Legislation in Alabama that would ban abortion, recently signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, has reawakened a debate within the pro-life movement over whether or not exceptions for rape should be included in pro-life legislation.
The new Alabama law does not make exceptions for women who conceived after being raped. While some prominent lawmakers normally regarded as pro-life have said that the bill goes “too far” and support rape exceptions, some women who chose to have the child after becoming pregnant from rape and others who were conceived in rape are voicing their opposition to such exceptions and have applauded the Alabama measure.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, recently explained her reasoning for the absence of rape exceptions to The Washington Post. She said that while she has empathy for survivors of rape and incest, she wants “to make sure the law is strong enough to force federal court intervention — something she and others hope will lead to national restrictions on abortion.”
“It has to be 100% a person at conception,” Collins emphasized, adding that “rape and incest could be an exception in state law,” but “what I’m trying to do here is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned.”
Several prominent pro-life Republican lawmakers voiced their objection to the lack of rape exceptions, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said the law goes “further” than he believes. “I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on,” he explained.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel similarly disagreed with the lack of rape exceptions, but acknowledged that the party had room for those with different views on the issue, calling Republicans “the party of life.”
‘It Was About My Child’
Jennifer Christie spoke with the Register about why she is opposed to rape exceptions in pro-life legislation. Christie was raped on a business trip but chose to keep and raise her son, whom she regards as a “gift.” She explained how her own views changed on the issue.
“I’ve always been pro-life for as long as I can remember, but I used to believe that in cases of rape we should definitely make an exception, because what a horrific thing for a woman to have to live with: this reminder of being raped,” she said.
When she discovered she was pregnant after rape, she said that, suddenly, “it was me, and, suddenly, it wasn’t about statistics and numbers and faceless masses or political points. It was about my child and my experience.”
She said that when “you’ve been violated and you’re broken and your world is shattered, finding out you’re pregnant is not what people say it is, the people who have not experienced it. It’s by and large not the end of the world.”
Christie said that she and other women who chose to keep and raise their children who were conceived in rape see it as “sort of a new beginning,” and “for me and for many others, the pregnancy after such a horrific thing is a light in the darkness and is a bit of joy.”
“What happens when people who consider themselves pro-life make exceptions for rape is you’re really devaluing an entire people group. You know, you’re saying all lives matter except these we’re willing to sacrifice,” she emphasized. “We can’t do that and be consistent in our morality.”
Christie recounted that she often hears from women who did choose abortion after rape that they “never got over” the abortion.
“It’s a lie when we say that abortion is what’s going to be healing, because we’re telling the woman that this is going to help you forget, this is going to help you move on, and nothing erases the trauma of rape,” she pointed out. “What we need to do is come alongside them and offer the loving option of carrying the pregnancy, of being supported and offering a child for adoption if you don’t want to raise it. But compounding one crime with another is not the answer.”
Rebecca Kiessling heads “Save the One,” an organization of mothers who chose to keep their children after rape and of children conceived in rape. Kiessling herself was conceived in rape.
She told the Register that due to the media’s coverage of the lack of rape exceptions in the Alabama bill, the mothers in her group have all been discussing “how hard it is to see the rhetoric.” She explained that “they’re feeling triggered, and they’re just horrified to see how their children are spoken of, how they’re described. … Being called a rapist’s child, first of all, is the biggest affront — what a slap in the face to them.”
Kiessling said that she describes herself as “the child of a rape victim” and that she and her mother “object to me being characterized otherwise.”
From her perspective as an attorney, she argued that “the pro-life movement’s got to do better” when it comes to making exceptions in pro-life laws. “The 14th Amendment says that no state shall deny a person equal protection of the law; and when you add exceptions, you are denying a person equal protection,” she said.
She added that her inspiration to fight for pro-life laws with no exceptions comes from her personal story of being spared from abortion because it was illegal at the time.
“My birth mother was abducted at knifepoint by a serial rapist. She went to two illegal abortionists, did not go through with it because of the back-alley conditions and the fact that it was illegal,” she recounted. “She was pro-choice when we met and made it clear that she would have aborted me if it had been legal and that should have been her right, even though she was happy to meet me.”
Six years later, Kiessling said, her mother “changed her mind, she changed her choice, and now, decades later, we are both thankful that we were both protected from abortion. With abortion, it’s too late to change your choice.”
“It’s out of gratitude for my own life being protected that I seek to get the same legal protection for others,” she concluded.
Pro-Life Groups’ Perspective
Several pro-life groups have applauded the lack of rape exceptions in the Alabama bill. Americans United for Life President Catherine Glenn Foster argued that the bill guarantees “the most life-affirming outcomes” for mother and child.
“From conception to natural death, every single human life deserves to be protected by law,” she said in a statement. “The violence of abortion is never the answer to the violence of rape. Like other states that have passed laws concerning when life begins, Alabama has relied upon scientific and medical facts.”
Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, told the Register that the Alabama law finally addresses the stigma that children conceived in rape face.
“Children conceived in rape are still children, unique and valuable, deserving of their own chance to make a mark on the world,” she said. “A civil society does not execute children for the crimes of their fathers, yet when it comes to abortion, the knee-jerk assumption is that they should pay the ultimate price.”
Said Hawkins, “The prejudice against children conceived in rape and the politically correct talking point that the world would be better off if they were dead is unacceptable, inhumane and finally addressed in the Alabama law.”
Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.