By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — She takes it personally.
Every time Rebecca Keissling hears a person say, “I’m pro-life, except for cases of rape,” she gets miffed.
And if you really want to push her “on” button, tell her, “I’m pro-choice, especially in cases of rape.”
That’s exactly how she was conceived, Keissling told hundreds of people packed into the ballroom of the Embassy Suites Hotel near KCI airport. Keissling, an attorney and a national pro-life speaker, was the featured speaker at the annual fundraising dinner to benefit the Parkville Women’s Clinic, a resource center to help women in crisis pregnancies turn away from abortion.
“When you make an exception for rape, will you stand before me, look me in the eye, and tell me, ‘I think your mother should have been allowed to abort you’?” Keissling said. “It’s like saying, ‘If I had my way, you’d be dead.’ How else can I look at it?”
Keissling told the pro-lifers who opened their checkbooks to raise, at early count, more than $89,000 in cash and monthly pledges for the clinic to be “100 percent pro-life” — no exceptions, not even for rape. Especially not for rape, Keissling said.
When her 4 foot 10, 90-pound mother was brutally beaten and raped by a stranger at knifepoint, the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion was still four years away. The law in Michigan, where her mother was raped, banned all abortions — no exceptions.
“I am alive today because pro-life voters and pro-life legislators in Michigan protected life even in cases of rape,” Keissling said. “They are my heroes.”
Growing up, Keissling knew she was adopted, but she didn’t know how she was conceived.
She said that when she turned 18, she petitioned the Michigan courts for “non-identifying information” that would tell her everything in her adoption records about her birth parents except their names.
The information about her birth mother was quite detailed, with a complete medical history down to the color of her eyes.
The entire file about her birth father was this: “Caucasian, large build.”
“That sounded like a police description to me,” Keissling said.
“I asked my caseworker, ‘Was my mother raped?’ She said, ‘Yeah. I didn’t want to tell you,’” Keissling said.
Suddenly, her world crashed. “Is this genetic? Do I have this ugliness lurking inside me? Will a nice guy ever want to get involved with me?” she said.
Not only that, but she continued to hear even staunch, pro-life advocates say, “I’m against abortion, except in cases of rape.”
“I even had half the pro-life people against me. I felt I had people standing in judgment of my life just because of the way I was conceived,” Keissling said.
“This is not a philosophical argument. This is about real people. I am a real person,” she said.
“When you make that rape exception, what you are saying to me is that I deserved the death penalty for the crime of my father, even though rape doesn’t carry the death penalty for him,” Keissling said.
Keissling said she had to find out more. She was one of the very first adoptees to petition the courts in Michigan successfully to assign a third party to contact her birth mother to tell her that her daughter wanted to meet her.
She soon received a letter back from her mother, telling her that she thought about her every day of her life, and would gladly meet her.
They did meet, and they forged a relationship quickly. Then her mother dropped another bombshell by telling her the truth.
“She told me that if abortion were legal in Michigan, she would have aborted me,” Keissling said.
In fact, her mother tried twice. The first time she went to a, quite literal, back alley abortionist. The conditions were so appallingly filthy, her mother turned around and left, Keissling said.
Then she tried to arrange for a “safer” illegal abortion, one that involved a blindfolded car ride to and from the clinic.
The abortionist called her to arrange the appointment and payment of the $500 fee. But when Keissling’s mother, still shocked by the conditions of the back alley abortion clinic, asked how clean and safe it would be, the abortionist called her stupid and began cursing at her. She hung up the phone.
“The utter horror of her saying that to me,” Keissling said. “Her body, her choice was more important than my entire future.”
But slowly, surely, as mother came to know and love the daughter she would have aborted, her mind changed about abortion, Keissling said, even in cases of rape.
That is God’s hand at work, she said.
“If you ask her today, she would say that I am a blessing,” Keissling said. “The child brings healing. When you feel suicidal because you were raped, the child gives you a reason for living.”
Even out of the worst horror that humankind can create, God can create beauty, Keissling said.
“One of the greatest things I have learned is that my mother’s rapist is not my Creator,” she said. “I am not the product of a rapist, but a child of God.
“If you want proof of your worth, look to the cross,” Keissling said. “That is the ultimate price paid for your life.”