Gianna Jessen to speak in Alaska in May
By PATRICIA COLL FREEMAN
When speaking to 34-year-old Gianna Jessen, one first notices the things that aren’t surprising. She has blue eyes, dark hair and a smile that rushes across her face. She talks with her hands and has a mischievous sense of humor. The furthest thing from one’s mind is the shocking, lethal violence surrounding her birth. But there is evidence – a limp when she walks. She is a survivor of abortion.
In April 1977, Jessen’s biological mother underwent an “instillation” abortion arranged by Planned Parenthood. Her mother was 17 years old and Jessen was seven and half months gestation.
In an instillation abortion, a saline solution is injected into the amniotic fluid surrounding the developing baby. The baby gulps the caustic salt solution, burns inside and out, suffocates and dies – usually.
“I lived through 18 hours of that,” Jessen told the Catholic Anchor in an interview. “Apparently, I don’t die easily.”
She was the dreaded, unintended “complication” of abortion: a live baby.
On April 6, 1977, Jessen was born alive at a Los Angeles abortion clinic.
A nurse called for an ambulance and the two-pound Jessen was transported to the hospital, where she was placed in an incubator. The abortion had deprived Jessen’s brain of oxygen, leaving her with severe cerebral palsy.
Her birth certificate states, “Born during saline abortion,” and it is signed by the abortionist. Jessen thanks God the abortionist wasn’t at work yet in the early morning hour she was born.
That’s because only recently, abortionists’ quiet practice of suffocating, strangulating or fatally neglecting babies born alive in abortion has come to light. This has inspired federal and state legislation to require abortion survivors be treated as persons entitled to medical treatment.
Jessen is remarkably at peace about what happened to her, but “I am not without wounds,” she explained.
Doctors didn’t expect Jessen would live, much less hold up her head, sit up, crawl or walk.
“But I have got God on my side and I have got the will of an army.”
The unwanted baby was placed with a foster family, from which she was later uprooted. Jessen ended up with Penny, a foster mother whom she lovingly calls, “my queen.” At three-and-a-half, Jessen was adopted by Penny’s adult daughter. And with the help of leg braces and walker, Jessen finally learned to walk – though to this day, she walks with a limp.
That disability has been a particular struggle for Jessen, “as a woman who limps in a very shallow world.”
“I really felt that I was kind of repulsive, that this limp made me undesirable and not beautiful,” she said.
“I had to have it out with God” about it, Jessen explained, “because he’s my only Father.”
“I really felt like he said, ‘Gianna, sometimes I use the very thing in your life that rips your heart out to do one thing,’” that is, she believes, to protect her from those who wouldn’t love her as the “gem” God considers her.
“God really has given me grace to know, wow, I am not rejected, I am set apart.” Jessen has come to see her cerebral palsy as a “gift.”
In the meantime, Jessen has also spent a long time dealing with the first, terrible rejection from her own mother.
Jessen came to forgive her biological mother, and she wrote her a letter expressing that. Then, five years ago, the woman appeared without notice at a public event where Jessen was making a speech. She told Jessen she was an “embarrassment” to her family.
“My biological mother is a very broken woman,” Jessen observed.
Most others express compassion, Jessen added. If her disability and the abortion come up in conversations with strangers on the plane, Jessen said there is shock and receptiveness. Detractors, she said, rarely argue openly with her.
“God was genius in allowing me to be disabled because it is not politically correct to attack a disabled woman, so I can say the truth,” Jessen added with a laugh.
BETTER OFF ABORTED?
There are some who argue babies – like Gianna – conceived to teen parents outside of marriage, facing poverty or disability are better off aborted.
But Jessen calls it “supremely arrogant” for one person to determine the value of another.
Jessen has overcome all the dour predictions for an unwanted baby. She is quick to note even having run two marathons – albeit on her toes. “So take that!” Jessen declares.
And for those whose lives appear to hold less promise than hers did, Jessen calls for more, not less, compassion.
“There is greater joy and a spiritual depth and grace that can be found from the weakest among us, and a wisdom that can be found from the weakest among us, that we will never learn in any other way.”
“We all have a unique and interesting destiny.”
POINT TO THE TRUTH
Jessen believes her work is to help illuminate the abortion debate and “to point people to Christ, the ultimate hope and redemption.”
“I am his girl,” she added.
The “unashamedly Christian” Jessen likens her abortion ordeal to the account in the Book of Daniel, in which the Old Testament characters Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fire, but were unharmed.
In the burning salt solution during her mother’s attempted abortion, Jessen believes “the Lord was holding me and really instilling in me a fire and a feistiness of an eternal kind that will never die.”
So since the age of 14, the spirited Jessen has traveled the world speaking before conferences, church congregations and legislatures.
She wants people to know the truth about abortion. “I want them to know the history of it, I want them to know the agenda of it, which is death, which is racism, which is money,” she said.
At the events, Jessen has met abortion survivors like her. They have survived saline abortions or suction abortions. Jessen said that some were missed in an abortion, while a twin sibling was killed.
In May, Jessen comes to Alaska for a series of talks to support pregnancy help centers. She will visit Anchorage, Wasilla, Eagle River and Juneau.
“I love the idea of coming to Alaska to support all of the organizations that are in support of life and fighting to preserve it,” she said.
‘I NEED TO LIVE’
But Jessen wants people to know there’s more to the story than the abortion and her survival that day.
“I don’t want to just be stuck in, okay, ‘I was aborted and I survived and that’s the end of my life.’”
She said her mission is “about life, in the truest sense, starting with Jesus and then filtering down to the most vulnerable among us. And then just spreading joy about,” she continued.
By all accounts, Jessen is busy at life: She is writing a book, singing, retooling her Web site and applying to design school.
What Jessen isn’t doing is reading what the media says about her. “There’s just no need,” she observed. “I need to live.”
“While people were trying to snuff me out,” Jessen explained, “God was preserving me and has a great destiny for my life, which doesn’t end with just my birth. It’s amazing how my life is enfolding,” she said with a smile.
Gianna Jessen in Alaska
Below is a schedule of events at which abortion survivor Gianna Jessen will appear in Alaska in May:
Thursday, May 5, 7 p.m.
HeartReach Center 25th anniversary celebration
Wasilla Bible Church
More info: heartreachalaska.com/anniversary.html
Friday, May 6, 7 p.m.
Heart to Heart Pregnancy Resource Center dessert reception fund-raiser
King’s Way Assembly of God
More info: Michelle Freeman, 907-694-1747
Saturday, May 7, 10:30 a.m.
CPC of Anchorage spring tea
More info: Sherri, 907-337-9292
Monday, May 9
Alaskans for Life event
More info: Ida, 907-321-0208