It all started with a text: “Can you drive five hours to Santa Fe to testify before the NM Judiciary Committee on Friday?”
Rebecca Kiessling, a dear friend of mine and Founder and President of Save the 1 -- for which I am a pro-life speaker and writer, wanted me to go to a hearing on two bills being presented to protect unborn children which has exceptions of babies conceived in rape – exceptions not typically included at the state level in late-term abortion bans and parental notification laws. Rebecca was conceived from rape, and so was my sweet son. Therefore, we have an even deeper, personal passion in protecting other children coming from similar circumstances. Earlier, I didn’t have much in the budget for a trip like that, but I had just received some income that week from my website-building business. Rebecca was able to make the trip because a Facebook friend of hers whom she’d never met had donated the frequent flyer miles in response to Rebecca’s plea in a status update. I said I was a “go” if I could bring my 4 year old son AJ, and if she would be willing to fly into Denver, trek to Colorado Springs, and drive us down to Santa Fe, since I was uncomfortable doing the driving for a long, unfamiliar trip, especially with the snow we were expecting in Colorado Springs. I knew the snow may be bad in town, but thought how bad could it be if Rebecca and I both were from the upper Midwest? Plus, the forecast for the rest of the trip was all clear – when we checked. Our obstacles to take off for this cause started early on when I went to put gas in the car. I didn’t know much about the car my husband and I just purchased, though he tried to tell me it wouldn’t drive as well as the other cars in snow. Again, I thought, “Hey, I am from Minnesota and drove in crazy North Dakota weather conditions where we had high snow and icicles into May, so I can do this.” NOT. I discovered my car was not an option for even picking up Rebecca in Denver after snow was dumped on us, and I crashed into a curb on a turn, then got stuck on a hill where I had to be rescued by my husband. So, Rebecca needed to take the Colorado Springs Shuttle, and had to rent a car – which I said I’d split the cost with her. Rebecca would have to make the 10:30 a.m. shuttle on a 10:04 a.m. arrival, or it would be another two hours. Her flight was delayed 15 minutes, but the shuttle company said they’d give her until 10:45 a.m.. She just barely made it! As it turns out, it was a good thing she didn’t plan to rent a car in Denver, because her credit card was lost and had her husband’s which wouldn’t suffice for renting a car! My husband secured the rental with Rebecca as a driver, costing us all more of course. When she arrived with the rental to pick me and AJ up, we got stuck in the parking lot – three times! We were exhausted after much shoveling, pushing, ice-chipping, and grueling work, and we hadn’t even left the parking lot! More than two hours later than originally estimated, we finally hit the road. Most of our trip was through blustery snow and extreme blizzard conditions. We saw traveling vehicles in ditches and a few wrecks, so we took extra caution, finally arriving in Santa Fe at 10 p.m., after 11 hours of driving for Rebecca, when it should have been 7 hours in clear conditions. Just four miles from the highway, there was not a single snowflake in Santa Fe! We celebrated our arrival with Save The 1 Board Member Dyanne Gonzales and conceived in rape speaker/writer Rowena Slusser, both of whom are from New Mexico. We made it! If we had known what our journey would have been like, we never would had planned to go -- Rebecca definitely would not have flown into Denver first, but we knew in that moment that God had a plan for us to be there! As it turns out though, there was a terrible storm in Albuquerque the next morning – highways closed, and Rebecca never would have made it 45 minutes away in Santa Fe if she’d flown into Albuquerque that morning – which she would have done if I hadn’t agreed to go! The airport may have even been closed that morning.
So Friday morning, Rebecca had a radio interview on an Albuquerque Christian Station – KDAZ with Dan Rosecrans who said at the end of the interview – on the air -- that he felt that he and other pro-life activists and Christians owed Rebecca and others like her an apology for having been willing to compromise on the lives of those conceived in rape. Before leaving our hotel, the concierge asked to take a photo of Rowena with her “Conceived in Rape/Incest – I Love My Life!” sign, telling us how moved she was. Then we had an interview with a local newspaper reporter at the “Roundhouse” – New Mexico’s Capitol. We could see how God was already at work!
AJ was over-stimulated at the Roundhouse, so Rebecca took me and AJ to the hotel to unwind, and I began looking into some type of child care for a few hours, so I could testify without him being uncomfortable sitting for several hours . I was told we could possibly lose our spot in the hearing room if we had to step out. However, the fees were prohibitive. I prayed for a pastor's family, or someone connected in a similar way, who could watch AJ, and that he could have a fun time, not something boring, but something special. Feeling a bit hopeless at the hotel about taking the grueling trip only to not be able to testify at the hearing, I made the decision to put it in God's hands -- everything that had happened was already a blessing, and I was just going to enjoy my time with AJ. I knew He'd make a way if He wanted me to be there. Not long after I prayed and put it in His hands, Rebecca called me and put a lady on the phone. She kindly introduced herself -- a pastor's wife, home schooling mother of four, and actively involved in children's ministries! Whoa! After talking a bit with her, I knew she was perfect and everything I was hoping for -- patient and sweet. I told her that I had just pretty much prayed specifically for her. With an exchange of the car seat, she brought me to the Roundhouse and took AJ with two of her children for an amazingly fun time for him.
While I was at the hotel, Rebecca and Rowena dropped off lit pieces with their stories off at the Governor’s office, as well as the bill sponsors, and had the opportunity to speak with the sponsor of the parental notification bill – Rep. Baldanado. He said he doesn’t like exceptions, but that he wasn’t going to take them out because he felt the pro-life Democrats in the Senate wouldn’t approve the bill without them in it. However, he did say he’d like to work with Save The 1 in the future to try to educate legislators on this issue more. Then Rebecca asked if he would sponsor the model legislation from Hope After Rape Conception – to terminate the parental rights of rapists. As it turns out, he sponsored such legislation last year, and introduced us to the Representative who was behind the bill and who had just re-introduced it this legislative session! Rebecca and I got to take photos with Rep. Conrad James, she reviewed his bill, suggested tweaks to it, and the two of them are going to work together to have rape survivor moms there to testify so the bill doesn’t get killed again this year by legislators who don’t think it really happens – that rapists sue for custody or that rape survivor moms actually have their children, love them and choose to raise them! So we just kept seeing God’s providence in having us there. After being seated
with Rebecca in the hearing room, I was calm as the sweet pastor’s wife kept in touch, updating me on how AJ was doing -- enjoying a kids meal with her two children who he came to adore, and he was off to have more fun! I relaxed and focused on what God had for me to say to these legislators.But then, yet another obstacle: we learned they made a list for those who were allowed to testify, which we were told was an unusual thing. We were NOT on that list.
Rowena had been warned to be quiet by a legislator after she testified a week prior, and things were said to Rebecca to suggest that she should not try to disrupt things by insisting that the rape exception be removed. And now, it appeared that they were succeeding in silencing us before the committee. But our new friend, Lorenzo Espinosa – a no-compromise pro-life activist from New Mexico, leaned over to us and said, "This is New Mexico. I got this!" We didn't quite know what he meant by that – whether he would cause a scene, so we sat there awaiting the moment. I just knew I was not accepting that we miraculously pushed through so many obstacles, close calls, and had very specific needs met, only to find out we were not able to testify. Again, I just started praying. I believed we were there for more, and I prayed God would create an opportunity! One member of the short list to testify was Alan Sanchez with the Bishop’s office. We sat there shocked when he testified that it was moral and right for a Catholic legislator to vote for the bill with the rape exception because of EV 73 (Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.) Rebecca had just debated this issue with him by phone only a couple of hours earlier. She told him about her radio interview with Cardinal Dolan on the Catholic Channel one month ago when he agreed with Rebecca, calling it “preposterous” to suggest that EV 73 justifies any legislator or leader to support a bill which discriminates against an entire class of persons. But, Alan Sanchez replied that he serves the Bishops in New Mexico and not Cardinal Dolan. He refused to answer her hypothetical question of whether it’d be right – under EV 73 – for a Catholic legislator in Lebanon to support a bill banning abortion except in cases of Catholic babies. It was extremely sad to watch a church leader defend discrimination. After the pro-life list of witnesses was completed, the bill sponsor explained that their expert witness was running late due to weather and would arrive in about 10 minutes. Lorenzo immediately used this opportunity and stood up with a plea to the committee Chairman that Rebecca had traveled all the way from Michigan to testify, explaining that she’s a national pro-life speaker, leader and attorney. He requested that she be able to speak while we waited for the expert witness, and the Chairman shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure!” I knew Rebecca wanted me up there, and so I frantically asked her, "What do I do?! Do I go up with you?" She motioned me to and whispered, “Come on!” So, I follow her up there. Rebecca introduced herself, explained the mission of Save The 1, pointing to me as a mother from rape, and sharing her testimony of having been conceived in rape, but alive today because she was protected by Michigan’s law before Roe v Wade. She explained why they should not discriminate, why children conceived in rape don’t deserve the death penalty, and urged them to amend the bill to remove the discriminatory exceptions. The expert witness arrived before she finished, and I thought, "Oh no, I hope they let me speak!" Rebecca finished, I stepped forward to speak into the mic, but the “gatekeeper” went to grab my mic, and I thought, “He’s not going to let me speak!” Instead, he turned to me, smiled and said, “Here, let me adjust that for you.” God’s providence again!
I gave my testimony of having become pregnant by rape from an abusive relationship, and that I believed my son had just as equal value as any other baby worth protecting. Democrats and liberals who know me, couldn’t imagine my life without him, see him as valuable and special, and wouldn’t wish his life non-existent. I proceeded to say how much I valued all their lives were no matter their mistakes, circumstances, backgrounds, etc.. I ended with saying, "Your life has value, and so does my son's, no matter how it happened." Mission accomplished – our voices were heard! We sat and watched as the committee members debated the bill. One Democrat pro-choice legislator pointed out the hypocrisy that the pro-life legislators were willing to compromise on the rape exception, but then he said something strange while looking at us – that this issue doesn’t poll well, and politicians care about polls. Another surreal moment was when the bill sponsor explained to committee members that it would be unjust discrimination to have exceptions for babies with special needs – but he didn’t see his own discrimination! Finally, they took the vote, and it was disheartening to watch them approve the late-term abortion ban, with the rape and incest exceptions included. Although, I believe hearts were touched.
The sweet pastor's wife who watched AJ, treating him to a good time, came and got me after the hearing and brought us back to the hotel. The others stayed for the hearing on the parental notification bill. I tried to pay her, but she kindly and adamantly refused; she just wanted to help and bless us. AJ gave her daughter a big hug after she brought up his car seat to our room. After the second hearing, Rebecca, Rowena and Dyanne were all treated to sandwiches at the Roundhouse by Lorenzo and his friend Alan. Not only did further connections take place between them and several other pro-life activists and NM leaders, but Lorenzo's patron of his pro-life ministry, Alan, gave Rebecca an envelope with an apology note to her and others like her. He was pro-life, but willing to compromise on the rape exception -- until he watched the DVD with Lorenzo the night before, “Conceived in Rape and Other Exceptions,” featuring Rebecca and other members of Save The 1. His heart and perception changed that they were just as human and valuable as any other baby worth protecting, and he understood why compromise is wrong. After giving Rebecca his apology note, he asked her, "How much was your car rental?" He ended up coming back three times, asking about meals, the shuttle, gas, parking – ultimately covering all of our trip expenses! Rebecca was so grateful – in tears as she told me of God’s provision! Both of us were funding the trip with our own money, aside from the donated frequent flyer miles and the rooms being donated by Dyanne and her husband. My expenses were going to come from what I had just earned that week. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband, and to share this blog with you all – a story of seeking justice, sacrificing, speaking out, and relying upon God’s provision!As we relished everything we plowed through and all that had been provided, we enjoyed a sisterly time back at the hotel, laughing well into the night. In the morning, we had fellowship with Lorenzo, Alan and another friend of theirs, discussing pro-life strategy in-depth. Rowena’s husband and children came to pick her up, and we had a nice time with them. Rebecca filmed Dyanne’s pro-life testimony as she shared her story with all of us. We said our goodbyes, having had an incredibly bonding time of activism and fellowship. Rebecca and I still had a long journey back. The forecast was good, but we were low on gas, so backtracked south to a gas station. Who happened to be in the car right next to us as we pulled into the gas station? Dyanne! Yet another neat moment.
We had clear skies almost all of the way back to the Colorado Springs airport to return the rental car, but my husband’s right tire blew out on the highway on his way to pick us up and he didn’t have a jack in my new car. So Rebecca and I came to him, and he changed the tire with the rental car jack. Were the obstacles finally over? No! The next morning, as we were taking Rebecca to the airport, she tried checking in on her smartphone, but the airline said there was no reservation! She was worried the flight was overbooked. At the airport kiosk, she got the same message. But at the counter, her reservation was there – phew! We had a wonderful trip full of obstacles, but filled with purpose, bonding, provision, and fulfillment. God’s plan was consistently overcoming Murphy’s Law! Most of all though, this trip was made because we care about seeking justice and protecting all, and we know that we pierced the darkness and this is just the beginning of a shift in the pro-life culture of New Mexico.
Some of my favorite moments!
I randomly desire to sit and relax at a campfire with good company on a grey-skied day and a cool breeze. Don't forget the s'mores!