Anarida: Hi Mrs. Kiessling. Thank you very much for doing this interview with me.
Rebecca: Definitely. No problem.
Anarida: If we could begin by telling me about your background and what lead you to where you are today.
Rebecca: My background is that I was adopted and I learned at 18 that I was conceived when my birthmother was raped. At 19 I met her, she was thrilled to meet me, but she did share the horrible details of the rape. She was a single mom heading to the grocery store at night right down the street from her home in Livonia. He jumped out of the bushes with a knife, slit open her clothes with a knife and basically she described to me in graphic detail how he brutally raped her, and that’s how I was conceived. She actually went to two back-alley abortionists, and I was almost aborted, but she backed because out of the conditions and the fact that it was illegal. But now today, we are both thankful that we were both spared the horror of abortion. In fact, four years ago, she and her husband legally adopted me. And so, she says that I’m a blessing to her, I honor her and I bring her healing. I’m very grateful that my life was spared. Again my mother did not choose life for me -- she chose abortion, but pro-life legislators, activists, and voters chose life for me and I owe my birth to the law that was there to protect me. It is out of gratitude for my own life being spared that I seek to do the same for others. The most selfish thing would be to say “oh well, at least I’m alive, at least my life was spared,” but I feel a sense of obligation to in turn help others so that they can have the same opportunity.
Anarida: Was that your ultimate goal behind becoming an activist?
Rebecca: Yes, definitely. I had wanted to be an attorney since I was about 10 because I’ve always wanted/had an interest in seeking justice and in defending victims.
Anarida: What are some of the things that you have been able to accomplish, like for instance, what are some bills or laws that you have been able to pass?
Rebecca: Well, first of all I have been involved in an awful lot in pro-life efforts, but as far as legislatively, I have testified before many state legislatures including one yesterday in Ohio -- I testified on the Heartbeat Bill with several other members with our organization -- Save the 1, which is the organization I founded, with hundreds of others like me who were conceived in rape or mothers from rape, birth-moms from rape, or post-abortive from rape. So we’re all of the so-called “Hard-cases” of the abortion debate. How would you like to be called a “Hard-case?” If you knew us, you would realize that we are easy to love, but that is a moniker, an unfortunate moniker with which we live. So I was instrumental in getting many bills passed out of committee, some of them -- some of the Personhood and Abortion bans were killed on the House floor or on the Senate floor because of the Hyde Amendment which is a federal law that was a ban on Medicaid funding of abortion, and in the Hyde Amendment for the last 22 years or so, there has been a rape-exception in place. It used to be that states were allowed to fund in cases of rape, but states like Michigan opted out, they chose not to -- they actually passed laws not to fund it and in Michigan, we actually had a referendum and the people of Michigan voted to have no funding even in rape and incest, no Medicaid funding of abortion. But under Clinton, with a single letter to HHS it became a mandate on the state and then states like Michigan ended up under court order where they have to fund in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother. Michigan passed a subsequent law to really close up the loophole to make a standard on how to qualify, so in Michigan we fund between 1 to 5 abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life of mother every year. Michigan is the only state which has never had a rape exception in any of its laws.
I was involved in the veto override in Michigan when the Governor vetoed the “No-taxpayer funding of abortion act.” Right to Life Michigan decided to have 10 of us from Save the 1 at the Capitol to do a press conference. Instead of the pro-life legislators debating the issue on the floor and being quoted in the media, Right Life of Michigan just allowed us to be the sole voice on this and it was very effective. The next day, the photo in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Detroit Free Press, and all across the country was our picture – the group of 10 from Save The 1.
The other thing that we were involved in recently was in Missouri, in September. We were part of an override of the Governor’s veto and there were five of us who were either conceived in rape, mother from rape, and a grandmother from rape. We shared out stories with legislators all day and spoke at a rally in the Capital Rotunda. We were up in the gallery when many of the legislators were pointing to us as they debated on the House floor. I got to sit on the Senate floor as they took the vote and with a super majority in Missouri, they successfully overrode the Governor’s veto on the 72-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion.
Just recently, one of our members was involved in the override of the Governor’s veto in West Virginia. It was the “Late-Term Abortion Ban” where they have no exceptions at all. Rebekah Berg, mother from rape from Save The 1 was there, and they successfully overrode the WV Governor’s veto. Again, they needed a super majority. It was the first time that a Governor’s veto was overridden in West Virginia since like the early 80s. And they didn’t just get the super-majority -- they crushed it.
We were just involved in testifying in New Mexico last week on a “Late-Term Abortion Ban” that already has a rape exception in and we were hoping to see that a section would be removed. We explained how this violates equal protection in the Fourteenth amendment – the equal protection clause, and how discriminatory this exception really is because rapists, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, don’t deserve the death penalty. The Supreme Court said in Coker v. Georgia and in a subsequent case -- Kennedy vs. Louisiana, that for child molesters, it is cruel and unusual punishment. We are in America, where we don’t punish innocent people for someone else’s crime, ordinarily, except when it comes to abortion laws and a child conceived in rape. It has to stop.
I also helped change the heart of Governor Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich during their presidential campaigns. Governor Rick Perry came out publicly four times talking about our conversation, how my story pierced his heart, saying that he could not justify the rape exception any longer. Nine months before we met, there was a Sonogram bill that had the rape exception in it, and Texas law had been riddled with rape exceptions, but ever since my conversation with him, they have passed some of the most stringent abortion laws in the country. There have been no rape exceptions, and in fact, these bills didn’t even make it out of committee with a rape exception because Governor Perry had a change of heart and went back and changed the culture in his state.
Anarida: Does Michigan pose its own challenges in terms of geography demographics?
Rebecca: I have spoken at high school assemblies, universities, law schools, and right to life banquets, pregnancy center fundraisers, rallies all over Michigan, and churches for years. What is really exciting is that Right to Life Michigan commissioned some research on messaging on this issue after I urged them to do so. I had told them that I spoke before pro-life congressmen on Capitol Hill -- an event sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List a year and half ago, and I told the Congressmen that we had tips on our website, savethe1.com, on messaging on this issue so that they wouldn’t say something stupid. [laughs] Every single one of them said it’s got to be researched-based. I went back to Right to Life Michigan and several other no-compromise organizations and told them we really need research on this. So, three organizations, including Right to Life Michigan, did a five-state, interactive, online study and they interviewed people before, half-way through, and after to see if we could change their opinion on the question of abortion in case of rape, and we could see that we were able to dramatically change people’s opinions. Then the participants had to rate the information -- which messaging was most effective. We could show that the number one messaging was to put a face to the issue, to invoke the story of a woman who is conceived in rape or of a woman who became pregnant by rape. Also, it’s effective to appeal to their sense of justice -- that we don’t punish innocent people for someone else’s crime.
So as a result, Right to Life Michigan decided to use a few of our Save the 1 speakers who are from Michigan. They did beautiful ads, thirty-second ads, that they have been running all over the state. We are thrilled to pair up with Right to Life Michigan, as well as other no-compromise organizations. I think that Right to Life Michigan is doing it right by doing these statewide ads. They know which demographics they need to appeal to and when and where to run these ads. Through surveys we have concluded that it is easy to sway people’s opinions about the rape exception just by putting a face to the issue.
Anarida: So would you say that that’s your biggest challenge? Not being able to attach a face to what abortion does?
Rebecca: Yeah, definitely. I know that there are organizations that are parading around graphic images of aborted babies. Personally, I don’t do that because it’s very personal for me, it’s very painful. I look at those images and can place myself in that photo and I have a really hard time looking at them. I understand the philosophy of why some people do that because they feel like graphic images are what helped to bring awareness to the holocaust and lynchings and other forms of genocides. So, I understand why they are doing it. I just have great difficulty doing that myself. I don’t think you need to have graphic images, I think that you can have images of real life people. What I am trying to say is that it’s real stories that pierce the heart in ways that arguments cannot.
Anarida: I agree. I mean, emotions are the one way that you can connect with other people on.
Rebecca: My philosophical abortion essay has been ranked number one on Google for about 15 years. I am well able to go there. A lot of professors and students utilize my essay. I am well able to challenge anybody in the philosophical and legal arguments, but I still find that, philosophy doesn’t pierce the heart. I think that a lot of people feel comfortable in keeping this discussion in the philosophical realm, so that they can play “let’s make pretend we’re not talking about real people.” When you have a real story before them, they can’t just easily dismiss it, although often times, they’ll try.
Anarida: Okay, so on another note, how have your opponents made your goals more difficult to reach and who are some of these opponents?
Rebecca: The media is the biggest obstacle. Their reporting is very unfair and very biased. They oftentimes will not even use our name and definitely do not want to use our photos. For example, yesterday, there was some liberal … I don’t know if it was a blogger or what it was, but they were trying to lambaste a legislator in Ohio who hosted an open-house in his office and he invited every single legislator in Ohio, every senator and representative in Ohio to come meet us. The group of us were conceived in rape or a mother from rape and her little girl and the liberal blogger actually posted a copy of the invitation because he thought that it was extreme that the legislator would want to have people meet us. Like, I don’t know, what was he supposed to host? A stoning?! I thought, wow he is doing us a favor because he is posting the invitation and in the invitations were our stories, but I definitely had to note the fact that he removed our photos from the invitation because I think he realized that it really is too powerful to put faces to this, so he removed our faces.
When Rachel Maddow was doing a segment on how I was doing a conceived in rape tour during the Personhood effort in Mississippi, she had a ridiculous title -- something like “When Men Stare at Zygotes.” She said how we were parading this “rapist child” or “rape baby” across Mississippi and she thought it was ridiculous. But she would not mention that I was a female, she made sure to not use the pronoun “she” or “her” or to say “Rebecca” or anything like that, anything that would humanize me. Other examples include the media changing my quotes. They will make it look like I actually said the word fetus. I don’t talk like that. Or, they will have me call myself “Anti-Abortion” and I am anti-abortion, but it’s just crazy how they can take a quote [and change it] and I’ve actually called a reporter and followed up with them and challenged them and some of them had said “it wasn’t me, our editorial staff did it” ------ that they have a search engine that will automatically edit those words.
At the March for Life, the media will show those few scattered pro-life individuals instead of the aerial view. It’s ridiculous that they absolutely conspire to not show the American public what’s really happening. Another example -- yesterday, there was a media story on Chanel 4 News in Ohio which covered what we were doing in the Capitol. They did interview one of our members from Save the 1, but they had this overall theme that it was all about religion. The crazy thing is that, every single one of us from my organization who testified and all the expert witnesses did not say one thing about the Bible or God or religion. Our arguments appeal to science, logic, our personal stories . . . , we didn’t say anything about God, yet the media tried to make it look like that’s all we had. That is why I wrote that essay because this has nothing to do with religion, this is about civil rights.
Anarida: So how do you deal with those people that are so put off by your position that are willing to make it seem that it’s more of a religious issue than a scientific issue?
Rebecca: Well, first of all, I do want to get to the media because that is how you get to the general public unless you want to spend a lot of money to run ads. We do have pro-life media, but in order to reach the general population like using the news, I have tried to challenge them and call them out when they are being unfair. I also try to limit the soundbites. I was telling a legislator in Ohio “Look next week when you have hearings again, please make sure that the only soundbites out there are from people who aren’t going to be talking about religion” because there were some pastors who testified. I would prefer to not see that in a legislature because you’re just contributing to this whole myth that religion is all this is. It’s not to say that there isn’t a place in society for them sharing, but before the legislative body, I don’t think that was the right place; I don’t think it’s the right forum when it comes to this issue.
Anarida: What do you have to say to those pro-life activists that do make the exception to rape or incest?
Rebecca: My organization is trying to reach activists who are willing to compromise. That’s the hard part, they may say they are pro-life, but then are willing to throw us under the bus when it comes to legislation. Again, I have changed the mind of many pro-life activists. This legislator read the Personhood book and said that he was a no-compromise guy. He said that if his bill gets a rape-exception added, he said he can’t vote against it and can’t vote for it, but he said that he would instead stand up and walk out. I said that’s great! We need people who are willing to take a stand. When you set the bar low, legislators will meet it. When you set the bar high, you challenge them to meet it.
Anarida: On your website you talk about your plan to shutdown Planned Parenthood. Are they your number one target?
[The plan was written as a joke, but with some meaning behind it]
Rebecca: Nobody has brought that up in a long time, I wrote that several years ago. I’ve actually had some people say “That could actually work.” (laughs) … Planned Parenthood is protecting rapists, they really are. They are enabling traffickers and perpetrators of incest to continue what they are doing. Abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, are a sex trafficker’s best friend. They could not do what they do without Planned Parenthood’s help. They need them to get these girls on birth control and they need them to get them abortions when they get pregnant. They need these clinics because the girls are no good to them when they are pregnant. An expose was done showing how abortion clinics protect traffickers and how they are not reporting rape. The expose shows how the abortion clinic workers are telling girls to lie about how old their boyfriend is when it is statutory rape. They coach the girls to not say how old he is. They are protecting the rapist, not the victim. They are enabling them to continue on doing what they do. Part of our mission is that we want to send the message that if you really care about pregnant rape victims, you should want to protect her from the rapist and the abortion, and not from the baby. The baby is not the scary enemy.
Anarida: How do you think should doctors and women that want abortions be dealt with? Should doctors be imprisoned? What happens with the women?
Rebecca: I believe in empowering the women. I believe that women get exploited in these situations. I would like to see legislation passed where a woman who testifies against the abortionist would be protected from prosecution and I would like to see her empowered with the ability to sue the abortionist. Right now a woman can’t sue for the wrongful death of her child by an abortionist because of the consent issue. I would like to see enabling legislation where it would authorize a woman to sue her abortionist for wrongful death of her unborn child because I think every woman is inherently exploited. If you look at studies on why women abort, it is not because they don’t like babies. There are very few women who would ever say “I hate babies.” If you look at reasons why women abort, they say they would want the baby under different circumstances, but out of fear, they abort. There are a high percentage of women who are coerced to abort their children; there are ton of studies that show that. I believe in empowering these women. I don’t believe that abortion should ever be a solution. Killing should never be a solution.
Anarida: What happens if the mother’s life is placed in danger? Should abortion be legal then?
Rebecca: I believe in being able to pre-maturely terminate a pregnancy for the life of the mother, but where you treat them both. The right to pre-maturely terminate a pregnancy does not mean the right to secure the death of a child. [You treat them both]
Anarida: What are some current tactics you are using to influence state policy?
Rebecca: I testify in front of legislatures, we do a ton of blogging. We do issue advocacy. With Save The 1, we also put out all kinds of literature, DVDs; we have all kinds of videos on the Internet. I do speaker and activism training all across the country on this issue. We have billboard campaigns all over the country. Many of us are writing or have written books. We are planning to write a book together. The stories we have put out have gone viral and have been used around the world. On my website, stories and several pages have been translated in other languages. We have Facebook groups where we are mobilizing people to unify from state to state. We have booths at different conventions.
Anarida: Going back to what we were talking about earlier. You previously said that you wanted a legislation of women being able to sue their abortionist, is that something that you are currently working on?
Rebecca: I have brought it up to many legislators that I think this would be a good idea. I have also mentioned it to some other activists and they thought it was a good idea. Another thing I would like to do is sue in states where the rape exception is added; sue under the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause. These exceptions haunt us for the rest of our lives. We get called things like demon-spawns, evil-seeds … There was a pastor at a conference where he said that Republicans take it too far and he said... “You’ve got a demon-seed ... that is not what God created.” Ouch. I don’t know how many pastors would say that.
Anarida: We are all created in God’s image …
Rebecca: Yeah, for a purpose, not to be aborted. I have had some people say that some people were created to be aborted. Like, “What?!!!” Wow. Okay. Sometimes you just don’t know what to say to people and it’s time to walk away. In the Feminists for Life poster that they did of me it asks, “Did I deserve the death penalty?” and some people actually write “YES!” The Supreme Court said that it’s cruel and unusual punishment for child molesters, but I somehow deserved the death penalty?
Anarida: People just tend to surprise you. So, what are some future goals that you would like to accomplish?
Rebecca: I want to see an end to abortion. I want to see women empowered. I want to see more people speaking out against rape. I would like to see rapists receive their punishments. I want to see justice for women.
Anarida: as you have become more involved in government, how has your opinion on state politics and policy changed?
Rebecca: I can see how corrupt some states are and it has to do with the pro-life leadership enabling politicians to compromise. What I see is that is when you elect passionately, pro-life, no-compromise politicians, these are the ones who are going to carry the torch on other issues and won’t compromise and will actually achieve success in your state. But as long as you keep supporting, endorsing, electing legislators who have weak spines, you are not going to achieve much at all. They are going to compromise on anything.
Anarida: Are there any last thoughts or comments that you would like to share with me when it comes to abortion?
Rebecca: I just want people to understand that we are talking about real people. I ask this to students “How many of you have ultrasound photos of yourself as an unborn child, in your baby albums?” And most hands go up. And I say to them, what do your parents say to you “I don’t really know what that is?” No, your parents say you to you “That was _______” And the students finish the sentence and say, “That was you.” And they understand that “That was me.” They see the connection. People have said to me how that wasn’t me, but if it wasn’t me, who was it?! And I explain to them, that was you. And when you have children some day, you will tell them “That was you.” But somehow when it comes to this issue of abortion, people will actually say they don’t know what that is. It’s complete intellectual dishonesty. [They lose sight of the truth]
Anarida: Thank you very much for your time and I think that you are a quite inspirational person.
Rebecca: Thank you and you had a lot of great questions.