How We Kept Rebecca Kiessling Out of Our School

The issue of abortion is on almost every young person’s mind. Opinions are divided and many people find themselves struggling to form their own opinion as to whether Ireland – North and South – should continue to criminalise abortion.

by Dungannon student

The issue imagesof abortion is on almost every young person’s mind. Opinions are divided and many people find themselves struggling to form their own opinion as to whether Ireland – North and South – should continue to criminalise abortion. My school took it upon themselves to ‘help’ their pupils form ‘their own’ opinion on this massively controversial topic; to hear that one of the most Christian fundamentalist schools in the North was finally bringing in a speaker on abortion, I was overjoyed. Unfortunately, my joy turned to complete anger on hearing the guest speaker would be the notorious anti-choice advocate Rebecca Kiessling on behalf of the Precious Life group.

On her 18th birthday, Kiessling discovered that her biological mother – who became pregnant as a result of rape – put her up for adoption after Michigan state law had prevented her legally and safely accessing an abortion. From then on, Kiessling began her campaign of manipulation and scaremongering and quickly became one of the most popular advocates for the anti-choice movement. Although I have incredible sympathy for anyone finding out they were born out of such tragic circumstances, this does not excuse Kiessling’s archaic views or her manipulative tactics. She uses emotional rhetoric – “I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for anti-abortion legislation”, “My mother was going to murder me” – to forward her poisonous campaign and manipulate young people across the globe. She has little sympathy for women who face the same horrific situation as her mother, believing they should face prosecution if they choose to have an abortion.

Once I heard Kiessling was to visit my school I immediately began addressing my fellow pupils and advised them not to pay the £3 toward her campaign and the Precious Life group or to attend the talk. On discussing this with my peers, I found the majority already refused to pay the fee in protest. I discussed with my Vice Principal to convince him to allow for a pro-choice speaker to also visit before the year was out. Of course, my request was out of the question! I was not shocked to hear how being pro-choice is “against the Catholic Ethos” and how, if I refused to attend the talk, I should “find another school to attend”. This refusal to allow pupils to hear both sides speaks volumes about the impact of religious control of our schools. The day Kiessling’s was due to take place, we found the talk had been cancelled. Thankfully, he uproar of pupils and the refusal to attend or contribute towards her hate-filled and undoubtedly harmful campaign had left the school with no choice but to cancel the talk. Kiessling and the Precious Life group should not be allowed through the doors of any school. A school is a place for young people to learn, grow, and ultimately feel supported. Precious Life and its advocates spew manipulative and deceitful rhetoric to further stigmatize women who have had or think about having an abortion. They refuse to acknowledge women’s rights to choose, and they ultimately fear and aim to suppress this generation of socially active and forward thinking young people.

Had the talk occurred, more young women would have been silenced and ashamed to share their experiences and opinions on what they should and should not be able to do with their own bodies. More young women would see no other choice but take the long and expensive journey to mainland UK to receive an abortion. Ultimately, more and more young women would have found themselves in extremely vulnerable positions with no visible way to resolve them, leading to fatal ‘back-alley’ abortions or suicide. My school decided to prevent young people from having mature, secular and rational discussion about sex and reproductive choices which would allow them to come to make their own choices.. They fear we might go against the Church’s teachings. Regardless of the fact that the majority of Northern Ireland’s population believe abortion should be decriminalised, schools will continue to be a medium for anti-choice groups to peddle their myths to the young people of today, unless it is challenged by students, parents and education workers.

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Changes to Northern Ireland's abortion regulations came into effect on 1st April. Following legislative changes by Westminster when Stormont was not functioning as a devolved government, terminations can now be carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without restriction. These changes are very welcome and are the result of years of campaigning by activists, including members of the Socialist Party and ROSA. While we celebrate this victory, we have to recognise we have not yet reached our aim of ensuring that pregnant people have full bodily autonomy, which includes being able to freely access abortion services through the NHS in Northern Ireland without restriction.