Darlene Pawlik and Rebecca Kiessling: “Did I deserve the death penalty?”

Seventh in the Voices to Trust series.

Rebecca Kiessling of Save the 1 is featured in an ad for Feminists for Life. She is a woman who was conceived in rape, and she has one question about rape-and-incest exceptions to abortion regulation.

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Rebecca Kiessling in NH, 2014. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Rebecca Kiessling in NH, 2014. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

I interviewed Rebecca a couple of years ago. When asked about the no-exceptions position being a tough sell, she replied, “We need to speak words of life and value. Even pro-lifers need to be careful in the way they communicate. We want to change hearts and minds….Point out that rape and incest exceptions benefit the perpetrator. Abortion hides evidence of his crime. Protect a woman from rape and abortion, not from a baby.”

Darlene Pawlik. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Darlene Pawlik. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Darlene Pawlik of New Hampshire, also of Save the 1, is a trustee of New Hampshire Right to Life. She was conceived in rape and as a teenager was sexually trafficked.  Today, she speaks and writes about the need to defend life at all stages, regardless of the circumstances of conception. In a 2013 interview with me, Darlene said that when she decided to go public with her story, a friend advised her not to. Darlene went ahead anyway. “I said stop. No more secrets. I am the ‘exception.’

Darlene’s web site, thedarlingprincess.com, carries the tag line “Bad beginnings do not necessitate bad endings.” She writes, “I am so passionate about the value of every life; whether one is conceived with wine and roses, in a test tube or as a result of violence. I absolut[e]ly reject the utilitarian view that people are valuable only if they can contribute to society in arbitrarily contrived ways. We should all hold to the Declaration of Independence’s admonition that each of us is endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One’s right to life trumps all other rights.”

See a related post from 2013 about Darlene and Rebecca.

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“Last sign of hope, first sign of mercy”

More than sixty people gathered in Manchester on Monday for an evening of prayer, pizza, and preparation in advance of Wednesday’s 40 Days for Life launch. A similar rally was held the previous day in Greenland. In Manchester, Save the 1’s Darlene Pawlik and attorney Michael Tierney were the featured speakers at the event emceed by 40DFL coordinator Jen Robidoux.

Jen Robidoux (blue shirt) welcomes Darlene Pawlik to the 40DFL kickoff rally
Jen Robidoux (blue shirt) welcomes Darlene Pawlik to the 40DFL kickoff rally (E. Kolb photo)

Quoting 40DFL leaders David Bereit and Shawn Carney, Jen said, “We are the last sign of hope for the mother and baby when they arrive, but also the first sign of mercy to the women as they leave.” She and her leadership team have ambitious goals, and they urge everyone volunteering for 40DFL to invite others to join in. “Invite people from your church – remember, 40 Days for Life is nondenominational. Invite people to events like the midpoint rally. Let’s fill those vigil hours [7 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week]. It’s time to blow the trumpets of victory. Tonight is the beginning of the end of abortion in Manchester.”

Jen reminded everyone that accepting 40DFL’s Statement of Peace is a requirement for participation in the campaign. Common sense dictates that people praying on the sidewalk outside abortion facilities keep a cell phone or camera handy to record any incidents, and “pray with at least one other person.” (As someone who’s on the calendar for some 7 a.m. shifts, I know I can expect some solo time. Still, her guidelines make sense.)

Darlene Pawlik (E. Kolb photo)
Darlene Pawlik (E. Kolb photo)

Darlene is fresh from an appearance on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, where she joined other Save the 1 representatives to talk about why she’s pro-life in all circumstances, especially “hard cases” like rape – because she herself is a child of rape and a survivor of sexual trafficking. She’s a New Hampshire activist with a heart for women and girls in crisis, particularly those who are being sexually abused. “The girls are hard” when they approach abortion facilities, she warned. From her own experience, she knows that some of the teens at abortion facilities are brought there by their abusers. “The mindset is ‘this is what I have to do; I can’t tell my parents.’ Your message needs to be ‘there are places you can go besides here.'”  To sidewalk counselors, she says “You’re the heroes here.”

Michael Tierney (E. Kolb photo)
Michael Tierney (E. Kolb photo)

Michael began with a brisk reminder: “This is not a picket or a protest, and it IS legal.” His listeners were eager for an update on the buffer zone lawsuit, Reddy v. Foster. “The buffer zone law is all about squelching pro-life speech. Why? Because the pro-life message, especially prayer, is effective.” In a status report filed in federal court last Friday, all parties to the suit agreed that there had been no “factual changes” since a temporary restraining order was issued in July to block enforcement of New Hampshire’s buffer zone law. The restraining order thus remains in place. He asked participants to contact him or Jen Robidoux if any signs go up outside facilities, delineating a zone – “we need to report that to the Court.”

Why did New Hampshire go ahead with a law targeting free speech, right after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law from Massachusetts? After all, the Supreme Court decision prompted the cities of Burlington, VT and Portland, ME to repeal abortion facility “buffer” laws. MIchael said that New Hampshire is attempting to show that its law is different, because the state itself isn’t squelching speech, but merely giving abortion providers the option of doing so. A novel approach, to be sure. It’s possible that the law might be repealed by legislators next January. Michael warned that it’s an open question whether it would be a straight repeal or a repeal followed by replacement with something worse.


Speaking of the Planned Parenthood facility in Manchester, where 40DFL has had several campaigns, Michael said PP knows it can’t defend the law. “So, they’re trying to figure out what they can get from people outside to show that we need a buffer zone. Be on your best behavior not because there are video cameras, but because of point #3 [in the 40DFL statement of peace]: ‘I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility employees, volunteers and customers.’ It’s as simple as that. Think about how best you can show Christ’s love, and you’ll be fine. Just because a person goes into a clinic, it doesn’t mean you’re not having a positive effect.”

Photos from the Greenland kickoff rally (photos by Jen Robidoux)

Greenland, NH 40DFL volunteers
Greenland, NH 40DFL volunteers


On the sidewalk, Greenland NH
On the sidewalk, Greenland NH
Past the picket fence at the Lovering Center abortion facility, Greenland NH
Past the picket fence at the Lovering Center abortion facility, Greenland NH





Invitation to Manchester’s Fall ’14 40DFL kickoff

The next 40 Days for Life campaign is three weeks away. I’m pleased to pass along this announcement from Manchester’s 40DFL coordinator, Jennifer Robidoux. Note that this gathering is two days before the campaign formally begins. For those of you on the Seacoast, there will be a 40DFL campaign in Greenland – but If you want to join the pre-campaign festivities in Manchester, c’mon over. Pre-registration is requested. 

What: 40 Days for Life kickoff rally

When: Monday, September 22, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Where: Ste. Marie Church, Montminy Hall, 378 Notre Dame Avenue, Manchester NH

Speakers: Attorney Michael Tierney on the buffer zone lawsuit, and Darlene Pawlik of Save the 1

Etc.:  There is no admission charge. Pizza and drinks will be provided. Please bring a dessert to share.  There will be 5:30 PM daily Mass upstairs for our Catholic friends before the rally.

Please register for this free event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/40-days-for-life-kickoff-rally-tickets-12763270285

Pro-life candidates plan rally in Concord August 17

[8/14: This post has been revised to reflect a change in the lineup of speakers.]

No endorsements here – remember, I’m not a PAC, and I have a day job that calls for primary neutrality – but I have no problem drawing your attention to an event this Sunday, August 17.  A pro-life rally in Concord planned by a candidate, no less. Other candidates will be on hand as well, reaching out to pro-life voters. Huzzah, says I!

Come to the State House plaza Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. for this pro-life gathering sponsored by Women for Bob Smith. Should be a nice ice-free change from the usual January rally before the March for Life. Sunday’s speakers, as announced so far, include former-and-maybe-future Senator Bob Smith, Republican gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway, Darlene Pawlik of New Hampshire Right to Life, and activist Karen Testerman. On board with one of these candidates? They’d love to see you there. Still working out who to vote for in the primary, which comes a little over three weeks from the rally? Come hear what they have to say.

Speaking of Karen Testerman, I ran into her at a local coffee shop yesterday. She radiated the energy that always animates her when there’s a campaign going on. She bowed out of the primary and pledged her support to Bob Smith. She meant business. She’s looking forward to Sunday’s rally. Her parting words to me regarding the Smith campaign: “If we get fifty percent of the registered voters who are Catholic and Evangelical, we win.” Ah, but that’s the catch: will the pro-life voters, regardless of faith affiliation or lack thereof, come out in an off-year primary?

Smart candidates care about that. I look forward to hearing from some of them Sunday.


Two “exceptions,” including a New Hampshire neighbor

Rebecca Kiessling
Rebecca Kiessling

Through fate or coincidence or just one of God’s little nudges, I encountered two women last week who have good reason to take it personally when someone claims to be pro-life “except in cases of rape or incest.” One of them has a documented history of taking on “exceptions” candidates, and in the case of Rick Perry, changing his mind.

Both women were born to mothers who had been raped. The mothers chose life, under challenging circumstances. Their daughters, Darlene Pawlik of Raymond, New Hampshire and Rebecca Kiessling of Michigan, are now active in pro-life ministry. After I had scheduled an interview with Darlene for this blog, an opportunity to speak to Rebecca the same day came up, courtesy of former state senator Jim Luther.  I can take a hint.

Darlene is past president of New Hampshire Right to Life, which is how I first heard of her. Last January, I missed an opportunity to hear her when she spoke in Concord to a pro-life group about her experiences. It was through the publicity for that speech that I heard about the circumstances of her conception. I asked her this week how she was moved to go public. She responded, “Martin Luther King [Jr.] said that no one is saved unless all are saved. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'” She communicated via her Facebook page, beginning by thanking her mom for being brave enough to have her. “Mom was a little nervous” about the public revelation.

Darlene met Rebecca in early 2012 after Rebecca found her on Facebook, and then met her in person at the national March for Life in Washington, DC. Darlene’s pro-life work started long before that, though. “I did little things when [her kids] were young. Probably started around 1992.” In ’96, “I jumped in with both feet.” She is a nurse and a homeschooling mom. Before serving as NHRTL’s president, she helped to lead NHRTL’s Educational Trust.

Darlene was blunt about a history of violence in earlier generations of her family, including her mother’s rape.  She has written a book called Testimony: the Dark Side of Christianity to let people know “you don’t have to be in the dark.” A friend told her “you can’t go public.” She couldn’t agree. “I said stop. No more secrets. I am the ‘exception.’

Rebecca Kiessling echoed those words when she called in as a guest on Jim Luther’s radio show the other day. “I am one of the exceptions. My mom backed out of abortion because it was illegal.” Today, her mother is “very thankful that we were both spared this horror.” Rebecca now represents Personhood USA, which “recogniz[es] all human beings as persons who are ‘created in the image of God’ from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions.”

She promotes the “personhood pledge” for candidates for public office. In 2012, several leading Republican candidates for President signed the pledge. Rick Perry didn’t, at first. Rebecca got to him. She made her case, face-to-face. To his credit, he couldn’t look her in the eye and say she shouldn’t have been born. He signed.

She’s quick to say she isn’t the one who broke the barriers for children conceived in rape. She points to Julie Makimaa as a trailblazer, and she recommends the book Makimaa wrote in collaboration with David ReardonVictims and Victors.

While Darlene is a nurse, Rebecca is an attorney. Which came first: pro-life or law school? After years of hearing her father say “you should be a lawyer!” as she bested him in arguments, she listened to him. While at law school, an experience with an abusive partner “turned my heart toward family law.” Once she became a practicing attorney in the mid-1990s, she worked with women being coerced into abortions. That rang a bell. “I had no idea how to start pro-life work.” Working with women one-on-one, one thing led to another. She now makes about 75 public speeches a year in defense of personhood, putting a face on the “exceptions.” She and Darlene both cite a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control indicating that about 23,000 pregnancies annually in the United States are reportedly the result of rape or incest. That represents a lot of abused women and children at risk.

While no-exceptions is a tough sell, Rebecca herself takes a gentle tone, with help from a big smile and an almost little-girl voice. “We need to speak words of life and value. Even pro-lifers need to be careful in the way they communicate. We want to change hearts and minds.”

So how can we build bridges? Rebecca speaks without hesitation. “Point out that rape and incest exceptions benefit the perpetrator. Abortion hides evidence of his crime. Protect a woman from rape and abortion, not from a baby. A baby brings healing. Also, I ask what you do to help survivors of rape. Some women [under state law] have to fight their rapist for custody of the baby.” She is a strong promoter for ministry to post-abortive women such as Rachel’s Vineyard.

Her toughest crowds? University students. She says that when she speaks on campuses, her talks are often promoted with a Feminists for Life poster with her face on it, and the legend, “Did I deserve the death penalty?” The posters are sometimes defaced with the word “YES” scrawled across them.

And she keeps coming back anyway.

For Darlene and Rebecca, this is personal. Neither had an easy road. Now, both are committed to changing hearts. Every exception has a face. These women won’t let us forget that.

I am indebted to Jim Luther for inviting me to participate in his interview with Rebecca Kiessling. Jim’s show, “The Intersection,” is aired on WSMN-AM 1590 in Nashua NH Thursdays at 9:07 a.m.