If I had my way, this woman would be dead (according to her)

Meet Rebecca Kiessling. Kiessling was conceived in horrific circumstances: her birth mother was brutally raped at knifepoint. Her mother sought an abortion, and, because it was illegal, ended up giving the baby for adoption. It is a very sad story for both the unnamed woman, and for Kiessling herself.

In her struggle to process the circumstances surrounding her birth, Kiessling has become a vocal spokesperson for the anti-choice movement, speaking out to make abortion illegal, in particular attacking “the rape exception”, a watered-down anti-choice position which suggests that abortion should be available for rape survivors. She uses the following rhetorical device to make her point:

Please understand that whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.”  That’s a pretty powerful statement.  I would never say anything like that to someone.  I would say never to someone, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.”

It is a very emotive argument, and thoroughly fallacious. To counter it, I am going to use as ludicrous an example. In the following scenario, I have travelled back through time to late 1984, and my mother–who, by the way, is a happily married woman impregnanted by the conventional means of happily married monogamous couples by my lovely father–is considering an abortion, because she doesn’t want a kid right now. The embryo inside my mother will become me, and I know this. So what would I do? Would I look her in the eye and say, “go on, mum, kill me, you big killy murderer”? Would I wave around pictures of foetuses and pray aggressively in her face? Would I ask Margaret Thatcher to ban abortion?

No. I am pro-choice, so I would respect that choice the woman who could have been my mother made, and I would respect it as I dissipated into the time-void. I wouldn’t be dead. I’d have never existed at all.

Because that’s how choice works. I don’t want Rebecca Kiessling dead. I want a world wherein any woman can make the choice to terminate a pregnancy. I do think Kiessling’s mother should have been able to abort her, just as I think my mother should have been able to abort me if that was the choice she made.

It must be horrible for people like Kiessling to find out that their existence is the result of a brutal attack. Nobody should have to go through it. Not Kiessling, and certainly not the woman who gave birth to her. Yet Kiessling’s proposed solution–banning abortion–would lead to the suffering of millions more women, forced to carry pregnancies or endure dangerous illegal abortions. The violence inherent in taking away a safe option for women is stark: with what she is proposing, Kiessling endorses a different kind of invasion of women’s bodies. She would be better placed throwing her energies into building a world where rape is not possible.

7 thoughts on “If I had my way, this woman would be dead (according to her)”

  1. I totally agree – hell, if I’d have known my mum when she was impregnated with foetus-Nat I’d have told her to have an abortion! She had just graduated and moved back to Bradford, had only been with my dad for a really short time, and never wanted kids. I’d have had a bloody abortion in her shoes, and I’ve said that to her before*. Yeah, I wouldn’t be around but it’s not like I’d fucking know about it.

    (*she’s VERY pro-choice by the way, she just changed her mind on the ‘never wanted kids’ thing and decided to give it a go)

  2. Interesting and thought provoking dilemma from Rebecca Kiessling – though as you point out you can only kill someone who has already lived. It’s a bit like one’s parents saying, “If we hadn’t had sex on such-a-such date you’d be dead now” – that would be false logic and mildly embarrassing to imagine one’s parents actual have had sex (with each other for God’s sake!) The other side of this argument is “Because we didn’t have sex 16 years ago, on Friday 17 May, when a child might have possibly been conceived, then we killed that child” – which is basically the ridiculous Catholic hierarchy’s position on banning contraceptives (and look what a great place that instruction has helped to make Africa). Rant ends.

  3. You can’t base your argument on a “what if” hypothetical. For all we know, if Kiessling’s mother did decide to get an abortion, she might have met a young doctor at the clinic who would inspire her to go to medical school and later cure cancer. What about the hundreds of aborted foetuses that would have grown up to be serial killers, or tyrant dictators, or terrorists? It’s a ludicrous way to construct an argument no matter what your agenda.

  4. According to Kiessling’s website she narrowly escaped being aborted by 2 backstreet abortionists, though it seems her birth mum didn’t go through with it. It seems to me that if Kiessling is presenting this argument as you’ve portrayed it, there’s a simple counterargument: if having the option to abort when you’ve become pregnant through rape means that all rape victims automatically choose to go for an abortion, then that should be observable now that women have the option whatever the circumstances surrounding their conception – so, if her argument is correct, all raped women who have become pregnant as a result of their rape, all of them choose abortion. If any of them choose to carry to term, her argument, that choice = automatic death for any fetus conceived in rape, is invalid.

  5. Tristan – Yes, but the narrative of anti-choicers is far more based on potentiality than the arguments of pro-choice activists.

    It’s like someone arguing that had Martin Luther King’s mother had an abortion, we wouldn’t have had civil rights in the USA. Equally that association of genes wouldn’t have fitted together in the same way if she’d had sex a week later, or married someone different, etc, etc. Potentiality is affected by so many things that it’s not an argument that makes any sense.

    The problem, of course, is that anti-choicers make arguments based entirely on potentiality, because otherwise they’d have to compare the ‘rights’ of a half-formed foetus to a fully grown human being, and they don’t really want to risk doing that because they know it’s complete nonsense. Even if they do believe that they are comparable, Britain is far less inclined to that point of view than (for example) the USA is so anti-choicers aren’t going to win anyone round.

    P.s. Great blog btw Stavvers 😉

  6. You write so beautifully, stavvers. I’ve been on your blog all day and I love the insight that you bring to such a wide range of women’s issues. Thank you for devoting your time, it’s thoroughly enjoyable to read!

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