WASHINGTON — Melissa Ohden’s life was almost cut short at its earliest beginnings.

Ohden was aborted at about five months gestation, but she survived and was placed in a neonatal unit until she was adopted.

“Instead of being angry or bitter about the circumstances that surrounded my arrival into this world, I have chosen to be grateful,” she said. “The time has come in my life when I believe I need to use my story to provide a voice for women and children and the obstacles that they face in the world we all live in.”

She got that platform at a briefing Aug. 14 in Congress. Sponsored by Feminists for Life, the briefing focused the attention of about 30 college-age interns and other young professionals on Capitol Hill to the hard realities of abortion and its effect on women.

According to Feminists for Life of America President Serrin Foster, collegians interning on Capitol Hill are the nation’s future leaders. They are also leaders on their college campuses, she said.

The event inspires them with the stories of women who have experienced the devastation of abortion, but turned their lives around for the better.

Since college-age women are at highest risk for seeking to end pregnancies, accounting for half of all abortions performed, the emphasis is on creating a holistic, woman-centered solution they can bring to their campuses across the country, she stated.

The newest speakers for Feminists for Life represent women who have faced “the biggest challenges people talk about” as reasons for needing legalized abortion, according to Foster. They discuss the difficult choices they made — some choosing to abort a pregnancy and regretting it; some deciding to carry the pregnancy to term, even against threats and hardships, one influenced by her own mother’s courageous decision to spare her unborn child.

Foster said these women make the point that “people can live through these problems, come out better for it, and make the best of it” by trying to help others make the right choice for life.

They come from all over the United States, are professionals in various fields, but donate their time to educating others.

Reality Check

Karen Shablin, a health policy expert, is a converted, “card-carrying member of NARAL Pro Choice America.” But she had an epiphany as a director for Medicaid in New Jersey in the late 1990s. Reading the statistics on the numbers of women having abortions, often more than once, which were covered by Medicaid, she realized her ideas did not match the reality.

“I thought abortions were tragic but rare,” Shablin said. “But I realized that if that isn’t true, then what else isn’t true? You don’t hang on to a belief if it doesn’t hold up in real life.”

She was taken aback, as well, by those around her — fellow professional women for whom abortion “was just a routine decision.”

Having a change of heart on abortion caused her to make changes in her own life.

“I can’t undo my mistakes over the years — having an abortion, advocating abortion — but I can help others to learn from my mistakes,” she emphasized. “Every life counts.”

Ann Lowrey Forster was a pro-abortion sophomore in college when she decided not to abort her pregnancy. Her boyfriend urged her to change her mind, and when that didn’t happen, he deserted her.

She gave birth that summer, returned to finish her junior year that fall, and graduated with honors. The young law clerk, married with two children, is now an active pro-life feminist.

Forster stressed the need for resources and support for pregnant and parenting women.

In fact, Feminists for Life helped introduce legislation in Congress recently that would do that. On Feb. 15, U.S. Reps. Mary Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Sue Myrick, R-N.C., co-sponsored the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2007. The bill would establish a pilot program providing $10 million in grants to be used for establishing offices for pregnant and parenting student services on college campuses.

Need for Support

Midwesterner Joyce Ann McCauley-Benner was raped at age 20 but chose not to abort the pregnancy, not knowing if it was the result of rape or from a relationship she was having.

She recalled the agony of facing that decision.

“I know what it’s like to want to run as far away as possible from a problem; how it feels to hang on to ‘If I wasn’t pregnant anymore, it would all be okay again,’” said McCauley-Benner, who finished college while raising her son. She now has two boys and serves on a task force working for racial justice.

In the case of Angelica Rosales, it was her mother’s decision not to abort her after being advised to that influenced the young woman to found a pregnancy center shortly after finishing college.

Rosales brings to the discussion her perspective in working daily with pregnant and parenting women, most of whom are college age, facing crises. She has seen firsthand how lack of support hurts women.

“This failure to provide resources is a reflection of how far we still need to go to eliminate the root causes of abortion,” Rosales said.

These dramatic life stories had a profound effect on two young professionals in the audience. Mike Barnett, field director of Students for Life of America, said that “no one left the room without a heavier heart, but also with a new outlook on the issues of abortion vs. a pro-life philosophy.

He was moved by Ohden’s life, saying she was “bringing so much joy and hope to others, which wouldn’t have happened if the abortion had succeeded in ending her life.”

Deirdre McQuade said the stories “were so compelling. People were hanging on every word.” As director of planning and information at the Pro-Life Secretariat for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, she felt it really showed how we “have failed to meet the needs of women in these circumstances.

“College students who get pregnant while at school really get pressured to get an abortion. It takes tremendous courage and resourcefulness to make a life-affirming choice of parenting or adoption,” she said. “These women speakers are living proof that under difficult circumstances, they are strong enough to get through any crisis, especially if they have access to resources, support, and a plan for their motherhood. “

Elenor Schoen is based in

Shoreline, Washington.