The woman behind DeSantis’ story of ‘abortion survivor Penny’

Miriam Hopper—a Florida woman who goes by the name Penny—is an anti-abortion activist

Kelly Rissman
Saturday 26 August 2023 20:32 BST

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Louise Thomas

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At the first Republican primary debate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis invoked the story of an “abortion survivor” after he was asked about his state’s six-week abortion ban.

“I know a lady in Florida named Penny,” Mr DeSantis said on Wednesday. “She survived multiple abortion attempts. She was left discarded in a pan. Fortunately, her grandmother saved her and brought her to a different hospital.”

A number of social media users questioned the veracity of the Florida governor’s account.

“The story of Penny found in the pan by DeSantis is ludicrous, and obviously untrue,” Steve Schmidt, a founder of the anti-Trump Republican group The Lincoln Project, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It should be looked into by the media.”

“I understand that politicians lie, but DeSantis’s story about ‘Penny,’ a woman he says survived multiple abortion attempts and was rescued from a pan by her grandmother(????), is just such a bizarre and impossible story, it’s stunning that any human is that gullible,” tweeted Jill Filipovic, a writer who covers women’s rights.

But, according to The New York Times, Miriam Hopper—a Florida woman who goes by the name Penny—is an anti-abortion activist who refers to herself as an “abortion survivor”.

She shared her story last year with the anti-abortion advocacy group Protect Life Michigan, and was previously interviewed in 2013, by a Florida radio station.

Ms Hopper was born in the 1950s at a time when abortion was illegal in the United States.

In the video for pro-life group, Faces of Choice, Ms Hopper recalled the story of her birth. She shared how her mother went to a local clinic in Florida at 23 weeks’ pregnant as she was “extremely ill” and “experiencing spotting.”

The 2024 candidates who participated in the first Republican primary debate
The 2024 candidates who participated in the first Republican primary debate (Associated Press)

The doctor, according to Ms Hopper, told her mother: “I do not hear a heart beating. We are going to have to abort.”

Ms Hopper said that the doctor “induced the abortion by giving my mother a shot. He looked at both my parents, and he said, ‘You do not want this baby to live. If it lives, it will be a burden on you for the rest of your lives.’”

The doctor then ordered the nurse to “discard the baby dead or alive,” according to Ms Hopper.

Ms Hopper said that she weighed a mere 1lb and 11oz when she was born and was placed in a bedpan on the back porch of the clinic.

Ms Hopper’s grandmother “was so upset about the circumstances” that she contacted the police.

Ms Hopper then said a nurse, who had cared for her mother, “volunteered to transport me to Morrell Hospital in Lakeland” where she suffered multiple bouts of pneumonia. The doctor at the hospital reportedly said that “he too did not think that my life had value and that I needed to survive”.

The oxygen she was given caused her hair to turn a copper-red color, which gave her the nickname Penny. “A name I still carry today,” Ms Hopper explained.

“I ended up having a great life,” Ms Hopper added. “I ended up with a brother who’s my best friend. I ended up marrying my high-school sweetheart. I have two children and seven grandchildren. Life has value, and all lives matter.”

Ms Hopper does not appear to have spoken publicly following Mr DeSantis’ debate appearance.

Diane Horvath, an obstetrician and gynecologist who performs abortions in Maryland, told The Times: “There’s a lot of parts of this story that don’t make sense to me.”

She noted that at the time of Ms Hopper’s birth, doctors didn’t have medical equipment to keep extremely premature babies alive.

Dr Horvath added: “It doesn’t represent the reality of medical practice at this moment… It’s not really relevant to what we should be talking about when we talk about access to abortion.”

Mr DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban into law in Florida earlier this year. Political strategists have said that his stance may be too extreme on the national stage as most Americans believe abortion should be legal, and two-thirds say it should be permitted in the first trimester of pregnancy, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The Florida Republican is polling second in the 2024 GOP race, according to data from FiveThirtyEight, at 14.7 per cent - a large chunk behind former president Donald Trump on 52 per cent.

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