Pro-life advocate and speaker Monica Kelsey challenged the roughly 550 youth attending the Weekend Extravaganza retreat with a simple question: Why are you pro-life?
While answers from “life is precious” to “God said killing is wrong” were tossed about, she also followed it up by asking how many people in the room thought that abortion is acceptable when it comes to rape and incest.
Though no one stood up at first, Kelsey urged them to be honest, and one by one, many teens stood up.
“My hope is that they will not have exceptions,” Kelsey told Arkansas Catholic. “They were making an exception for my life. This is how we have to start changing minds — not every child was conceived out of love, wine and roses.”
Kelsey, conceived in rape, was the keynote speaker during the annual Weekend Extravaganza, hosted by the diocese’s Catholic Youth Ministry Office at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. Every year, teens from throughout the state come together for this pro-life retreat the Saturday before the March for Life, a peaceful protest aimed at ending abortion in the United States.
“A lot of times people will say I’m against abortion except in cases of rape and incest,” said Liz Tingquist, director of the diocese’s Catholic Youth Ministry Office. “We wanted her to come and give that message that every life matters.”
Though it’s a fun retreat with activities and a dance, it’s also a time for prayer, reflection and education on pro-life issues, Tingquist said.
Kelsey drove the point home, sharing how she was adopted as a baby by a Christian family in Paulding, Ohio, and did not know the truth about her birth parents until she was 37. The married mother of three found out when she tracked down her biological mother that in 1972, her mother, just 17, was raped and left along a roadside to die.
“I was the loved child all these years and now all of the sudden I wasn’t wanted, I wasn’t loved and I was whisked into this world by violence,” Kelsey said. “Society makes exceptions for this class of babies. We just made an exception for this class of babies … My biological father was a rapist. I don’t even know my ethnicity. I am still a human being, and I still have value and my life isn’t worth less than yours simply because of the way I was conceived and I didn’t deserve the death penalty for the crime of my biological father.”
She is a military veteran and works as a firefighter and medic in Woodburn, Ind. where her husband is the mayor. She started sharing her story in hopes that young people make the right choice if they find themselves in an unintended pregnancy.
“When we say we are pro-life except in the case of rape and incest, you’re dehumanizing a class of babies that have done nothing wrong. Nothing wrong,” she said. “We don’t give rapists the death penalty in our country. We took that off the books years ago. Why would we give the child that?”
Andrea Beyer, 17, a member of the Youth Advisory Council who worked the retreat, said she loved Kelsey’s speech.
“She explained why abortion is always wrong,” said Beyer, a member of St. Michael Church in West Memphis. “It was touching and moving.”
Kelsey’s speech gave the youth more information to know what to say to those that are pro-choice.
“I’d ask them why they believe abortion is right and then retell what she told us,” said Austin Wagner, 17, a member of St. Agnes Church in Mena.
Melissa Gramlick, a fifth-grade teacher at Christ the King Church in Little Rock who was volunteering at the retreat, said she admired how Kelsey challenged everyone to get more educated.
“She left you with more to do — what can I do beyond praying?” Gramlick said. “You can see why people are on the fence with rape and incest and then you see her and think, ‘Of course. it’s not right.’”
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