedure up until due date. I mean, right in the birth canal if that is necessary, uh, which I would say, it’s never necessary, right? We’ve also seen that protection for babies who survive abortion has been blocked in Congress. Recently, our good friend in the Senate, Ben Sasse, put forward a survivor bill, that if a baby survives an abortion, that medical experts need to provide treatment. They blocked that in the Senate.
John: They keep blocking it.
Jim: That is horrific. And today, you’re gonna hear from the voices that we don’t hear from, and that is the aborted children.
John: Yeah. And Claire and Melissa have incredible stories. They’re living proof of the infinite value of every human being. And Melissa is the founder and director of The Abortion Survivors Network, which educates folks about failed abortions and survivors and provides emotional, mental and spiritual support to survivors, and, uh, has written her story in the book,. And she and her husband have two children. And then Claire Culwell is married and has four children. And both of these women speak very boldly at pro-life events and on Capitol Hill. They speak to elected officials about life, Jim. It’s awesome.
Jim: It is. And I don’t think I have enjoyed welcoming two people more than saying, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Jim: Glad to have you.
Claire: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Melissa Ohden: Thank you.
Jim: Man, I - I’m just looking at you thinking of what we just talked about and the fact that you are the epitome of the movement for pro-life. I mean, you have survived - both of you - abortions, and we want to hear your stories. When we take a little look back just a few weeks ago to what the Senate was trying to do - those who are pro-life in the Senate - and I think, Melissa, you were even there - what did that feel like from both of your perspectives, when you have politicians in this country - leadership, if I could refer to it that way - that totally ignore your existence?
Claire: I think for me, it has been shocking, because to acknowledge that babies survive abortions and to acknowledge that we exist, they would have to go against everything that they have championed for so long. And so instead of acknowledging the truth, they are ignoring our existence. And so it has been shocking, and - and even offensive to me as a woman, because this - this bill that would protect babies that survive abortions, like us, is being - going under the same envelope as a woman’s right to choose when actually, we are women that have survived abortions and our choice and our voice is not being heard. And so it’s really telling where our country is right now.
Jim: Well in reality, it has to be ignored from their perspective ‘cause you - you’re in the face of their logic, or I should say their illogic, right?
Melissa: Yeah, it’s an uncomfortable truth, isn’t it? I mean, I was literally standing outside of the Senate when it failed to pass back in - what was that, February? I feel like these have been the longest few months...
Jim: Right. Right.
Melissa: ...Ever, right? But I was there. I had my medical records in my hand, Jim, ready to share with even those Democrats who don’t want to acknowledge us, who want to say, you know, “Babies like this don’t exist. This is not a problem.”
Jim: Never happened.
Melissa: Right. It never happens. We have abortionists on Twitter still saying that, right? “These things don’t happen. Children aren’t born alive.” And there’s, you know, a group of us saying, “Hi, look at us, hear us, see us.” But instead, they simply fail to acknowledge that we exist, because it goes against the narrative about abortion.
Jim: Right. They can’t acknowledge you, because you are real, right? Let’s play a clip from the Virginia governor. I didn’t mention that one in the setup. We talked about New York. But the Virginia governor said something that took the nation’s breath away. Even people who support abortion were pretty taken back by this. Let’s listen.
Ralph Northam: Third-trimester abortions - these are done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a - a - a fetus that’s nonviable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if - if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.
Jim: Man, I just - I cannot believe how evil could have such a calm voice. I mean, he sounds like he’s doing something good, but we’re talking about infanticide. Claire, when you were born, you had some physical issues. He’s talking about a child like you, born with some difficulty - some defect. How do you feel when you hear him explain that, you know, even though Claire’s sitting, lying on that table, we can snuff your life out?
Claire: I think it’s easier for people to think about children that are born with disabilities, or that might not have our quality of life, as - as we see it, as that being cruel or inconvenient to that child or family, when reality, you know, when I look at my life, or the life of - of someone with Down syndrome or - or something similar, those people would actually probably tell you that they have better quality of life than we think of our own life, in - in our convenient life without complications. And so I think that the governor of Virginia and - and other politicians and representatives that are speaking out in favor of late-term abortion, and especially infanticide - that they are no longer relatable to the American people, because people do not agree with ripping a baby’s body apart...
Claire: ...limb by limb. And people are realizing that that is the reality of what the Democratic Party right now is standing for.
Jim: Yeah. Melissa, your thoughts?
Melissa: You probably saw me grimace, right?
Jim: As we all did.
Melissa: It’s so crazy. You know I talk about this all the time, right? I stand before Senate, and I have this bold voice, but, um, I can tell you what that conversation looked like for me 41 years ago - right? When Governor Northam says, “We will have a conversation, we will make them comfortable,” that conversation for me was, “She just kept gasping for breath. She just kept gasping for breath, and so I couldn’t just leave her there to die.” Those were the words of the nurse who rushed me off to the NICU that day, after I was left for a period of time, because they did demand that I be left in that hospital room to die. And that’s where I should’ve been left to die. But by the grace of God, a nurse was willing to put her job on the line that day, rushed me off to the NICU. My life should never have been left to the luck of the draw who was working that day, right? God knew. God blessed me. But how many children aren’t that fortunate?
Jim: It’s - it leaves me speechless. I mean, seriously, I cannot understand this. I - it is such a contradiction to what doctors sign up to do. And I get it. There was, reportedly, a few months ago in the media, there was a woman who went for an abortion. It did not work. She was to come back, and she asked the doctor, you know, “What if my baby survives? What will happen?” And the doctor calmly said, reportedly, “That won’t happen because if the baby survives, we will break its neck.” Do you remember that? Now, I know people just about fell over when they - if you haven’t heard that, think of that. That is just all-out murder. And we sit by and pretend everything’s okay.
Folks, this is not okay. This is not okay. And the nation needs to hear it. It’s one of the reasons I’m so glad you’re here. Claire, this is your first time at Focus on the Family, and I want to hear more of that amazing story. So let’s get into that. What happened with your mom - your birth mom? Who adopted you? Let’s go through your story, and we’ll ask questions along the way.
Claire: Great. I am just so blessed to be here and be able to share this story. This was not something that - I grew up. I didn’t even know this as a child. I grew up knowing that I was adopted. I knew that I was wanted, chosen and loved. I was raised in an incredible Christian home that taught me about grace and forgiveness and - and what Christ did for me. And so when I sought out my birth mother, I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew that God had a plan no matter what. No matter...
Jim: How old were you at that point?
Claire: I was 21 years old.
Claire: So my adoption was a closed adoption, so I didn’t have the opportunity to know anything about my birth mother or ask any questions until I was 18 years old. And then at that point, she could say yes or no. But I didn’t have an interest in meeting my birth mother until my sister met her birth mother, and she had this incredible reunion with her birth mother. And that is what made me think more about my birth mother, because I knew that without my sister, our family wouldn’t be complete.
Jim: I’m gonna come back to that. But Melissa, in terms of your quick synopsis, many will not have heard your story, even though I know this happened to you in 1977, the year you were born. But give us that description of what took place. Your mom was a teen mom.
Melissa: The brief version, of course, is 41 years ago, I survived a failed saline infusion abortion. You know, right now people in our society are actually calling survivors, like Gianna Jessen and myself, irrelevant...
Melissa: ...To the conversation.
Jim: How does that make you feel?
Melissa: (Laughter) Yeah, make me irrelevant, right?
Jim: Yeah, I didn’t see that happening.
Melissa: Stop aborting children, and make me irrelevant! Let’s do this. But they say that, right? Because they’re saying, “Well, that type of procedure isn’t performed routinely anymore, and so, you know, those of you that survived it are irrelevant.” No, we are still relevant because people are still losing their lives to abortion. But yes, that type of procedure was meant to poison and scald me to death in the womb. I actually soaked in a toxic saline solution for a five-day period, until my birth mother’s premature labor was successfully induced with me, and I was accidentally delivered alive in that final step of the abortion procedure.
John: Well, these are incredible stories that you’re hearing today on Focus on the Family, with Jim Daly. Our guests are Claire Culwell and Melissa Ohden. And we have a lot of details about these ladies’ resources, Melissa’s book and our New York City Times Square event on May 4. Stop by focusonthefamily.com/prolife, or call us, particularly if you’d like to speak to a counselor, because we are touching on some pretty tender stuff here. And if you’re just joining us, the topic of abortion is something that, um, is probably not suitable for younger children. Our number here, to contact us, is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: John, let me re-emphasize that. We realize that we’re touching a lot of lives right now. I mean, literally millions of people are hearing this, and we know many will have had an abortion. And we know that that’s very, very difficult. And we have counselors for you. So do call us if you need that kind of help and conversation. We’re here for you. Claire, I want to um, and I’m bouncing back and forth because both of your stories are so powerful. But, I want to mention your birth mom and your reconnection. Again, she was 13 years old when she had you. I think in both of your cases, your mom, Melissa, was 19. So two teen moms - one very young, obviously, and so there was a lot of pressure on both of them. They didn’t feel like they had a choice in this case. Family members were saying, “No, you’ve got to go for an abortion.” And I think to hear from your heart, as that survivor of abortion, about connecting with your birth mom, how you found forgiveness for her - what was that all like?
Claire: My birth mother sat me down to tell me about her abortion after I wrote her this card and gave her a ring and a necklace with my birthstone on it. And on the card, I wrote, “Thank you for choosing life for me,” and that’s when I saw what were happy tears from opening the ring and the card turn to very sad tears. And she - her hands were shaking, and she had these tears in her eyes, and I had never seen anything like that before. Uh...
Jim: This is your first meeting?
Claire: This was our second meeting...
Claire: ...Actually, when I went to visit her.
Claire: And so my birth mother told me how she was 13, and her mother made this decision for her. She didn’t feel like she had a choice, and she was told that this would solve her problems, when in reality, it created a lifelong traumatic experience for her that, uh, she’s still working to recover from.
Claire: My birth mother told me that when she had the abortion, they told her that it was successful. She had a D and E, dismemberment abortion, which is a late-term abortion that tears the body of the baby apart, limb by limb, and pulls it out. And my birth mother went back four weeks after this abortion procedure, and they told her that the abortion had been successful on one baby, but they didn’t realize that she was pregnant with twins, and I had survived that abortion.
Jim: So your twin sibling died?
Claire: My twin, yes.
Jim: Man. That feeling right there, that you survived, has to be tough in some ways.
Claire: It is. I...
Jim: I mean, you have loss and you have victory, but what an amazing contradiction for you.
Claire: I’ve struggled with that because there’s always that question, like, why - why me...
Claire: ...And not my twin? But I have to know that God had a plan, and He, um, gave me my voice for a reason and my life for a reason, and for such a time as this, so that we can put a face and a name with the babies that are not only being aborted but are surviving abortion procedures like Melissa and I have.
Jim: Catastrophic - I mean, that contradiction. I mean, yes, the Lord has you here for a purpose. I hope you feel that.
Claire: I do.
Jim: I mean, I think you sitting here right now today is an example of that purpose and what we’re talking about. Claire, um, we were able to talk to your birth mom, Tonya, and I want you to hear what she had to say about you.
Tonya: When she opened that front door, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m looking in a mirror.” And she just - it was amazing. She looked identical. She had all my traits. She has my personality. But you know, we’re, day by day, gaining that great relationship that we have. And I think we’re more like best friends because we’re so close in age than we are mother and daughter. I came home, and I just - I really had a hard time with it. I think, you know, the guilt, embarrassment that I had for myself, that I should have never had - you know, I still had that until three years ago. And Claire came here, and I healed that day. We always know we’re a person we can call, you know, and talk about anything and not have any guilt or shame or embarrassment or judging.
Jim: Wow. What do you think?
Claire: It’s amazing. I mean, I think that what abortion does is it turns a mother against her own child, and that abortion was meant to rip my body apart just like it did my twin. But the reality of what I’m experiencing today is that God has healed this situation, and He has redeemed something that was meant for my evil and was meant to take my life. But not only that - something that was meant to scar my birth mother forever. And so I’m so thankful for our redemptive relationship that we have been able to experience.
Jim: Claire, for the woman who’s listening - something powerful you said there is that setting apart or setting against each other. Many women, most women, will never have the healing that you and your birth mom have had, especially for her; the way she just said that three years ago, you know, “My guilt, my shame was healed.” Wow. That’s because your life was spared. But the moms that are listening, their babies were terminated. What word would you have for them?
Claire: Healing and forgiveness; that is available regardless of what you have done, what you have experienced in your life, especially if you have had an abortion. Jesus came to die for all of our sins, and that includes abortion. And so I would encourage anyone to call in and talk to the counselors available. As you heard from my birth mother, the healing didn’t happen right away. It wasn’t because I survived that abortion; it was because I forgave her and because she knew that God forgave her, too. And so, um, I would just encourage anyone to open that door, be open to what God has available to you, as hard as that is.
John: It seems, um, Claire, that you grew up with this idea that your mom willingly gave you up for adoption. But it was a horrific moment for the both of you when you realized that wasn’t the case. How did you - what was that path of forgiveness for you like, when you realized, “Oh, she actually didn’t choose life for me?”
Claire: You know, I think that when I met her, I saw the pain in her eyes. I saw the trauma that she had experienced. I mean, at 13 years old, what she experienced was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my 31 years of life. She was wronged in a way that I may never be wronged in my lifetime. And so I think that seeing how remorseful she was and how painful this experience was, that, for me, it was easy.
Melissa: For me, in my experience, what I found is, of course, healing is not a one-time event, right? It’s a process.
Jim: It’s a process, right.
Melissa: And I think with everything that’s happening legislatively, the movie,, coming out, there is a lot bombarding people these days, right? So I think what people are probably finding is they thought they had healed, and things are coming back - right? Old emotions, old thoughts. And you know, I think my greatest reminder to people is we need to give ourselves grace. Some days are gonna be easier than others. I’ve been having some hard days in the midst of what’s been happening legislatively. So you know, give yourself grace. Allow yourself to feel that pain on those days where you’re having a bad day. But use those resources that are available for your own healing, and find a community of people who are supportive. I think we - we live in a world where abortion has been kept a secret. And those secrets cause people to suffer. And so, you know, to find a community of supportive women - and that’s what we do as survivors, right? I mean, we are a group, mainly of women, who support one another, who say, “You know what? I know what it’s like to be in similar shoes. I’m gonna support you in that.” And so it is about building community, a community of grace and - and healing.
Jim: Yeah. And you know, this is a powerful story. That’s why we wanted to have both of you here today and next time. And we’re gonna hear more, Melissa, of your story next time. But when you look at this, oftentimes people will say to me, you know, “Abortion is political. We shouldn’t be talking about this in certain public areas.” I mean, even as we go to New York on May 4th, some of the pushback that we’ve had is, “You know, we’re uncomfortable with political discussions in Times Square.” This is a moral issue that the political arena has taken over since Roe v. Wade. It made it a political issue on top of being a moral issue. But I think in hearing your stories, it’s clear that this is about life and death. This is not just a political issue. How do you react to that, Melissa, when people say, “Why talk about this in political terms?”
Melissa: The personal is political when you survive an abortion, right?
Jim: You’re fighting for these children.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s, um, it does make people uncomfortable. And I’ve - I’ve talked about that a lot lately, right? We like to talk about supporting women and supporting children and grace and love and forgiveness. But then we talk about politics. And we just kind of go (gasp).
Melissa: But we have to talk about it.
Jim: And it’s not about hating anybody. It’s about helping them see what they’re actually doing. And that’s why I’m so grateful that you’re here. I’m grateful that the Lord allowed you to survive. And you’re here today speaking to millions of people. I am proud of you...
Claire: Thank you.
Jim: ...That you’re willing to put it on the line and to stand in this lion’s den, like Daniel, to say, enough, enough! We are killing our next generation - 60 million children gone! And we have two sitting here that survived this combat zone called abortion. Man, I hope you will help us to get the word out.
John: Yeah, we’ve got a special page set up, focusonthefamily.com/prolife. And it is rich in resources. It’s got talking points for you, a lot of different ways that you can engage people in winsome ways, not - not, you know, get a finger in their face and tell them they’re wrong. But as you’ve heard from these two ladies, sharing God’s love and the truth that these are babies in the womb. They deserve our efforts to protect them. We also have details about, Jim, something that is almost here. It’s amazing. I mean, this has been a really fast 2019 because Alive from New York is coming up in just a few weeks...
John: ...and that’s a full-throttle effort on Focus on the Family’s part.
Jim: It has been. You know, we have 12 weeks to plan this. That’s all we had. We came up with the idea. Thankfully, at this point, it’s still proceeding. And I’m looking forward to being there in Times Square. And the whole goal there is simply to let the picture speak millions of words, right? We’re gonna have 4D live ultrasounds, right there, on third-trimester women. And the whole universe will be able to see what that baby looks like.
John: Yeah, I love how you said it, Jim, that at the keynote - we’ll have speakers and music, and it’ll be a special time. But the keynote speakers are in the womb.
Jim: That’s right.
John: That’s a tremendous thing.
Jim: That’s right. And it’s gonna be awesome. It’s uplifting. Life is the better choice. That’s the way to describe it right now. And we are looking forward to that. Let me also say, John, this is amazing. And I’d love to get your reaction. You know, I met with someone from Planned Parenthood a few years ago. And I asked her what the average cost of an abortion was. And she said $600. And she was very forthright. I appreciated her honesty. And she said, “Yeah, the cash flow is what’s important to us.” Isn’t that amazing?
Well, at Focus on the Family, if you believe in what we’re talking about today, you believe in the right to a child to have life, to make it out of the womb, you can save a baby’s life for $60 through Option Ultrasound. Can you help us? I mean, what else can I say? Can you stand in the gap and do this with us? We’ve been at this for over 15 years. 425,000 babies have been saved thus far. The pregnancy resource clinics that are in your neighborhoods, doing all they can with very limited budgets, support them as well. I mean, let’s be a body of believers who actually speak for these voiceless children.
John: Yeah, and again, we’ve got all the details about how you can join our monthly support team. Or you can also just make a one-time gift if that’s best for you. Right now, we have a special matching opportunity, so your gift will be doubled today. So please, if you can, call us. Go online. Make a donation today to support Option Ultrasound, to help us continue to speak out for the voiceless. And when you’re at the website, be sure to sign up to join us on May 4th. We want people to come. There is a little bit of a limit on how many the city will allow us...
Jim: They need to register.
John: ...To register. So get in there on the site and pre-register. All the details at focusonthefamily.com/prolife, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And by the way, if you can make a generous donation, either monthly or one-time, today, we’ll send Melissa’s terrific book,, as our thank-you gift for joining our support team.
Jim: Melissa and Claire, man, again, it is so wonderful to have you here. My heart’s leaping for you. And I know it’s a difficult subject, but I’m just grateful I can look you in the eye and say, man, the Lord is using you powerfully. Thanks for being with us.
Melissa: Thank you.
Claire: Thank you.
John: And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. And be with us next time as we continue the conversation with Melissa and Claire and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Melissa Ohden was 14 when she discovered she was the survivor of a botched abortion. Learning the truth was a horrific, live-changing experience, but today Melissa appreciates who God made her to be – survivor and all.Read more
Melissa OhdenView Bio
Melissa Ohden is the founder of The Abortion Survivors Network, which seeks to educate the public about failed abortions while providing emotional, mental and spiritual support to the abortion survivors. Melissa herself is the survivor of a failed saline infusion abortion attempt which nearly ended her life at seven months gestation. She is a highly-regarded pro-life speaker, has been interviewed on radio and TV programs, and has testified before the U.S. Congress. She is the author of a book titled You Carried Me: A Daughter's Memoir, which was released in January, 2017. She and her husband, Ryan, have a daughter named Olivia. Learn more about Melissa by visiting her website, melissaohden.com.