When Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock suggested during a debate last year that rape-induced pregnancy “is something that God intended to happen,” his opponents successfully portrayed him as ridiculous, extreme – or worse.
But to a Woodburn woman who had learned only two years earlier that she had nearly been aborted after her mother was raped at age 17, Mourdock's politically clumsy but biblically sound statement offered much-needed reassurance that, no matter how it began, her life has value.
“I want people to know I'm no different than people who were conceived with wine and roses. You shouldn't blame the child,” said 40-year-old Monica Kelsey, who will appear with Mourdock and others Wednesday at the Allen County Public Library for “A Hard Look at the Hard Cases,” a seminar focusing on individuals conceived by rape or incest – heinous acts even some pro-lifers believe can justify abortion.
Kelsey and her 43-year-old husband of 15 years, Joe, were in that camp – until Kelsey finally met her birth mother and learned not only how she had been conceived but that she might have been aborted had the procedure been legal in her native Ohio.
That was in 1972 – a year before the Supreme Court discovered a long-lost constitutional right to abortion.
But something happened as her mother, Sandy, was making her way to that back-alley abortionist . “She was under pressure (from family members) and just wanted her life back, but she changed her mind at the last minute because it was illegal and because I truly think she believed abortion was wrong,” Kelsey said. “I can only imagine the emotions she was going through, but she gave me the gift of my (adoptive) parents. I can't say enough about them. They're amazing.”
The reunification with her birth mother and the stunning revelation it produced answered a question that had been gnawing at Kelsey's insides: “I was dealing with 'value' issues. Why am I here?” she wondered. The sudden realization that she had been conceived in rape and nearly aborted, and that so many people would have supported that decision, began her quest to protect all unborn life.
Even those resulting from such “hard cases” as rape or incest.
According to Kelsey, about 5 percent of rapes result in pregnancy and 1 percent of pregnancies are caused by rape (hence the name of “Save the 1,” the national pro-life group that Kelsey assists). Because of the relative rarity, some people are willing to allow exceptions for rape and incest in anti-abortion laws, believing the compromise might at least save some lives.
But as a Woodburn firefighter who would never willingly leave one person inside a burning building in order to save four others, Kelsey understands that such a Faustian bargain does more than sacrifice innocent lives on the altar of political expediency. It also would encourage fraudulent claims of rape.
That's not paranoia. It's history. Forty years ago, Norma “Roe” McCorvey persuaded the Supreme Court to consider her quest for a legal abortion by claiming to have been raped – an exception allowed by Texas law. McCorvey later gave birth, converted to Christianity and became a champion of the pro-life cause.
Kelsey said her birth mother made it equally clear she was grateful to have given birth despite the circumstances.
Her birth mother died in March at the age of 57 after spending seven days in the hospital on a ventilator, with Kelsey by her side the entire time. Despite a life punctuated with hardship and sorrow, “she was a beautiful person,” Kelsey said.
Her biological father, on the other hand, was convicted of the rape and wants nothing to do with Kelsey – nor she with him. “Everyone deserves forgiveness. You just have to move forward,” she said.
“This has brought us closer together. I've been on the roller coaster with her,” said Joe Kelsey, who owns a moving business. “It's abortion that's 'anti-woman.' She's pretty valuable to me." And, presumably, to the couple's three children who exist only because their mother does.
All of which, Kelsey hopes, puts a persuasively human face on a profoundly difficult issue that, as Mourdock proved, is all too often dismissed, caricatured or vilified. Her story is powerful precisely because her very existence refutes the supposed compassion and enlightenment of our increasingly narcissistic age:
“My life matters,” Kelsey insists.
Yes, it does – and in a sane country it wouldn't be political suicide to say so.