The Abortion Survivors Network hosted the first-ever retreat for survivors of failed abortions last weekend. Over a dozen united under the mantra, “You Belong,” to show they are not alone. 

The 17 participants attending the event in Schulenburg, Texas, wore T-shirts that said, “You belong,” written on top of the outline of a heart. 

A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), also known as an intensive care nursery (ICN), is an intensive care unit (ICU) specializing in the care of ill or premature newborn infants. | Getty Images

The attendees ranged from age 41 to 76 and were survivors of failed abortions before and after the practice was legalized nationwide in 1973, according to the network’s founder, Melissa Ohden, who herself is a survivor of a failed saline infusion abortion.

The attendees included survivors of saline abortions, surgical abortions (dilation & curettage), vacuum aspiration abortions, pre-term induction and abortions attempted at home and in medical facilities. 

The survivors prayed for the end of abortion and for other abortion survivors throughout the world. They also wrote letters to other abortion survivors. 

Some attendees completed speaker training to join the Abortion Survivors Network Speaker’s Bureau, and 10 others completed the Abortion Survivor Network’s healing curriculum.

Karen, a 76-year-old survivor, told LiveAction it was a “safe place to share our stories for healing to take place” and she is thankful for the “camaraderie, mutual love and connection” the retreat provided.

The retreat focused on the topics of forgiveness, identity and coping with trauma skills. The survivors shared adverse effects from abortion, including feelings of rejection and isolation, trauma-induced mental health issues, medical conditions like chronic pain, fatigue or physical scars from abortion instruments.

“Most of these women have never shared their story publicly or shown the world their face. Why? There’s a million reasons why, but what matters is that they found a place where they belong,” the Abortion Survivors Network shared on Instagram.

Ohden, who survived an abortion at 31 weeks gestation in 1977, founded the Abortion Survivors Network in 2002 to humanize the “unborn, survivors of abortion and all impacted by abortion.” 

The group bills itself as the “only advocacy and support group for survivors of abortion and their families.”

Ohden spent the final five days in the womb soaking in a toxic saline solution meant to end her life but was born alive. Upon her birth, she was stuffed into a closet to die until a nurse intervened to save her life, according to Live Action. 

“My medical records reflect that the doctors initially suspected I had a fatal heart defect due to high levels of fetal distress. My grandmother demanded that I be left to die, but I am grateful for the NICU nurse working that day who was unwilling to do as she was told, and rushed me to the NICU,” Ohden testified before U.S. Congress in June.

“Before you vilify my grandmother for that demand, know that I’ve learned from two nurses that it was common practice at that same hospital to leave born alive infants like me to die in the utility closet there. This is not an isolated practice. It was not the exception. It was the rule.”

Ohden has a master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on forgiveness, identity and coping skills with trauma, which equips her in her work advocating for other survivors of abortion. 

Though numbers are not explicitly reported, Human Life International estimates there are 431 survivors of abortion each year based on available data. 

Ohden seeks to connect survivors of abortion with information, education, healing support for both the parent and child and advocacy after dealing with trauma from before birth. 

The network offers an annual retreat, one-on-one peer support, regular Zoom meetings, a workbook and a private community for survivors of abortion. 

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