Kathy was clearly old enough to do the math. She just never really thought about how young her mother was, until as an adult, she came face to face with her own birth certificate, and read between the lines. The ink on the page told the story of how Kathy Barnette was conceived.
The now-Republican congressional hopeful was just 18 or 19 years old at the time, getting ready to join the Army Reserves, and she needed the birth certificate to sign up. That was the first time she really began pondering her origins.
"And the first thing I noticed is that they identify my mother is 'Negro girl,’" Kathy told The Epoch Times of her birth certificate. "I scanned over it, I saw that she was 12, and it began to dawn on me for the first time that I can remember. I just really started processing how young my mother was when I was conceived. She was 11. She gave birth to me when she was 12."
Kathy learned that her mother had been raped as a girl, and became pregnant. Her mom recalls people saying she should have an abortion, but Kathy's grandma would have none of it, and for that, Kathy has her life to be thankful for, and it came to shape her perspective on the value of life profoundly.
"I think about it often," she said. "That my egg only came at that one particular time. And reading the Word of God where He says, 'I knitted you in your mother's womb,' where He talks about, before the foundation of the world, 'I saw you, and I called you'—predestined you—it's very personal to me. It’s not something that I can read and just pass over."
For Kathy, though, it's "not just philosophical." Being the exception is her story.
"We often have that 'exception to the rule' right?" she said. "We hate abortion, except in the case of incest and rape. And I happen to be one of those exceptions to the rule. So for me, it's very personal. Because I had nothing to do with how I was conceived, I should not be punished for the behavior and heinous act that was inflicted upon my very young mom."
She said, "Me coming to a place of being pro-life, perhaps I would have gotten there from a philosophical perspective … But again, I know Christians and conservatives who are pro-life … with some exceptions. And that doesn't exist for me.”
The life Kathy was given began on a humble pig farm in the deep south of Alabama. She described the conditions as "wickedly poor," but from the hard work she learned from her grandparents growing up, she became the first person in her family to go to, and finish, college.
This led to finding a career in the financial sector, writing her first book "Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain," and eventually running for congress in 2020 (now, she is strongly considering running again).
What else did Kathy have to gain? A family. Her life converged with her husband's, and they now have "two beautiful and smart, just loving kids who are going to be wonderful citizens when we release them into the world," she said. "And they will contribute greatly to our nation and to the world."
None of which would have come into being had she been considered the "exception."
"I see, just from the abortion perspective, a couple of things: it would have severed anything that will come after me," she said. "When I look at my children, I think about that sometimes. Then they wouldn't be here, and they're such a wonderful contribution to the world."
Adds Kathy, "How could I not tell that story and potentially advocate for that child's life?"
Kathy grew up in the same house that her great-great-great-great-grandmother, Rhoda, lived in—and she was a slave. It's more important than ever for black folks to learn their history, said Kathy, the horrors of slavery, what they surrendered, but also how far we have come as a country "to right so many of those wrongs, and then come out on the other side."
Of growing up on that farm, Kathy shared: "And even in that dire, just wickedly poor environment, no one ever told me I was a victim. I can still see my grandmother and my grandfather out there in the fields, and Timmy with the cows and the corn, and planting a seed in the ground. I could see them harvesting the things that they did that they grew, and I saw them work hard.
"But they never told me, even in growing up in the very deep south, obviously black, poor, that I was a victim," she said. "And because they never told me I was a victim, I never saw myself as a victim."
She adds, "I am not a victim. I am a victor. That's how I was raised."
To teach their children their history, Kathy and her husband brought them to visit Mount Vernon where George Washington lived, where around 300 unnamed slaves were buried. For their sacrifices, she tells her children and those who have benefited from their sacrifices, "we have an obligation to live well." It is our "burden to live well."
"I believe racism exists—I do," she adds. "Like I often say to people, we only have 24 hours in a day; how much time do you want me to spend, trying to sniff out every single ounce of racism?"