By Bob Tompkins, Guest Contributor

Melissa Ohden, who survived an attempted saline abortion in 1977, said her life could’ve been radically different if her mother had been able to visit a place like the Cenla Pregnancy Center.

Ohden was the featured speaker at the CPC’s second annual Gift of Life Banquet, Sept. 10 before a packed house at Our Lady of Prompt Succor’s Divine Providence Center. Doctors, she said, didn’t believe she would survive the abortion procedure at a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, but she did, defying all odds.

What’s more, her grandmother “told the nurses to leave me there to die,” but, fortunately, some nurses intervened to save her life.

“You can imagine I’m a little stubborn, right?” she asked the crowd of 256 diners plus scores of volunteer workers from the Our Lady of Prompt Succor Youth Group and the Knights of Columbus.

Once Melissa survived, her adoptive parents were told she would suffer from multiple disabilities, but she said they accepted her, giving her love and care “no matter what my life looked like.

Married with two daughters, Melissa said she knows God spared her life and wants her to share her story with the world. She is doing so as the founder of the Abortion Survivors Network as well as being an advocate for women, men and children impacted by abortion.

Part of her story was her search for, and discovery of, her biological parents. She obtained her medical records from the attempted abortion in 2007. Her parents’ names were blacked out in all but one place – apparently an oversight – and she realized she was working in the same city as her biological father. Despite her efforts to reach out to him, she never heard back from him.

She found out her birth father died about six months after she sent him a letter. She figured he didn’t answer “because he was fighting for his life.” Her grandmother died “before she could bring herself to meet me.”

Thirty-nine years after being separated from her birth mother, Melissa finally met her, with the help of her mother’s cousin, in an emotional, tearful embrace. Her birth mother told how her parents coerced her into having the abortion. They were outraged by her pregnancy and ashamed about her being unmarried and pregnant, Ohden said. They were afraid of what it would mean for their reputation in the community.

Melissa’s birth mother thought Melissa had died during the procedure, which is what her parents told her at the time, when she was heavily sedated.

“I know I can never be ‘Mom’ to you, but I just hope I can be in your life,” Melissa’s mom said before they parted from their redemptive meeting a few years ago.

“Yes, absolutely, I want that, too,” Melissa responded then, saying they have been close since.

Ohden gives speeches across the country about her life story. She has advocated for life in appearances before Congress, and she wrote a book, “You Carried Me,” about her life. When making a pitch for donations to help pregnancy centers and pro-life causes, she said one of her sayings comes from a practice she and her husband Ryan live by: “Choose to live simply so others can simply live.”

Two clients of the pregnancy center, Courtney Bates and Queenisha Allen, gave testimonies about their life-changing experiences with the CPC in saving their babies’ lives. Bates, who traveled from Beaumont, Texas, to speak at the banquet, is expecting her baby on Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving. “And I’m thankful,” she said, “for what’s inside of me.”

Allen brought to the banquet her 5-month-old baby, a girl. Her first reaction, when she found out in July of 2018 that she was pregnant, was, “I’ve got to get rid of it,” amidst feelings of shame and guilt.

Even though her father told her, “If you keep the baby, we’re done,” Allen visited the Cenla Pregnancy Center, and she is now overjoyed that she did, and that she kept the baby, saying, “She completes me.”

Allen is in her last semester of nursing school and is scheduled to graduate in December.

CPC board president pastor Brian Gunter told the group of the rapid growth of the center, including the addition of the Avoyelles Pregnancy Center.

CPC executive director Claire Lemoine credited the center’s growth to the support the CPC has received from people across Central Louisiana and from its inaugural fund-raising banquet a year ago. Last month’s fund-raising banquet was a financial success, too, netting nearly $87,000.

Bob Tompkins is a retired sportswriter and columnist who’s a member of the CPC Board’s Advisory Committee.