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I was product of rape and mum wanted to abort me... but why should I have died for sins of monster?

Exclusive: Woman opens her heart on how she tracked down her mother, and is close to identifying her father

By Claire McNeilly

Published 16/04/2016

Pro-life campainer Rebecca Kiessling with mother Joann
Pro-life campainer Rebecca Kiessling with mother Joann
Rebecca Kiessling
Rebecca Kiessling when she was a child
With her own family

One quiet evening 47 years ago a young woman was on her way to her local grocery store when she was attacked by a knife-wielding monster.

He dragged her into a nearby field, slit her clothes to shreds with the blade and subjected her to a brutal, frenzied rape.

Several weeks later the deeply traumatised 31-year-old discovered she was carrying her attacker's child.

Terrified, she visited two backstreet abortionists in an attempt to rid herself of 'the thing' that was growing inside her.

But, in the end, she changed her mind and later gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

That child grew up to be a successful American lawyer, devoted wife and mother-of-five - and one of the world's most prominent pro-life campaigners.

Rebecca Kiessling's story has inspired many people, but her unwavering "no abortion under any circumstances" stance has made her a controversial, divisive figure.

It was her image on billboards outside Belfast's Laganside Court last year when a judge ruled that Northern Ireland's law on abortion did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or sexual crime.

She is good friends with Precious Life boss Bernie Smyth and takes more than a passing interest in the province's much-discussed anti-abortion legislation - particularly, she says, as her mother has Ulster ancestry.

Yet Rebecca, now 46, grew up blissfully unaware that she was conceived through rape - although she always knew she wasn't being raised by her biological parents.

In fact the horrific truth only emerged when she turned 18 and tracked down her birth mother Joann, who confirmed that her father was a rapist who was never caught.

"She actually told me everything in graphic detail," Rebecca said.

"It was horrifying because I was hoping when I met her that she would tell me there was some mistake and I was not conceived in rape.

"Instead, she painted a picture that was truly one of those worst-case scenarios; she was abducted at knifepoint and brutally raped in every way possible."

But the painful revealations didn't stop there because she also learned that Joann - who was a single mother-of-two when she was attacked by Rebecca's father - had been a victim of sexual crime before. "Mum told me she was raped by her grandfather growing up and she said that when the rapist told her to stay quiet and she wouldn't get hurt she stayed quiet because she thought: 'I've been through this before, I'm just going to get it over with'. She wanted to get home; she knew she had to get home to her children," she said.

Rebecca learned that her mum had twice sought to have her aborted - and only backed out due to the awful conditions and the fact that abortion was illegal in the state of Michigan.

And although they now have a "loving and nurturing relationship", Rebecca admitted that their reunion was fraught with the weight of Joann's confession after they met.

"It was painful when mum told me she was pro-choice," Rebecca said. "She said it should have been her right to abort me, and that hurt me so badly.

"Also, when I asked her, she said she would have aborted me if she had to do it all over again - and that wounded me deeply."

But Rebecca - who was legally adopted in 2010 by Joann and her husband Joe, who wasn't with her when she was born - said she never gave up.

"I still nurtured a relationship with her for the role that she did play in my life and I just hoped that if I could prove myself good enough she would change her mind; that she would look at me and ask herself how she could ever have thought that," she said.

"By the time she did change her mind, six years later, I was actually in a good place in my life."

Growing up, Rebecca's adoptive father told her she had a half-brother and half-sister, so she initally thought her mother had had an affair or had been widowed.

Following a change in law that had previously protected the anonymity of women who put babies up for adoption, however, Rebecca was allowed to receive basic information about her birth parents.

"On the morning of my 18th birthday I called the local county court," she said.

"I discovered that my mum was 31 when she had me, 4ft 10in, with brown hair and hazel eyes. My father was Caucasian and of large build. That was it.

"It made me think of a police description, and when I spoke to my adoption case worker I was told I was the result of a rape."

Despite the devastating news Rebecca was desperate to find her real mother and so she sent her a letter via Oakland County Court.

The reply came with her mother's full name, as well as Rebecca's name at birth - Judy Ann Miracle.

And although she admitted that she was terrified of rejection, Rebecca said her mum was "thrilled" to hear from her over 40 years after she'd given her up for adoption.

"I'm so happy something so good came from something so awful," she said, adding that these days Joann accompanies her to events.

"She and I have a really good relationship because we haven't the kind of stress that some families have because our relationship has just been loving and nurturing.

"She has come to hear me speak and she's totally honoured by it; she loves it."

And, when Rebecca married husband Robert Kiessling (51) - whom she describes as "really supportive" - in 1998, Joann was mother of the bride.

Her 57-year-old half-brother Mark now lives with their mother following his divorce, although her half-sister Cindy (59) is "completely estranged" from the family.

Rebecca and Robert, a businessman, have five children - Caleb (16), 14-year-old Kyler, Carina (12), Coralie (11) and Contessa (8) - and the two oldest boys are adopted.

They also had two miscarriages and an adopted baby girl with special needs, Cassandra Grace (Cassie), who died when she was just over a month old.

"Cassie had DiGeorge Syndrome, otherwise known as velocardiofacial syndrome (VCFS), which would be regarded as a fatal feotal diagnosis," Rebecca said.

"She spent 12 days in children's hospitals and 21 days in our home and a doctor took her off oxygen when she wasn't ready to breathe and she stopped breathing."

Although she lost her adoptive parents as a result of finding her biological mother, Rebecca said she and Robert haven't concealed what happened from the children.

"They know their biological grandfather was a bad man who hurt Grandma and I don't see any reason to hide that from them," she said.

She added that Robert - whom she met when she was a practising attorney - is completely behind the pro-life activities which she is defined by.

"It's funny that I'm the one who's known for the Kiessling name when it's not even my name - my maiden name is Wasser," she said.

As an international pro-life speaker, Rebecca's uncompromising views on abortion are well-known - if also rejected and derided by detractors - across the world.

She believes, for instance, that Northern Ireland - which is the only part of the UK where a termination is illegal under almost all circumstances - should be proud of its anti-abortion stance.

And she said she was "thrilled" that the Stormont Assembly recently voted against allowing for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

"Amnesty International wants abortion on demand for any reason and they always start with this, knowing that it will be the gaping loophole to allow abortions for any reason," she said.

"Children like me who are conceived in rape have every bit as much value as everyone else and we deserve to be protected.

"This is a human rights issue. I did not deserve to die for the crimes of my biological father."

She added: "What kind of civilisation punishes a child for someone else's crime? That's draconian, and unjust."

In response to a recent high-profile local case, where a young woman was handed a suspended prison sentence for self-terminating a pregnancy using pills bought online, Rebecca said Northern Ireland women should be granted immunity from prosecution if they testify against the supplier.
But she stressed that doctors here should be prosecuted for, in effect, "taking out a contract on someone's life" by recommending abortions.

Rebecca accepts that her own mother initially hadn't wanted her and concedes that seeing her every day may have served as an awful reminder of the worst day of her mum's life, but she remains fixed on the issue of abortion.

"It is never the only solution," she said, adding that a number of women from Northern Ireland have approached her for guidance.

"There are some extreme cases when they do know the child is going to die at birth, or sometimes won't make it to birth, but that doesn't mean you kill the child.

"You're going to die, I'm going to die, we're all going to die. Does that mean kill us all now because life is hopeless?

"Should we round everybody up and start doing mass suicide ceremonies?"

Although her mother's attacker has never been caught, Rebecca revealed that she is close to finding him herself via modern-day DNA evidence.

"Through AncestryDNA.com I've narrowed it down to three possible brothers who live in the next town over from where I was conceived," she said.

"I know for a fact that two of them lived in the same city that I was conceived in at the time I was conceived.

"All three of these men who are potentially my father are still alive. They got to live their lives. Why wouldn't I get to live my life?

"What's very interesting is that Amnesty International is completely against the death penalty, so there's complete hypocrisy there."

She says the next step is to approach these individuals privately and ask each of them to do a DNA test.

"If these guys aren't willing to do that then I'll have to figure out what I'm going to do because I want to know who my father is" she added.

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