Abortion survivor turns life story into mission

June 14, 1992|By Fawn Vrazo | Fawn Vrazo,Knight-Ridder News Service

America's most famous aborted person sat down to an interview in a Maryland restaurant recently and talked about how normal she is. She's a teen-ager -- just turned 15 -- who enjoys movies like "Wayne's World," idolizes hot Christian singer Amy Grant, likes boys, hangs out at malls, wears jeans with flowers painted on them, giggles a lot.

"I'm just real normal. A normal, normal teen-ager," insists Gianna Jessen, who has a cascade of long blond hair decorated by two braids strung with red hearts.

Not when you consider Gianna's story: As a 7-month fetus, she was aborted with an injection of saline solution administered at an abortion clinic in California. Gianna's mother was 17, unwed and apparently desperate to end her pregnancy, although it is not clear why she put off the abortion (late, but still legal) for so long.

Weighing just 2 pounds and left to lie, and presumably die, on an abortion clinic table, the 29-week-old Gianna was carried to a nearby hospital by an unknown person. She survived, though she was permanently disabled by cerebral palsy. Raised in a foster home, she was adopted at age 3 by her foster mother's daughter, Diana DePaul.

And now Gianna spends her days appearing at anti-abortion events coast to coast, touted in fliers as "the baby who beat the abortionist." In just two years, the teen-ager has become perhaps America's most dramatic witness for the anti-abortion movement. Abortion foes idolize her; choice advocates do not.

Kate Michelman, head of the National Abortion Rights Action League, says that abortion foes are "parading Gianna around like she's some kind of sideshow freak."

The comment, carried in USA Today, "hurt, to be quite honest," says Gianna, who, after all, is a teen-ager with crippled legs. "I'm a kid. I'm still young."

But Gianna is not surprised that Ms. Michelman and other pro-abortion-rights activists criticize her: "It's to be expected. Satan's going to try to knock you down any time."

Gianna's world is the anti-abortion inspirational entertainment circuit, her stage a succession of churches, Christian schools and radio stations stretching across the United States.

Tutored by her mother, Gianna is on the road more than three weeks a month. She has been on "The Maury Povich Show" and NBC's "A Closer Look With Faith Daniels." She is so popular that " '92 is booked already going into '93," says Ms. DePaul, always at her daughter's side. "We have some summer dates left. If Roe [Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973] is overturned, we'll get busy."

Gianna's fee for a stage appearance is $1,000, plus air fare and expenses. At every event, she unabashedly recounts the circumstances of her birth. There are no solid figures on abortion survivors, but according to one 1974 report, about 196 aborted fetuses a year show signs of life, and about a half-dozen survive. Because of different techniques, today's abortion-survival figures are believed to be much lower.

"Well, a saline abortion is a saline salt solution that is injected into the mother's womb," Gianna tells her audiences. "And it burns the baby, inside and out. The baby gulps it. And then she's to deliver a dead baby within 24 hours. I went through that whole process, but obviously, I came out alive."

At each of her appearances, frequently packed, she also tells about her devotion to God and to Jesus. And she sings, in a gutsy, juvenile Dolly Parton-like voice.

"If I didn't have the singing, I probably wouldn't be able to do [the appearances], because that's who I am," says Gianna, who is frank about her ambition in life: becoming

the next Amy Grant.

Gianna is often interviewed by mainstream media. Frequently, journalists demand proof of her story. All that Ms. DePaul can offer is a copy of her adopted daughter's records from a California social services agency. Because the adoption is closed, the records carry neither her birth mother's name nor Gianna's true surname ("Jessen" is a stage name).

"Natural mother: 5'5 1/2 , 135 lbs., brown hair, hazel eyes," the records say. "It was elected to do a saline abortion as natural mother wishes. . . . Natural father reported to be a 'heavy drinker.' "

Christian media accept Gianna with open arms. Recently, she made a guest appearance at radio station WFEL-AM, "Baltimore's Christian Connection," which plays Christian hits.

She told listeners: "It's the person who chooses to do the sex act, and they became pregnant; therefore, they've got to take responsibility for what they did. Therefore, they have to carry that baby to term and give it up for adoption. My favorite group to talk to is teens, and the thing I say to them is: 'Abstinence. That's the only way to go.' "

Much later, near the end of a long day that would wear out most rock stars, Gianna appeared at a jampacked Defend Life event at Baltimore's Loyola College.

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