“Many people use the reason for rape to accept abortions,” said the Michigan native in a May 10 interview with CNA.
Rathke, 35, was conceived when her mother was raped on her way home from work.
“They say that it is the rapist’s baby, that it is a monster’s baby, and that no one would want this child,” she said.
“I am not a monster’s baby. I am not the rapist’s baby. I am my mother’s child, and I’m a child of the most High God, and I am made in His image.”
Rathke, now a pro-life advocate, was one of an estimated 40,000 people to take part in Rome's fourth – and Italy's fifth – annual March for Life.
This year's march, which took place on Mother's Day, centered on the theme “For life, no compromise.”
During his weekly Regina Caeli address earlier in the day, Pope Francis greeted the pilgrims who were in Rome for the event, saying: “It is important to collaborate together to promote and defend life.”
Married with four children, Rathke is currently vice-president of Beacon of Hope Pregnancy Care Center's Board of Directors, and president of HELPeople, Inc.
Having been adopted at the age of five when her mother, who suffers from schizophrenia, was unable to continue caring for her, Rathke had already become open with her faith, and an advocate for the homeless.
She discovered the origins of her conception just three years ago when her mother's husband passed away, leading to the discovery that he had been covering for his wife's rape.
In response, Rathke began traveling the world to defend babies born of rape from laws which would allow them to be aborted as an “exception.”
“We deserve life as well,” she said.
The pro-life advocate said many women are forced into abortions after their rape, and later are unable to live with the guilt.
“I come to represent all of the women who are suffering silently because they were raped,” she said. “When they see my sign, and when they hear my story, they come and they thank me, and they say that they’re not going to be ashamed anymore, that they are also made in God’s image.”
As a child conceived in rape, her advice for women who have found themselves pregnant after such an assault is that abortion will not heal the pain of their ordeal.
“An abortion will not make the memories of the rape go away,” Rathke said.
“An abortion will only end your baby’s life. Your baby’s a victim, just like you are. Give that baby life.”
“That baby’s life is beautiful, and wonderful, and is not an ugly reminder of a bad thing … God is giving you something good to hang onto after such a horrible encounter.”?
Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978. Since then, more than 6 million Italian babies have been aborted.
While Italian women who have had abortions have largely remained publicly silent, some are starting to speak out – and the March for Life is seen as a reason. At the 2015 event, for instance, two post-abortive women gave their testimony if their experiences of having abortions.
March for Life spokesperson Virginia Nunziante told CNA ahead of the event that while it is highly unusual for post-abortive women to speak out, these witnesses “understand now how important it is to have this message, also to help other young women.”
The annual event, which has been modeled from the US March for Life held each year in Washington DC, has drawn thousands of people from around the world to the streets of Rome. An estimated 50,000 people attended the march in 2015.
Nunziante explained that the focus of this year's March for Life is not only in defense of the unborn, but also intended as a witness against euthanasia, explaining that Italy is attempting to advance legislation on this issue.
In 2009, Italy became embroiled in a legal battle when the father of Eluana Englaro, an Italian woman who had been in a vegetative state for 17 years, sought to have her feeding tube removed.
Nunziante explained that the March for Life it is important event not only for Italians, but also on an international level.
“The Holy See is seen as an important worldwide voice,” she said. “The Pope is seen as such. And this is the reason why they all come to Rome.”
?This year’s March for Life saw the gathering of even more international pro-life representatives than previously, she said. “They understand that we have to give a worldwide message, and from Rome, the word is getting wider and wider.”