WASHINGTON (RNS) Standing before the throngs at the March for Life on Jan. 25, Ryan Bomberger admitted that he was the poster child for one of the most difficult aspects of the abortion debate: his mother had been raped.

ryan bomberger

Standing before the throngs at the March for Life on Jan. 25, Ryan Bomberger admitted that he was the poster child for one of the most difficult aspects of the abortion debate: his mother had been raped. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.


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“I’m the fringe case that even pro-lifers have a hard time embracing,” said Bomberger, an anti-abortion activist whose mother chose to continue the pregnancy and put him up for adoption.

Forty years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, children who were conceived through rape — and women who were raped and chose to end the pregnancy — are speaking out, opening a new front in the often-fraught discussions of a decades-old culture war.

While Bomberger, 41, considers himself a warrior on the front lines of the anti-abortion movement, Jason Lovins sees himself as a worship leader more than an activist.

When he performs with his contemporary Christian band, the 31-year-old shares his testimony of being born after his mother was raped at age 15; he still remembers her high school graduation on his third birthday.

jason lovins

Jason Lovins sees himself as a worship leader more than an activist. When he performs with his contemporary Christian band, the 31-year-old shares his testimony of being born after his mother was raped at age 15; he still remembers her high school graduation on his third birthday. RNS photo courtesy Courtney Thompson.


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“I was so loved that it never became an issue for me that I was a product of rape,” said the singer, whose Jason Lovins Band has performed with Michael W. Smith and for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

From campgrounds to churches, he has shared his story to encourage women who find themselves in the same situation as his mother to make the same choice she did.

But adult children who were conceived by rape are not the only ones revealing their pasts.

The 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of the abortion rights group Advocates for Youth, has introduced 40 women’s stories in a new book to mark the Roe v. Wade anniversary. Among the stories is one from “Stefanie,” a 51-year-old minister and stepmother who ended up pregnant twice after she was raped at the ages of 18 and 21.

1 and 3 campaign

The 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of the abortion rights group Advocates for Youth, has introduced 40 women’s stories in a new book to mark the Roe v. Wade anniversary. RNS photo courtesy 1 in 3 Campaign. *Note: This image is not available to download.

“I chose abortion over suicide. Twice,” she wrote. “Those were the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. I commemorate them each year with great sadness. But, also, with tremendous gratitude for having had the freedom to make those decisions for myself.’’

Julia Reticker-Flynn, manager of the 1 in 3 Campaign that produced the book, said the stories aim to end the shame that comes with abortion — and rape.

“Whether a pregnancy was the result of rape, or a pregnancy was very much wanted and because of dire medical circumstance the person could not carry the pregnancy to term, our stance is that we should not judge,” she said.

julia reticker-flynn

Julia Reticker-Flynn, manager of the 1 in 3 Campaign that produced the book ‘These are our stories’, said the stories aim to end the shame that comes with abortion — and rape. RNS photo courtesy Advocates for Youth.


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Joyce McCauley-Benner, 35, was working her way through college when she was raped by a co-worker. Because she was dating her boyfriend at the time, she did not know until months after her son was born who the father was.

Now, 13 years after her son’s birth, the spokeswoman for the group Feminists for Life chooses not to reveal the information about his father.

“We shouldn’t rank people based on how they’re conceived,” she said. “My child, if he was conceived in rape, that doesn’t make him any less than you if you were conceived by two loving parents.”

joyce mccauley-benner

Joyce McCauley-Benner, 35, was working her way through college when she was raped by a co-worker. Because she was dating her boyfriend at the time, she did not know until months after her son was born who the father was. RNS photo courtesy Feminists for Life.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

McCauley-Benner doesn’t argue that every rape victim should keep a child under such circumstances. But she said stories like hers show that there are no easy answers — even for those who decide to carry the child to term.

“It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden the child is going to make memories even worse, nor does it mean that the child is going to magically heal you,” she said.

Recent statistics on how many pregnancies occur as a result of rape are not readily available. According to the website of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10,000 to 15,000 abortions occur annually among women whose pregnancies resulted from rape or incest. It also said that some 22,000 pregnancies resulting from rape could be prevented each year if female assault victims had access to emergency contraception.

A 2011 Gallup poll revealed Americans’ mixed feelings on rape and abortion: The vast majority – 91 percent – of those who define themselves as “pro-choice” support abortion being legal when pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. Yet even 6 in 10 (59 percent) of those who call themselves “pro-life” agree with such a policy.

Bomberger, an evangelical Christian, said his inclusion at the January rally — and increased chatter on social media — are signs this issue is getting more attention. His Virginia-based Radiance Foundation aims to “shatter the myth of the unwanted” through campaigns that focus on adopted children, including those who were products of rape.

michele dillon

Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, said the political debates show the absolutes on either side. For those who believe life begins at conception, “life is life and hence abortion should not be an option,” she said. RNS photo courtesy University of New Hampshire.


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Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, said the political debates show the absolutes on either side. For those who believe life begins at conception, “life is life and hence abortion should not be an option,” she said. Those supporting abortion rights, meanwhile, are more likely to see the choice as up to the mother “whatever the reason.”

Last year, the role of rape in the abortion debate made an unexpected entrance in two key Senate races; Missouri Republican Todd Akin said women rarely become pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape,” and Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock said a pregnancy that results from rape was “something that God intended to happen.” Both men lost their races.

susan wills

Susan Wills of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. RNS photo courtesy Susan Wills.


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Though politicians used “inelegant language,” they raised what Susan Wills of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called “one of the hard cases.”

“These are the tough sells in the public,” said Wills, assistant director for education and outreach at the bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. “It’s very easy for us to convince people that partial-birth abortion or other gruesome late-term procedures ought not to be happening, but when we talk about rape and incest, it’s not a sound-bite issue.”

7 Comments

  1. Abortion is an ugly thing regardless of the circumstances. I don’t think anybody WANTS to have an abortion. There’s nothing trivial or attractive about it. Reading about these women who have made their choices, either getting an abortion after rape or otherwise, or carrying the pregnancy through to birth, brings home the pain they went through, and they often continue to experience for years-sometimes for a lifetime.

    I posit that to take that choice away from the woman, whether it be to force the pregnancy to end when it’s accepted, or to continue it when it’s unwanted, is an intrusion in that woman’s life at a time when emotions are flat-out devastating. If she is forced to take an avenue against her own judgment, I’d expect that the future anguish is magnified, essentially to appease those who have only a third-party interest. And we ALL come second, behind the pregnant woman, in this decision.

    So while virtually all those who’d like the decision to go one way or another are likely well meaning, we should all remember to back off and provide care and support and unbiased information instead of putting pressure on an already emotionally affected woman.

    Instead of this after-the-fact influence, perhaps it would be more productive and rarely opposed by most people, if prevention of unwanted births was given more attention and support, even if religions seem to have a dogmatic problem even with that. They don’t want to help avoid unwanted pregnancies, and they don’t want to end unwanted pregnancies. (I know I’m oversimplifying by singling out ‘religion’ in this but the correlation seems very high).

    And while we all contribute to educating especially younger people and get behind prevention of unwanted situations, let’s give all the support and choice we can to the pregnant ladies, and refrain from imposing our own will, however well intentioned, on their condition.

    • I don’t know if that is your real name; and I don’t know if you are a woman or a man; but, NO we don’t “ALL come second, behind the pregnant woman”. The Bible states that we should Love God FIRST-not second. He is the End ALL and Be ALL as the great I AM. And, “SECOND” we are commanded to “Love others as we love ourselves.”–This means that we are all equal to one another as human beings. We are all created in God’s Image and Likeness and therefore we are all EQUAL in value. The newly created BABY, THE MOTHER and YOU and I. We ALL have the right to live and be free and pursue happiness. I feel bad for you if you are in a country that is not as great or as “Under God” as we are. I am grateful to God that He has given us the Holy Trinity with Jesus who is ALL Loving anf Forgiving. And we have Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother to be Our Mother Too!
      LOVE OF GOD< NEIGHBOR AND OURSELVES IS THE ONLY ANSWER!!!–And, Shame on you for accusing those who are out to save her and her baby from the despair of murder is to positively "put pressure" on the abortion-minded woman's soul as in to save someone who is about to jump off a spiritual cliff into hell. She, who either; has already created this pressure ("put pressure") on herself or a man in her life has put this pressure on her.
      Face the Truth and either forgive yourself for your abortion or ask forgiveness for the one you caused–Then go to God and ask Him for his forgiveness.
      You owe yourself that much in order to allow yourself the bliss of eternal life.
      WE impose God's Will by being obedient to Him and not our own sinful desires.
      The Catholic Church is the ONE TRUE RELIGION and it DOES teach and want abstinence. However, all Catholics (good or bad) have free will to do what THEY, and NOT the Church wants and/or teaches.
      Be More Careful with your pointing finger-you have three others aimed at you!
      I am praying for you. Right now.

  2. In serving women who have experienced crisis pregnancies for the past 23 years, including rape and incest cases, I am very empathetic to those going through such a difficult time in their life. Some of these women chose abortion but most of them chose life. Challenging and educating these women on the value of life, especially those who say they are Christians, and standing firm, in love, on the mandates of scriptures, it’s almost like they’d give a sigh of relief as it’s not my opinion I express but what God’s Word says. They desperately want a plumb line – deep down inside they want to hear the truth, even if they struggle with it. Choosing life is encouraged and shared in love and with concern for both the mother and the baby. I have had the priviledge of coming alongside many of these women, assisting them throughout their pregnancies and even after birth. Long-term friendships sometimes develop and these kids who were once crisis pregnancies are now in their teens. I have yet to have even one mother tell me that she wishes she would have aborted her baby. But I have had women return for post abortion counseling who have struggled with their past abortion decisions. As difficult as it is for a young woman to continue to carry a baby conceived from rape or incest, giving life to their baby honors God. Abortion results in a second tragedy – a second trauma. Babies should not die because of the way they were conceived. Ask Pam Stenzel, national speaker on abstinence. She is a product of rape, doesn’t even know her nationality, but her life had value, even in the womb. Deuteronomy 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.

  3. I try to consider myself as pro -life, but this area is so tough.I know because of my several rapes. I have such a big desire for a Catholic therapist that I ‘m comfortable with, but there not available.Fortunately I didn’t get pregnant.The emergency rms gave me @that time the morning after pill.My life 40+yrs has been awlful.I am trying to return to my Catholic faith, but it’s difficult.I have serious trust Issues.

    • Dearest Sister-in-Christ Jane, Please consider a spiritual advisor within the Catholic Church. There is a great one, Father Raymond LeBrun, at Our Nation’s ‘National Shrine and Basilica of the Immaculate Conception’. I live right near this terrific place but ANYONE can go to their website which is www.nationalshrine.com –and, secondly if you can find the means to request a year-long daily Mass said for yourself and your healing it is ONLY $20.
      Here is the National Shrine’s address and phone number for you to contact them during business hours EST and talk with or leave message w/ Fr. Lebrun:
      400 Michigan Ave NE Washington, DC 20017
      (202) 526-8300
      you can place your confidence without regret with Fr. LeBrun who has helped me and is like a firm father figure who is very wise can talk with you about your concerns and/or refer you to a spiritual advisor within your geographical area.
      And, many priests will work with you on spiritual issues free of charge.
      Please remember that it is important to trust fully in God by confessing your sins by receiveing the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to be fully healed.
      I place my all trust in others which will only hurt me; but, in God Himself.
      And, don’t forget that the path to Our Lord Jesus is by praying to Our Lady!
      Marys Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (who referred to herself to St. Bernadette as “The Immaculate Conception”) is coming up and a perfect time for you!!!
      God Bless You as You Begin to Enjoy Life (Again),
      -Carol

  4. I love the rapist and I love the woman. I am the child of a rape victim. I truly practice what I preach as a good Christian Roman Catholic; and I love and forgive my enemies and do good to those who persecute me.
    I forgive my father because he created me and literally planted the fertile seed enabling me to live and grow.
    I forgive my birth mother for placing me in a foster care situation which almost killed me.
    I forgive my first foster mother (and father if there was one)
    I forgive the murderers who kill children. These murderers are; abortionists and their clients, the pregnant murderous mothers who are committing a far more heinous crimes at a far, far higher rate (3500 babies daily) than the Newtown murderer since they are intentionally killing not just strangers-but their own flesh and blood offspring. They premeditate and torture and kill innocent victims to cover their stupid mistakes.
    At least my mother (-who was raped and didn’t get to enjoy the pleasure of the sex act that got her pregnant- and who suffered for nine months with a child she did not want-) had the decency and morality to give me life and not kill me. She made no mistakes and did no harm. She did good as a morally upright person.
    I am not a “mistake” and never have deserved to be murdered or “punish” my mother with an abortion(!)
    I offer a special Saint Valentine “Thank you!” to my five Moms-My birth, first, second and adoptive mothers as well as my mother in heaven-The Blessed Virgin Mary with her Immaculate Heart and Conception

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