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Melissa Ohden
Melissa Ohden (Courtesy Photo)

CEDAR FALLS - Melissa Ohden was supposed to be dead.

Her mother was 19 when she got pregnant and attempted to have a saline-infusion abortion in 1977.

But when Ohden was delivered at St. Luke's Hospital in Sioux City, she began to move and grunt.

"Those doctors and nurses did something that they didn't have to do," said Ohden, 32. "They gave me medical attention."

Ohden shared her story of survival with a couple hundred students at the University of Northern Iowa on Tuesday. She is the founder and director of For Olivia's Sake, an organization dedicated to her daughter that seeks to peacefully raise awareness of the intergenerational impact of abortion.

Born four months premature, Ohden weighed about 3 pounds and suffered from jaundice and severe respiratory distress. She was fed through a intravenous line and spent three months in intensive care at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

She went home to her adoptive family in October 1977 and today seems in perfect health - other than having a "bad back and asthma," she joked.

Ohden wasn't at UNI to coerce people into becoming anti-abortion. Instead, she was providing a voice for the 1.3 million children who die from abortion every year in the United States, she said.

Ohden said college campuses are ideal places to spread her message, as women of college age - ages 18 to 24 - are most likely to have an abortion. Her biological mother had been a freshman in college. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm for Planned Parenthood, 45 percent of women who have abortions fall into that sector.

Ohden noted that abortions don't always result from unstable lifestyles. Her mother had dated her father for four years before the pregnancy. Both came from well-respected families.

Parents of an unborn child often fail to consider how their decision affects others, both living and dead, she added.

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"My daughter would have never had life if that abortion had succeeded," she said of Olivia, born in 2008. "Tell my husband he never would have had a wife. Tell my adoptive parents that they never would have had a child."

Ohden began searching for her birth parents at age 19. A few years ago, she exchanged letters and photos with her maternal grandparents. She has never spoken with her mother.

She also sent a letter to her father, though he never replied. He later died. She has since reconnected with some members of his family.

Many in the audience stuck around to speak with Ohden afterward, including sophomores Kristi Juergens, Julie Fricke and Megan Boomershine.

Juergens, who is anti-abortion, recently found out Ohden's adoptive mom is her great aunt.

The three said Ohden is one of the first people they've heard talk about abortion. Groups supporting homosexuality or religion are common on campus, they said. But many at UNI avoid sharing their beliefs on abortion.

"It's like the first topic in class that you can't write about, you can't give a speech about, you can't discuss," said Boomershine of abortion rights. "In my oral comm(unication) class, you couldn't talk about that."

"Because too many get emotional about it," Juergens added.

"They want to focus on being objective, and that's kind of something that's hard to be objective on," Fricke said.

The event was sponsored by the Student Organization Speakers Fund and the student organization UNI Right to Life.

Ohden's talk was funded in part by student activity fees as allocated by the Northern Iowa Student Government.

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