From the very beginning, Miss Jessen survived in spite of herself. Her mother, Tina, a 17-year-old single woman, decided to have an abortion by saline injection when she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant (there is no legal time limit for abortion in America).
But in the early morning of April 6, 1977, the abortion failed. Against the odds, the baby had lived. A nurse called the emergency services and the child was taken to hospital. She weighed only 2lb and the abortionist had to sign her birth certificate.
Then, at 17 months, Miss Jessen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, caused by her brain being starved of oxygen during the termination. "The doctors said I was in a horrible state," she says. "They said I would never be able to lift up my head, but eventually I did.
"Then they said I would never be able to sit up straight, but I sat up straight. Then they said I would never be able to walk, but by the age of three I was walking with a frame and leg braces." She pauses before adding: "I have a little bit of feistiness in me."...
Does she ever blame her mother for leaving her with this condition? "I've never been angry with her because she's a stranger," Miss Jessen says. "She hasn't said she's sorry and I know that she had another abortion after me. But I don't feel sad or bitter because we can choose to overcome and be sweet or we can overcome and be angry. I want to be the former."
Her biological mother has remarried and now lives in Southern California, and although she has seen her daughter on television, Miss Jessen has never contacted her.
Perhaps, after enduring the trauma of four operations in her first 10 years - three to resolve problems with her Achilles tendon, the fourth to splice the spastic nerves in her spine together - the pain of sitting down face to face with the mother who tried to kill her would be too great.
"I feel that I have my mother already - my adoptive mother, Diana [who adopted her when she was four]," she says, with quiet firmness. "At this point, I don't want to be in touch with my biological mother. But it's not that I'm angry with her. I forgive her totally."
It becomes clear that forgiveness has not come easily. Miss Jessen's earliest memory is of having tantrums on the floor of her foster mother's house.
She also remembers a tremendous fear of fire. "I think that was the result of what had happened," she says. "A saline injection abortion effectively burns you in your mother's womb."
She was bullied at school and recalls crying at the taunts of other children. When she was 16, a stranger came up to her and told her that children with disabilities were a burden on society. "I just looked at her, smiled and knew she was wrong," Miss Jessen says.
It is not surprising, then, that however much Miss Jessen claims to have no bitterness, there is still a slight sadness in the downturned corners of her blue-green eyes.
"My mother made a decision that she thought affected only her, and yet every day I bear the result of that decision through my cerebral palsy," she says. "I'm not saying that in condemnation, but in truth.
"It's more comfortable for people to think of abortion as a political decision, or a right. But I am not a right. I am a human being. I am the reality. Gently I put the question, if abortion is about women's rights, then where were mine? There was no radical feminist screaming for my rights on that day.
"That is why I want to live my life with integrity, having lived what I profess. My job is not to change your mind [if you are pro-abortion]. My job is to present the truth and leave you to decide."...
More than 180,000 women in England and Wales had terminations last year and British law allows for a termination up to 24 weeks. After that, an abortion can only be justified on the grounds of a "serious handicap".... Last week, a study found that 50 babies a year live through termination in Britain.
For Miss Jessen, however, any time limit is irrelevant. "I don't believe in abortion, simply put," she says. "I do believe in adoption. The arguments for abortion are falling one by one.<>Now, in one wing of the hospital, doctors are killing children in the womb while in another wing, they are desperately trying to save a baby of exactly the same size in a different womb. It makes no sense. Is my value based on what I can and can't do? If so, we're living in a very scary time."...
Some twelve years ago, I remember seeing on the news a story about Gianna (unless it was someone else who suffered cerebral palsy from the same kind of botched abortion -- I don't recall the name, and since we have far more late term abortions here than in the UK, I'm sure there must be much more than 50 survivors a year) testifying at senate hearings about an abortion bill. Our brave and open-minded Senator Feinstein made a big deal of walking out and refusing to hear her testimony -- saying she was shocked that pro-lifers would try to grand stand in such a way to deprive women of their rights.
There are those who have the charity or optimism about human nature to hope that hell is empty. I confess that I do not.
Dante is best understood as placing historical personalities in hell, not from a conviction that he knew their eternal fates, but because they exemplified certain sins in the popular knowledge of the day. Thus, a modern version of Dante might find Nixon and Clinton together in the trench of Falsifiers in nether hell -- not because the author knew they were there, but because they exemplified lying in public life to most readers. Similarly, in my own mind, Feinstein's refusal to face the victims of her policies seems a worthy qualifier for the lead-lined golden cloaks of the circle of the hypocrites.
In like fashion, I feel certain there is now a swamp of saline in the River Styx, where the murderers of today's Holy Innocents are pushed down into the bubbling mire by demons wearing NARAL and Planned Parenthood buttons.
Hell is indeed a very real place. We create if piece by piece with each sin we commit. There is no torture in the pit of Dis that we are not the inventors of. Dante's brilliance is that the punishments of hell are not externally imposed punishments, but the physicalization of the sins themselves. Hell is nothing more or less than the full realization and experience of the sins that put one there.