A Mother Jones piece on custody rights for rapists misses the hidden God angle

A recent story from Mother Jones about women who were raped, impregnated and then forced to share custody of their child with the rapist, grabbed my attention like a knife.

Buried in this tale was another story that got slight mention in the original article. But the reporter didn’t follow it, either for lack of time, space or interest. Yes, it’s a story with a strong religion hook.

We’ll get to that later in this post. But first there are the horrible details of what one woman lived through.

Note that where the story takes place is not the Deep South but eastern Michigan.

Before her son began school last year, Tiffany Gordon showed his father’s mugshot to school administrators. “If you see this guy, you have to call the police,” she told them.

Ten years earlier, when Tiffany was 12, a young man she knew invited her, her sister, and a friend on a late-night car ride. “I thought we would be going to McDonald’s,” Tiffany recalls. Instead, 18-year-old Christopher Mirasolo raped Tiffany and took the girls to an abandoned house in eastern Michigan.

When the hiding place was discovered, it marked the end of one nightmare — and the beginning of another. A month later, Tiffany realized she was pregnant. A prosecutor filed charges against Mirasolo, who might have faced a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life for impregnating a minor if he had not pleaded guilty to attempted rape, which resulted in a prison sentence of just two years. A judge let him out less than a year later. Not long after, Mirasolo raped another young girl and was sentenced to 5 to 15 years behind bars.

Think of it: This child was 12.

Most girls would have faced pressure to abort. In this case she had crucial support at home.

Tiffany’s parents supported her decision to keep the baby. Other family members urged her to consider an abortion. But she was adamant: “My son was innocent,” Tiffany, now 23, remembers telling her family.

She dropped out of school and stayed afloat working odd jobs. For almost nine years, she didn’t speak about the assault and tried to suppress the memories — until 2017, when she applied for state assistance. Without looking into the circumstances of how she became pregnant, county probate judge Gregory S. Ross granted Mirasolo joint custody and ordered Tiffany to live within 100 miles of him. Making matters worse, Ross disclosed Tiffany’s address to Mirasolo and ordered that his name be added to her son’s birth certificate, according to her lawyer, Rebecca Kiessling.

Tiffany’s experience battling her rapist for parental rights is not unique. As many as 32,000 women get pregnant through rape every year, and at least one-third decide to raise the baby instead of getting an abortion or choosing adoption. But because more than a third of all states do not terminate an assailant’s custody rights unless he’s been convicted of felony sexual assault, the women who make that choice can be forced to co-parent with their rapist.

When the Alabama state legislature passed an abortion ban earlier this year, stories about this awful loophole for rapists came up.

Most of us had never dreamed that a rapist had … custody rights?

At the center of the debate was Tiffany’s lawyer. Kiessling supports abortion bans even in cases of rape but she is also fighting for laws to protect rape survivors who do not want to share custody with their assailants.

A judge took away Mirasolo’s custody right two years ago, but Mirasolo is out of prison now and theoretically could try to kidnap his son.

At this point, the story moves onto to “Jessica,” another rape victim, who found the same lawyer as Tiffany had.

In 2017, Jessica was scrolling through Facebook, saw an article about Kiessling’s work, and joined an online support group for women who became pregnant through rape. Kiessling, who herself was conceived in rape, started the group eight years ago through her organization Save the 1, which advocates that “all pre-born children should be protected by law and accepted by society, without exception and without compromise.” The groups connect women like Jessica and Tiffany, who share Kiessling’s belief that abortion is immoral. In total, the groups have about 600 members.

I would have liked to have known more about these women and what makes them tick.

Of course, I also began to wonder who this Kiessling person was, as she sounds like a interesting story in her own right. How many feminist lawyers out there oppose abortion?

There is a potential religion ghost in this story, as well. Mother Jones didn’t go into why the moms it profiled decided not to abort their babies, although I’m guessing that peoples’ reasons for not aborting are often related to religious beliefs.

I turned to Canada’s CBC network to figure out who Kiessling is, as no U.S. journalist has done much on her.

Well, here is a woman whose mother gave her away because she was the child of a rape.

Kiessling yearned for a sense of place that she felt would come from knowing her birth parents. So upon turning 18, she accessed her adoption record.

In it, she found her birth mother's name and other details. But the field marked "Father" only read, "Caucasian of large build."

Kiessling reached out to her birth mother and arranged an in-person meeting. It was then she discovered the disturbing story behind those mysterious four words.

"I learned that [my birth mother] had been abducted at knifepoint by a serial rapist," she said …

Kiessling was conceived as a result.

Her birth mother also disclosed that she had twice tried to terminate the pregnancy, but wasn't able to access a safe abortion, which was illegal in her state at that time. …

Kiessling struggled to make sense of it all. She forged connections with others who had been conceived as a result of rape. She became a lawyer and a committed Christian, leaning on her faith to help find her way.

She married, and had children. She also became an anti-abortion activist, arguing against laws that allow abortions in the case of rape.

I looked at Kiessling’s SaveThe1.com web site. The first thing that meets your eyes is a Bible verse, followed by an essay on why abortion is not the right solution for rape victims. God is mentioned here and there. Think there might be a good religion story here?

Keissling’s personal web site also shows a ton of Christian connections. But I had to scout around elsewhere to find out in a Messianic Jewish publication that Keissling’s adoptive parents were Jewish, so she was brought up at a Jew. She had her bat mitzvah, then heard about Jesus at the age of 15, which didn’t thrill her parents all that much.

It’s amazing the religion content you can find if you only look around.

I’m not sure if Mother Jones would ever consider a God twist to their ongoing narrative on abortion, which is packaged as a series of articles called “Roe Reversal” about an overturn of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Instead, we get the faintest hint — buttressed by some web site links — that there is this alternate point of view held by women who, after undergoing one of the worst experiences a woman can face, kept their children.

At least they ran a photo of Keissling, standing in a courtroom, her presence giving the only hint that outside of all the rhetoric, there are many more human stories to be told.

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