This November, Mississippi will be voting on an anti-abortion ballot measure to amend the state constitution by redefining the meaning of the word “person” to include fertilized eggs. Under the proposed language, personhood would begin at the moment of conception, granting full rights to zygote Mississippians. While the Personhood amendment would have amusing implications for everything from carpool lanes to redistricting, what’s not amusing at all is what would happen to reproductive rights if Ballot Measure 26 becomes law.
The Personhood amendment would outlaw all abortions in the state. Also under attack is emergency contraception. And in neither case would there be an exception for victims of rape or incest. While the amendment, if passed, is likely to be challenged in federal court and declared unconstitutional, it’s the increasing hostility toward rape victims I want to discuss.
It used to be that most forced pregnancy activists supported rape and incest exceptions. Whether it was compassion for the victims, or a desire to punish only “sluts” who willingly had sex, or wanting to protect men from the possibility of having to raise the offspring of their wife’s rapist, or perhaps a combination of those factors–until fairly recently, most anti-choicers were not advocating prolonging the torture of a 13-year-old incest victim by forcing her to give birth to her own sister. “No exceptions” was largely the battle cry of the farthest right fringe.
In the last 2-3 years, however, this fringe position was propelled into the mainstream by the likes of Sarah “No Mercy for Rape and Incest Victims” Palin, and minds began to change. For Personhood Mississippi, though, they’re not changing fast enough, and so the group pushing Mississippi’s Personhood amendment decided to launch a “Conceived in Rape” Tour. Yes, you read that right. The “Conceived in Rape” Tour’s featured speaker is professional forced pregnancy activist and family law attorney Rebecca Kiessling, who is an excellent example of why I would always abort the spawn of rapists.
Kiessling’s website is quite something. She claims that in the late 1960s, i.e., pre-Roe, her birth mother (Kiessling was adopted as a baby) was impregnated by a knife-wielding serial rapist. She further claims that the rape counselor advised her birth mother to have an abortion and referred her to a back alley abortion provider. In fact, she was referred to two different “abortionists,” but the conditions were so deplorable and she was treated so shabbily that she decided not to go through with it–just like most women back then didn’t go through with it for those reasons. Riiight…
A couple of things jumped out at me as I was reading Kiessling’s “story.” The first is the complete lack of empathy and compassion for her birth mother. Imagine being brutally raped by a man who is threatening to slaughter you, then learning you’re pregnant by that psychopath and knowing there’s no legal way for you to abort this pregnancy. The absolute and complete horror of this situation sends chills through my entire body. Not so for Rebecca Kiessling. There is not a single word to suggest Kiessling feels the slightest bit of compassion for the torment her birth mother endured. The entire page is ME, ME, ME!
Which brings me to the next point: Kiessling’s grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement. The mere suggestion that her birth mother should have had a choice about whether or not to carry this pregnancy to term is a personal insult beyond compare. If her birth mother had a choice, Kiessling might not have been born, and there is no greater horror or injustice than a world without Kiessling! After all, she writes, “Your life is different because she could not legally abort me because you are sitting here reading my words today!”
I can’t help but see the parallels between Kiessling and her birth father here. “Daddy” was a serial rapist who hunted women like prey. He was able to do this because his victims weren’t real to him. They weren’t real people with plans, hopes, responsibilities, and loved ones. They were objects to be used and discarded. They didn’t matter. Only he mattered. He couldn’t care less about the suffering he was causing them and the potential for lifelong scars.
Maybe he even got off on their pain, fear, and humiliation, in which case he would positively adore the idea of the state extending their torment for another nine months. Or maybe he wasn’t a sadist. Maybe he figured what he was doing was no big deal because, hey, that’s what women are there for, right? Who needs consent when all you’re doing is using the bitch for her intended purpose? How traumatic could that possibly be?
That seems to be what Kiessling is thinking when she argues that rape victims should be forced to bear their rapist’s offspring, after which they’re free to give the baby up for adoption so it can grow up to be as self-absorbed and lacking in empathy as she is. Nine months of forced pregnancy followed by the agony of forced labor and forced birth? No biggie. After all, that’s what women are there for. Complications resulting in incontinence, paralysis, or death? Oh well. Will Kiessling consider herself guilty of murder if a twelve-year-old rape victim she denied an abortion dies from pregnancy-related complications? Don’t be silly! That would simply be God’s will.
Kiessling and her birth father both believe they have the right to commandeer a woman’s body and use it as they see fit. They are wrong. That’s the part that gets lost in all those “when does life begin?” debates. There is no question that I am very much alive. But if it turns out tomorrow that I require a bone marrow transplant for my continued survival and Rebecca Kiessling is the only match in the world, that doesn’t mean I can force her to give me some of her bone marrow. Even though donating bone marrow is far less painful than going through labor and giving birth. Even though, unlike pregnancy, no one has ever died from donating bone marrow and the procedure is not known to cause long-term health problems and permanent physical changes. And even if I will die with 100% certainty if I don’t get a transplant–I still can’t commandeer her body against her will to ensure my own survival. Nor should I be able to.
And in case anyone thinks I just don’t understand what poor Rebecca went through learning that she was “almost” aborted, my mom, unlike Kiessling’s birth mother, not only had the option of aborting a pregnancy, she exercised that option several times. In fact, I am the result of the first pregnancy she decided to carry to term. My mom always knew she wanted kids, but she felt she needed to gain some measure of financial independence first. She had seen too many women in her working class neighborhood have kids too young and become financially dependent on the men in their lives, who then took advantage of that dependence.
So yeah, the pregnancy resulting in yours truly could have very easily been aborted; it certainly wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And you know what? That wouldn’t bother me one bit. Because I wouldn’t exist in that case. What would bother me though is knowing that my mom had me only because she was forced to. I would not want to live in a society that treats female humans like walking incubators with fewer rights than a zygote. A society in which women and girls can be impregnated against their will and then forced to risk their lives carrying that pregnancy to term. And I can say without hesitation that I would die before I would give birth to the offspring of the men who raped me.
Finally, there’s one more thing I want to address because it’s indicative of the deep contempt forced birthers like Kiessling have for women. Kiessling would have us believe that rape victims don’t really want abortions, just like women in general don’t want abortions. It’s just that we’re too confused, too easily influenced, too emotional, too weak, or just plain too dumb to know what we want. When a woman says she wants an abortion, it’s because someone else convinced her that this is what she should do. In the case of Kiessling’s birth mother, that someone was the evil rape crisis counselor. I don’t think I need to spell out how incredibly insulting that crap is.
But in so far as reproductive coercion is a real problem, the fundies are, as usual, projecting. Because abortion providers aren’t the ones committing reproductive coercion. Far right fundies like Kiessling are the ones who seek to remove reproductive freedom with their “crisis pregnancy centers” and TRAP laws, their attacks on contraception and sex ed, their opposition to family leave policies and government-funded daycare, and of course their economic policies, which promote ever greater income inequality and poverty.
Then again, I’m sure Kiessling doesn’t expect most of the rape victims she would like to force to give birth to actually raise those kids, so who cares if they’re poor and can’t afford daycare. After all, if you’re married, you can’t demand that your hubby raise the child of the man who brutally raped you as his own if he’s not volunteering for the job (but demanding that you give birth to this child is a-okay, of course; unlike hubby, you don’t deserve a choice in the matter). And if you aren’t married, you have no business raising children in the first place, according to social conservatives like Kiessling. But not to worry, there are plenty of nice fundie families eager to adopt and raise your kid to be a rape culture promoting misogynist with the same sense of entitlement and contempt for consent and bodily autonomy your rapist had.