Fourteen years ago she survived an abortion when her mother was 7 months pregnant, the young woman told an audience of about 2,000 people at Loyola College in Baltimore Thursday.
To some of the audience members, the pert California teen-ager was just good entertainment. Dressed in boots and a tie-dyed minidress,she sang contemporary Christian hits popularized by pop star Amy Grant.
But to most of the people at Thursday's gathering, Gianna is the reason they oppose abortion. In the last year, National Right-to-Life and other anti-abortion groups have promoted Jessen in literatureand at church rallies as a living symbol of their cause, a fresh-faced youngster they see as proof that each of the 1.6 million abortionsperformed in this country every year kills a human being.
"I'm anabortion survivor, but I'm not up here to put anyone down," said Gianna, who was sponsored at two other speaking engagements in Maryland this weekend by Bethany Christian Services, an Anne Arundel County adoption agency.
"I believe that women that have abortions need to realize there's forgiveness through Christ Jesus," said Gianna, addingthat her long-term goal is to start shelters for women in crisis pregnancies. "I'm just telling a story of God's love. I believe it was God who spared my life."
The blond teen-ager told the story of her 17-year-old biological mother's saline abortion, in which a saline salt solution was injected into the womb. The solution burns the fetus inside and out, and normally the mother delivers a dead baby within 24 hours.
In this instance, Gianna remained alive, although she suffers cerebral palsy as a result. An abortion clinic worker took the 2-pound infant to a hospital.
"My personal belief is that it was anangel who took me to the hospital," said Gianna.
The rarity of third trimester abortions is debatable. Third trimester abortions are legal in every state except Pennsylvania, says Nancy Myers, communications director for National Right to Life.
The Roe vs. Wade decision said states could prohibit third trimester abortions but not when the life or health of the mother is at stake. Another famous abortion case, Doe vs. Bolton, defined health broadly enough that there is no reason for which an abortion cannot be performed throughout pregnancy, Myers says.
"There is circumstantial evidence of thousands of third trimester abortions," says Myers, "but obviously few of the babies live, and if they do, it's only for a few minutes."
However, verifiable statistics are non-existent, and abortion-rights advocates argue that Gianna's case, if actually true, is extremely rare.
DePaul declines to identify Gianna's birth mother or the doctor who performed the abortion. To support her story, she has released medical records from the adoption that include a section called "Complications ofbirth" and the notation, "Born during saline abortion."
Gianna's mother said the doctor who performed the abortion -- whose name is onGianna's birth certificate -- knows Gianna survived. The doctor runsfour abortion clinics in a large city, she said.
"I guess (the doctor) considers me a failure . . . that I exist," said Gianna, duringa question-and-answer period after her performance.
The young woman learned two years ago on Christmas Day that she had been unsuccessfully aborted. As she often had, she asked her adoptive mother, DianaDePaul, "Why do I have this disability?"
DePaul replied, "Do you really want to know?"
And Gianna guessed: "I was aborted, right?"
The teen-ager calls her instant of knowing another miracle.
"I just knew. I was amazed at how God can work and what he can tell us,"she said. She recalls, joking, "At least I have cerebral palsy for an interesting reason!"
Since then, she and DePaul have traveled the pro-life circuit, opposing abortion and promoting what Gianna callsher "ministry of music."
The young woman told Thursday's audienceshe will begin recording the songs she herself writes this spring. Her long-term goal with Alive Ministries, which she helped found, is to set up shelter homes for mothers in crisis pregnancies.
"I'm notmad at my biological mother. I forgive her totally," says Gianna, despite the difficulties she has encountered because of the abortion.
After months in the hospital, Gianna went to a foster home, where, over doctor's predictions that the child would never sit up, she learned to crawl, then walk.
The teen-ager has endured four operationsto restore movement to her limbs and years of physical therapy and braces. But the San Clemente resident said she forgets she has cerebral palsy.
When she performed, it was easy to forget her bent posture. "Some people walk; some people race. God can use what you can givewithin the mystery of his ways," she sang.
Gianna appeared at last year's National Right to Life convention, then on the "700 Club" Christian television program, the "Maury Povich Show" and at dozens of Right-To-Life rallies.
The evening's anti-abortion message was clear to four pregnant teen-agers from Sparrow House, a Lutherville pregnancy home, who sat with hands folded over growing stomachs.
Looking at Gianna makes me glad I didn't have an abortion, said one of theyoung women (who asked that she not be named)."It makes me glad for this baby."