Gianna Jessen is a survivor.
She wasn’t supposed to live. She wasn’t supposed to walk.
Jessen survived an abortion attempt when her 17-year-old biological mother was seven-and-a-half months pregnant. She was 2½ pounds, which is about the size of a large cabbage.
But she lived. And despite disabilities she traces back to the abortion, she’s run two marathons. Now she plans to climb a mountain.
“I’ve had the most unusual life,” she said.
Today, she travels the world telling the unusual story of her birth. She visits St. Cloud State University on Tuesday. Her circumstances and the evangelical Christian beliefs she accepted at age 4 have made her a passionate anti-abortion advocate.
Her visit is sponsored by SCSU for Life, but president Brody Hagemeier hopes that people look beyond the politics.
“This goes beyond the rhetoric of the pro-life, pro-choice arguments. … This gives a human face to an issue that … lacks that kind of compassionate, human touch,” he said.
Jessen is rare: Significant medical advances and changes in abortion restrictions mean Jessen’s story is very unlikely to be repeated today. (More on this at the end of the story.)
“This is a survivor telling a survivor’s story — told with strength, clarity and courage,” Hagemeier said. “I understand that not everyone who attends this event is pro-life. … I think it’s important because this adds one more aspect to the conversation. Gianna’s story is unlike any other story.”
She’s been telling her life story to audiences since she was 14 years old. (“I wouldn’t recommend it. I was way too young and I had terrible hair,” she said, laughing.) She just turned 40 in early April.
“At 14, you don’t really know who you are,” she said. “I was just telling the truth as best as I could. Since then, I’ve traveled all over the world and met all kinds of different people.”
Jessen has cerebral palsy, which she traces directly to the lack of oxygen to her brain during the failed abortion, she said. Besides mobility and balance issues, she attributes some cognitive problems to her disability.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “But I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more fun. … I signed up for an extraordinary life. A lot of times we forget that so much wisdom can be gained through a struggle, not by eliminating them.”
Despite difficulties with balance, she’s set a new goal for herself: Train to climb a mountain.
“If I keep these astonishing goals in my head, I’m not preparing for defeat. I’m not preparing for wheelchairs. I’m not preparing to go downhill. That’s so crucial in life,” she said.