Remembering: When Jesse Jackson opposed abortion, he said life ‘is really a gift from God.’

NOTE: This essay was first posted at on August 25, 2012. 

In August of 2012, then U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri said women’s bodies are wired to prevent pregnancies in “legitimate rape,” a firestorm erupted ( 
Denunciations followed from every corner of the American spectrum.
As of 2012, one federal agency put the adult pregnancy rate associated with rape at 4.7 percent, somewhere more than 32,101 rape-related pregnancies among women over 18.
While some physicians say the biological reaction of the human body to physical trauma — trauma, mind you: actual, physical and psychological violence — can trigger miscarriages, in a lifetime of grappling with abortion policy and abortion results, I have never read any analysis that put the number of pregnancies following rape at zero.
Facts can take us only so far, so let’s turn to emotion.
Who said this?
“[O]nly once in a while do the egg and sperm bring about fertilization. Some call that connection accidental, but I choose to call it providential. It takes three to make a baby: a man, a woman and the Holy Spirit.… Human beings cannot give or create life by themselves, it is really a gift from God. Therefore, one does not have the right to take away (through abortion) that which he does not have the ability to give.”
Yeah, that’s Jesse Jackson (, in a commentary for National Right to Life News, in 1977. Back then, Jesse sounded like an Evangelical Christian on some things – because that was his natural, default setting.
When I first met Jackson in the early 1980s, he was pro-life. By 1984, a presidential campaign drew him into the mainstream of the Democratic Left, including abortion policy.
Despite his shift, Jackson and I remained cordial, another legacy of my time working for Paul Weyrich
(, who died in 2008.

In the 1990s, I hosted Jesse for lively editorial board sessions at The Oklahoman. My oldest son has an autographed picture taken with the charismatic preacher when he was 11.
The back story: Jackson’s mother bore him when she was 16. His biological father was a much older community leader who seduced the girl.
That was statutory rape, so Jackson’s story is not the best way to convey the instinctive horror many — on all sides of the issue — felt when they read or heard Akin’s comments.
Powerful witnesses for life have included people like Rebecca Kiessling from Michigan, Russell Saltzman from Missouri, Sharon Isley from Iowa, Carole Roy from Canada, and Mary Payne from Oklahoma.
A panel of people conceived in rape discussed their lives at a Detroit, Michigan event in 2010. 
Each is a living and breathing human being conceived in rape and/or incest. Each is unique. Each has a story to tell.
Kiessling tried to explain how it feels to hear people dismiss her existence “because of how I was conceived.” She describes “feeling like garbage” because of assumptions she was “disposable.” Her biological father was a rapist. Her biological mother bore her and placed her for adoption.
At the time of that panel, Mary Payne lived in Oklahoma City. I’ve lost track of her. 
Mary said she loves her biological mother and prays for her every day, striving to be “the best and most loving person I can be, breaking the cycle of abuse.” 
“In a democracy,” she said, “every life is important. Our society cannot afford to lose even one statesman or stateswoman to help guide us through the twenty-first century and beyond.”
There are thousands of stories like this, and each one is as different from another as each reader of this is from another.

Hard cases make bad law. They also make for divisive conversation.
Fifteen years ago, I had dinner a friend who considers every abortion a matter of regret, yet is firmly pro-choice. Comfortable in a friendship forged in common experience, care for each other’s spouses and children, and ideological tempering after years in modern political combat, our conversation ventured tenderly into the minefield of abortion policy.
She carefully restated her belief that “hard cases” necessitate, at the least, legal provision for abortion access in cases of rape and incest. 
She ultimately affirmed that abortion is a matter for a woman to decide.
I remembered why I loved her – her mind, her care for my family, her passion for justice. Her arguments were familiar but not shopworn, for she spoke them to me.
She awaited my reply. This was a difference of opinion on something that matters. Some might deem this an unbridgeable gap.
I told her that every time I hear of an abortion touching someone I love – and many I only know — I  “go there.”
Taking her hands in mind, I caressed her knuckles and fingers, and asked, “What if her hands would look like these? What if her eyebrows arched like yours, and her eyes were similar? Her ears? Her nose? That complexion? The way your mouth curls, or nearly so? What if she were different, but another you?”
We sat there for a while, without speaking. We held hands, the only time we’ve done so. She understood. I understood.
I pray more of us can find ways to make the children welcome, to come here and be with us.