Students, parents, friends and personnel eagerly gathered in the Mercer Room on the Rider University Campus on April 8th, 2022. A yearbook photo and entry of one of their own, Marlene Stonaker, class of ’66, appeared on the screen. I was speaking that evening as the daughter of an alumna! I’m Robin Sertell, Education Coordinator for the Abortion Survivors Network, and survivor of three failed saline infusion abortions.
“Are you the only one?”, a male student tentatively asked, “I mean, are there…others, like you?” I was impressed by the depth of understanding the students had, and the maturity with which they handled themselves. “There are likely tens of thousands of us,” I replied, “according to Dr. Willard Cates, then director of the CDC, stated in an article called The Dreaded Complication in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981, stating there were ‘400-500 live births annually’ as a result of failed abortion. If you do the math, that’s somewhere in the 17,000 to 24,000 range, all abortion survivors.” Eyes widened, and folks leaned in with other questions about my story.
“Just how did you survive three abortion attempts?”, asked another student. I explained that just like her, I don’t remember much from my days way back in the womb, and I’m quite confident it was divine intervention. Many chuckled, and others asked about current laws pertaining to abortion survivors. We discussed the Maryland Senate Bill 669, that attempted to functionally legalize infanticide, as well as several bills in California. These students were bright, eager, and attentive, even though the event had been postponed almost two hours due to flight delays. “What happens to a baby, legally, when they’re born here in New Jersey, after an abortion attempt?”, another asked. With the exception of eight state laws, there is no federal legal protection for babies born alive after an attempted abortion. Many children are left to die cold, scared, and alone; some are killed at birth, and some are placed with the medical waste, while still alive. Aghast, the eager group became disturbed at the thought of babies being left alone to die at birth. Many committed immediately to the cause of life, asking how to get involved. Discussion ensued about New Jersey’s laws, including but not limited to the new, “Freedom of Choice Act”, were also topics of deep and meaningful discussion. New Jersey’s current laws, allowing for abortion right up until birth, and the fact that parents don’t need to consent – only be notified, and that there’s no waiting period, exasperated many of the group. Though shocked at the current New Jersey abortion laws, and lack of federal laws necessitating care, the group at Rider saw something much greater than themselves that night; they saw redemption.
Forgiveness, you see, is a main part of my story. And forgiving my mother for those three abortion attempts is key point I share, each time I speak. My life changed for the better when I was able to call my mother and forgive her, and I encourage those I share my story with to forgive anyone they know and love who’s lost a child to abortion. Including themselves. Bringing that crucial piece into focus is a joy for me, and I always pray it brings healing to those listening. While I certainly don’t want to see more lives lost to abortion, I know there’s so much healing available in the simple act of forgiveness. In my case, that simple, yet profoundly powerful act brought healing in my relationship with my mother, and connected her with two other people…my children; her grandchildren.
Looking at my face, and again at my mother’s up on the screen, I brought them one more question, “See her? She was a student, actively involved in campus life here at Rider, and was committed to her studies. She’s one of your own. Your feet have likely walked many of the same places she has. She was brilliant, beautiful…and in many ways, just like you. She’s one of your own. She had choices, just like you do. If her first choice had ‘stuck’, I wouldn’t be here talking with you today. I’m here as a child of a Rider alumna, alive and well, asking you to consider your own children. Just like me, I bet they want to be alive. Will you choose life for your own children, so they can grow up, and come back to honor their parent(s), just like me?”
Robin Sertell is the Education Coordinator for the Abortion Survivors Network, and survivor of three failed saline infusion abortions. You can find her at www.robinsertell.com or www.abortionsurvivors.org.