Fifty-year-old Pam Stenzel is proud to proclaim that she is a living exception.
In 1965, her birth mother, a teenager at the time, was violently raped and became pregnant with Pam.
Despite the horrific nature of the conception, her mom chose to carry out the pregnancy and place Pam up for adoption.
“I always knew I was adopted,” said Stenzel, who, along with her family, is a member of Our Lady of Light Catholic Church in Fort Myers, Fla.
“I was the oldest of eight, and all of my brothers and sisters were adopted as well. I like to say that we had a ‘mini United Nations’ under our roof, and I thought that was great.”
However, she wouldn’t find out how her life began until she was in high school. It was then that her family’s social worker told her the details of the rape.
After learning that news, she told the Register that her struggle was more theological than anything else.
“If it was true that everything God creates was good, then he couldn’t have planned me. I must have been a mistake,” thought Stenzel, who grew up a devout Baptist. “That was where I really struggled.”
While a college student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, she threw herself into the pro-life movement.
“I just wanted to be there in a practical way vs. a political one, to help these girls going through an unplanned pregnancy. I fell in love with it (the pro-life movement).”
That was in 1983. Since then, she has told her story around the world. Through CDs, DVDs, books and curricula, Stenzel is a strong advocate for teen chastity and abstinence from sex before marriage.
In the early part of 2014, Stenzel teamed up with fellow pro-lifers Monica Kelsey and Kristi Hofferber to form the apostolate Living Exceptions.
Hofferber and Kelsey were conceived by rape as well. The trio developed a creative presentation called “Pro-Life Boot Camp.”
According to the group’s website, 60% of pro-lifers hold a rape exception when it comes to supporting life.
Kelsey explained that they tell their personal stories through skits and interaction with their audiences.
“At our boot camps, we (Stenzel and Hofferber) put a face on the ‘exception’ clause,” Kelsey said. “Ours is a positive message. We show people how to be 100% pro-life and not apologize for it.”
Kelsey, who is in her 40s, just met her birth mother several years ago.
“At age 17, my birth mother was violently attacked and raped on the side of the road,” Kelsey explained. “In fact, she went to get a back-alley abortion, but couldn’t do it because she knew she would be breaking the law. This was before Roe v. Wade.”
After giving birth to Monica, her birth mother abandoned her at the hospital. She was soon adopted by a loving family.
“My birth mom is the true hero here. I can’t imagine what she went through. My life was saved because of her,” she shared.
A Blessed Gift
Father Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, has worked with numerous women who are facing unwanted pregnancies.
He often hears the argument that to “force” a woman who has conceived through rape to carry that birth to term is a way of punishing the woman. The baby, they say, will be a constant reminder of the rape she experienced.
“This is absurd,” Father Pavone said. “The women in these cases will always be reminded of the rape. So to think that abortion in these incidences is a magic pill that will make this unthinkable pain go away doesn’t work. Instead, the mom has to now deal with the pain of abortion on top of her rape.”
“I always say to these women that once you have that life growing in you, you are a mother forever,” he added. “There is no going back. Abortion is not going to solve anything.”
Stenzel, a Catholic convert, adamantly agrees. As a pro-life counselor for more than 25 years, she hears on a weekly basis from women from around the world who have conceived through rape.
“Rape, in all its horror, can either destroy you, or you can redeem it,” explained Stenzel. “Time and time again, I have seen that the act of birth has brought about redemption. God can redeem the most horrific acts. What we need is to help these women, listen to their stories and walk with them.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Rolla, Missouri.