It was a quiet night in 1956 in St. Louis, Missouri when 22-year-old Ann Phillips decided to go see a movie. She was a nanny at the time, and the couple she worked for and lived with dropped her off in the early evening to see the show. When the movie was over, she called the couple and asked if they would pick her up. They had been drinking and told her they were sorry, but they couldn't. Despite it being late, she began to walk the few blocks home.
Little did Ann know, this trip home would change the course of her life and the lives of many others, forever.
As she walked down the sidewalk, she could see in the distance a group of shirtless, young men standing by a used car lot on a dark corner of a St. Louis street. She counted them in her head. Eight. They looked to be in their late teens or early twenties. As she got closer, they noticed her. The men approached her and pulled her into the car lot. It was there that the eight men raped her, beat her and left her for dead.
Ann was terrified. She dared not move a muscle after the attack. She feared they would come back and make sure she was dead. The seconds felt like hours and the minutes like days, as she laid on the concrete and waited. After she was certain they were gone, she mustered up the courage to get up and run home.
Once she got back to her home, she frantically packed everything. In a haze of desperation, pain and confusion, she told the couple only that she was quitting and returning home to Jackson, Mississippi.
She did not breathe a word of the attack to her parents when she returned home. It was only a short three months later, that she was forced to relive that horrific night. Her belly had grown and a test confirmed she was pregnant. Her parents didn't believe she was raped, and despite abortion being illegal at the time, their family doctor said he would be able to “take care of it.”
A quick fix her parents told her. Abort the baby and move on with your life. But even after the awful attack and coming to the realization that she was carrying the baby of one of her attackers, Ann replied sternly,
“You will not 'take care of it.' This is my baby.”
Ann was sent off to a home for unwed mothers, something common during that time. While there, she decided once the baby was born, she would place it up for adoption to protect it. On Valentine's day in 1957, after 36 hours of labor, Ann gave birth to a healthy baby girl and named her Mary Elizabeth.
She remained at the home for two weeks after the birth. At this time, mothers who were placing their babies up for adoption were often not allowed to even see their babies, let alone hold them. But one special older woman who worked at the home, knew the love Ann had for her baby girl, and would sneak her into Ann's room for the few days she stayed there. Precious days Ann would never forget. This same woman also gave Ann a photo of her sweet, baby girl to take with her.
Mary Elizabeth was adopted by a loving family who changed her name to Juda Ann Elizabeth which means “a covenant with God to praise Him.”
It would take 48 years for the two women, mother and daughter, to reunite, but this reunion would spawn the creation of an organization that would go on to change the lives of hundreds of women who found themselves in the same position as Ann.
The Beginning of CHOICES4LIFE
It was in the month of February in 2011 when Juda founded CHOICES4LIFE.
“Hearing my mother's cries and the many other women who gave similar stories of not having any support after rape conception, it gave me no choice but to start an organization that would help them,” she explains.
CHOICES4LIFE was created as a way to promote and restore honor and dignity to women and children of rape conception through assault or incest. There is a stigma about children who are conceived out of rape, Juda says. People, unfairly portray these children as a burden and constant reminder of the crime committed against the mother. We have seen by the majority of society that rape and incest have become justifiable reasons to abort babies. But, Juda says, God makes no mistakes.
“Not a day goes by that I'm not defending my right to life,” she said. "I always say I wasn't here when the crime was committed, why would I be executed for it? There is a genocidal attitude about children conceived after rape that pushes mothers to 'get rid of it,' because they couldn't possibly bear to even look at that thing.' This is the furthest thing from the truth. Among my peers are Purple Heart recipients, doctors, humanitarians, professors, singers, authors, artists and more. Almost all of them are excelling in their careers and in life. This has been taboo for too long.”
CHOICES4LIFE is completely funded by monthly supporters and general donations. With these funds, the organization has provided services to over 200 women since its inception. Each need is individual. Whether it is relocating a woman to a safe location, paying for an emergency medical bill, or providing housing and clothing, CHOICES4LIFE fills the gap.
“I've even flown to meet mothers as an advocate against the Center for Protective Services (CPS),” said Juda. “Sadly many times CPS gets involved just because a child was conceived after rape. Several of the moms I've helped had CPS in their room after the baby was born. Nurses called because, 'she can't be a good mother to a rape-conceived child.'”
What has surprised Juda the most about her work was the amount of women told to leave their homes, by family, because they refused to abort. From December 2017 to January of 2018, CHOICES4LIFE helped rescue 57 girls from ages 10 to 18 who were left homeless on the streets because they refused to have an abortion after an attack.
The heartbreak is there and the challenges are daily, but the success stories for Juda are endless. Natalie McClure is one of them.
It was 2010 and Natalie was attending college in Waco, Texas. Two weeks into her semester, she was assaulted on campus. She was young, confused, alone and now pregnant. Without knowing any better, Natalie had an abortion at 24 weeks.
“This led to a life of alcoholism and drugs that left me homeless for four years,” Natalie explains. “I battled internally with what I had done and what was done to me.”
In 2012, she was assaulted again by a man she had befriended while she was homeless. This time, she would not make the same mistake again.
“It was only about six weeks later that I found out I was pregnant once again by assault,” she said. “But this time I reached out to a young lady I had encountered years before at a church homeless meal. I knew she loved Jesus, and although I didn’t have a personal relationship with Him, I knew my spirit longed for something more. I encountered Jesus, who radically transformed me the day I heard my daughter's heartbeat.”
That day, she quit drugs and alcohol and has been sober ever since.
She met Juda and heard about CHOICES4LIFE through social media. Juda has been instrumental in her child custody court hearings, and she has assisted her with financial help and counseling.
“I think it’s important for organizations like CHOICES4LIFE to exist because it lets women know there are people out there that care about them and see us for who we are, not what we have done or what has been done to us.”
K also found CHOICES4LIFE through social media. K's story, though, started at a much younger age than Natalie. K was just 13 when she found out she had conceived through rape. The push to abort was coming from almost everyone who heard her story.
“I was harassed for not aborting my son,” she said.
Despite the pressure, she chose life and had her son at 28 weeks, at the young age of 14.
“CHOICES4LIFE was such an amazing support system for me,” she said. “They helped with the extras I could not come up with because I was on bedrest. They kept me strong mentally and physically.”
K is now 20 years old. She owns her own home with her fiancé. She has an associates degree in business and is one year away from her bachelor’s. Her beautiful son will be six years old in April.
“Don't be ashamed,” she said. “Do not let other people’s opinions affect what you want to do or deter you in anyway. There are resources out there for you like CHOICES4LIFE. You can have a child and still be successful. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help!”
Mothers Want Their Babies
It was a cold December evening when Juda finally met her mother, Ann, after they were separated 48 years before. When Juda saw Ann sitting there in a wheelchair, she ran over to her, threw her head on her lap and started crying.
Ann patted her head and said, “Honey, stop your crying. I've forgiven those men, and look what God has done. He's brought you back to me. God is faithful.”
Ann was holding something tightly in her hand when they met. It was that picture. The picture the kind woman at the home for unwed mothers had given her many, many years before.
She said, “I've been holding this for 48 years, praying God would send you to me.”
“One thing my mother said to me that day that will always stick with me forever,” Juda said. “She told me I was the best thing that could have happened after the rape. I gave her something to live for.”
“Mothers want their babies conceived after rape. They really do. They just need help, and that is what we do.”
To find out how you can support CHOICES4LIFE, hear about Juda and more stories of the women her organization has helped, visit Choices4life.org.