40 Years Fighting Abortion, Building a Pro-Life Culture

An interview with Maria McFadden Maffucci, president of the Human Life Foundation and editor of Human Life Review.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Human Life Review, which has served as the primary record of the pro-life movement since its founding by the late J.P. McFadden. The journal has published original essays by a number of pro-life giants of the late 20th century, such as William F. Buckley, Fulton Sheen, Ronald Reagan, and Malcolm Muggeridge.

CWR recently spoke with Maria McFadden Maffucci, president of the Human Life Foundation and editor of Human Life Review, about the publication’s long and impressive history—and its future.

CWR: The Human Life Review was born after the Roe v. Wade decision to legalize the killing of unborn children. Can you tell me about how that Supreme Court decision affected your late father, J.P. McFadden, and inspired his life’s vocation?

Maria McFadden Maffucci: In 1973, my father was the associate publisher of National Review, having joined that magazine about a year after it launched in the mid-50s. When the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, it shocked him to the core. He simply couldn’t believe it. He called it his “day-long road to Damascus,” the day he read the decision. He couldn’t believe the Supreme Court would put “moral suasion and moral power behind killing babies.” With NR editor Bill Buckley’s blessing, J.P. took on the after-hours job of setting up the Ad Hoc Committee in Defense of Life, a lobbying organization, in February of 1973. In 1974, he created the Human Life Foundation, a 501c3, which has two programs; educational: the quarterly Human Life Review—our first issue was published in winter of 1975—and charitable: the foundation offers matching grants to pregnancy centers. 

My father was determined that the Review would be the place where all the best minds would gather to argue in defense of life, and also that the Review would be a record of the pro-life movement. We will not, he said, be like Nazi Germany—no one should be able to say they didn’t know what was going on.

CWR: Do you think your father would be surprised that, 40 years later, the journal is still being published and the country is still divided over abortion?

Maffucci: No, I don’t. I think that in the late 70s and through the 80s, there was a great feeling that the fight to overturn Roe would be won and it was just a matter of time till Americans came to their senses: they were confused, but once they knew the facts, they would support life. But by the 90s, and especially after the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey Supreme Court decision, I think J.P. knew we were in for a very long haul. I do think he would be surprised at how bad things are under President Obama, especially regarding his no-holds-barred abortion advocacy, Obamacare, and the HHS mandate. I am not sure even J.P. would have predicted this.

When we found out that my father was terminally ill, almost five years after his initial throat cancer, I told him that I would make sure the foundation carried on. (I had been at the Review for eight years at the time.) I do not think he would be surprised that it has. Partially because he knew how powerfully he had influenced my life; he knew how much I loved him and shared his convictions, and that I would take such a promise with deep seriousness. He also knew how many good people—first and foremost my mother, Faith, completely devoted to the mission and a writer herself, and his wonderful staff, the writers, and most especially the supporters who had made it all possible by their sacrificial contributions—surrounded the HLR and would not abandon it. But he also knew that the reason the HLR existed and could last was outside of any of us. He counseled leaving room for the Holy Spirit, doing what came to you, what you could do, and leaving the big plans up to God. And I think he believed that what he had started with the foundation was something worthy and God would take care of it.

CWR: Your father became friends with some of the great pro-life figures of the late 20th century. How did these friendships develop?

Maffucci: Well, as I said, J.P. came to NR in the mid-fifties. He’d read God and Man at Yale and wanted to meet Buckley. Once they met he was pretty much hired on the spot to help out on the then-new magazine. Initially a writer (J.P. began his career as a newspaper reporter), he soon found that someone needed to run the business end, and so he took on the task to sell NR. He then discovered he had a true genius for direct mail and promotion. My father and Bill Buckley remained close friends and colleagues throughout his life. There would never have been a Human Life Review without Bill’s support and encouragement. He was a great support to my parents when my father was enduring his long illness.

One marvelous thing about my Dad was his infectious joy about ideas and people he admired. He was a great fan of Malcolm Muggeridge, and wrote to him starting in the 60s, and to his great delight Muggeridge wrote back. Their correspondence grew into a friendship, a collaboration (Muggeridge was an early contributor and advisor to the Review) with almost weekly phone calls, and then several visits. My parents met Malcolm and his wife Kitty when they came to the US, and had several visits with them here and in Canada, and became great friends with Malcolm’s son John and his wife Anne, both of whom are sadly also now deceased. 

J.P. was also a devotee of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and Sheen of the Review.  I was recently looking through files in our offices, and found original letters praising the Review (and enclosing contributions) from Archbishop Sheen starting in 1975—he was then Titular Archbishop of Newport. In March of 1978, Sheen wrote to J.P. that he would love to meet Malcolm Muggeridge—and it so happened that Malcolm was coming to New York that May. He, Bill Buckley, and Judge John T. Noonan were hosting a testimonial dinner for my father and his anti-abortion work. J.P. set up the first and only meeting between Sheen and Muggeridge, the transcripts of which were published in 2000 (“A Conversation: May 1979,” published by the National Committee of Catholic Laymen, a sister organization also founded by J.P.). It was a remarkable discussion, a main area being whether or not Muggeridge would ever join the Catholic Church. Sheen died six months later; Malcolm did enter the Church with his wife, Kitty, in 1983.

CWR: In 1984, Ronald Reagan published an original essay for Review, how did this happen?

Maffucci: In the 70s and early 80s, J.P. continued to run the Ad Hoc Committee, which employed a lobbyist in DC, and published a newsletter called Lifeletter. He was also integral to the founding of the Christian Action Council, an organization of pro-life Evangelicals. I don’t know how exactly the Reagan article came about, but it came out of his Washington, DC connections, including his friendship with the great Anne Higgins, who was head of White House correspondence under Reagan. In 1982, the president read a letter published in the HLR from a mother of a child with spina bifida. He wrote to this woman, and she sent the letter to my father. J.P. reprinted Reagan’s letter, and then asked the president to write for the HLR. But I think even he was surprised that it actually happened—a manuscript arriving on my father’s desk, complete with hand-written edits from the president! The article appeared in our Spring 1983 issue, and in 1984 it was brought out as a book by Thomas Nelson publishers, with Afterwords by Dr. C. Everett Koop and Muggeridge. It remains the only book published by a sitting president in our history.

CWR: The Great Defender of Life Award is given annually to strong, pro-life advocates whose work the foundation would like to honor. How did this tradition start and whom have been some of your awardees?

Maffucci: A few years after my father died, the late Msgr. Eugene Clark, who had instructed my mother in the faith (she had been a Presbyterian, her conversion story is chronicled in her book Acts of Faith, published by Ignatius Press) and introduced my parents to each other, had lunch with me and my mother and encouraged us to start a dinner as a way of spreading the news about our work and gaining new support. Our first dinner was in 2003, and it was partially a testimonial to my father—the words “Great Defender of Life” are what we chose for his tombstone. Our honoree that year was Congressman Henry Hyde, a true pro-life hero. Honorees have included: Congressman Chris Smith, Irish journalist and TV commentator Mary Kenny, Arkansas Democrat Gazette columnist Paul Greenberg, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, architect of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act Professor Hadley Arkes, former Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn, and Wesley Smith and Rita Marker of the Patients’ Rights Council.  

CWR: Hentoff is one of the more surprising names on that list—can you tell me a bit about him?

Maffucci: In 1984 Nat Hentoff, a Jewish, atheist, Village Voice columnist—who for more than 50 years has been an authoritative voice on civil liberties, as well as a jazz critic!—wrote a series of columns on “The Babies Doe,” about two cases in the news of parents or doctors wanting to let handicapped babies die rather than be treated. J.P. called Hentoff up to ask if the HLR could reprint them and that started a mutual admiration and telephone, fax, and letter friendship. My father was like that—liked to be with his family and close colleagues but otherwise stayed behind his trusty typewriter, preferring the phone to meetings. Over the next two decades, Hentoff’s work has appeared many times in the Review. He received our award in 2005, and we brought out a book collection of his columns, Insisting on Life. In a telephone interview with us this year, he said the Great Defender of Life award is his most cherished recognition.

CWR: This year’s honorees are Clarke Forsythe and Kristan Hawkins. Why them and why now?

Maffucci: In recent years we have been focusing on the movement both looking back and forward. We believe it is important for current pro-life leaders to know both who and what has gone before them (pro-life heroes and strategies) as well as have an eye on how to influence the youth, which is our future. Clarke Forsythe has been a friend to the Review for many years, and contributed many articles. [He is] senior counsel for Americans United for Life, and his recent book, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, is a fascinating and important analysis of Roe based on newly-released internal working documents of the Supreme Court. Kristan Hawkins is the president of Students for Life—an organization which has as its mission to abolish abortion in the lifetime of its college student members. The organization she heads keeps growing and presents a positive, energetic, youthful optimism—words which describe Kristan herself. Both Clarke and Kristan, I think, represent fresh honesty in the pro-life movement—honesty that just might be cutting through some barriers.

CWR: Who are some of your personal pro-life heroes who are living today?

Maffucci: The first people that come to mind are Chris and Joan Bell. Their stories separately and together are incredible: Joan Andrews Bell was a peaceful protestor with Operation Rescue who spent considerable time in prison for her witness.  She met Chris when he brought her the Eucharist in prison. They are raising seven children, six of whom are adopted and have special needs. Chris, of course, has for more than 25 years now run Good Counsel homes, a network of homes offering life-saving care for homeless pregnant women. They walk the walk every day, and every time I see them they are smiling and gracious—no hint of ego or impatience. They are humble, joyful warriors.

CWR: Why is the written word still an important contribution to the pro-life cause?

Maffucci: The written word remains essential for anyone who wants to think. Yes, visual means can be powerful, and yes, we are in a culture that more and more relies on digital media messages geared toward short attention spans. But I don’t think true conversion of hearts and minds will come about from a bullet point, a tweet, or a headline—but from thoughtful reflection on intelligent arguments and clearly presented information. The Review exists ideally to have people read it the “old-fashioned” way—quietly, with thought, with the space to enter into the writer’s mind and follow his or her logic, or emotion. Having said that, we also have a growing presence on the Internet, and I read recently that book-reading is on the increase again because of Kindles and e-books. If people can read on the screen, and so are reading more, I’m all for it.

CWR: Any predictions about the future of the pro-life movement? 

Maffucci: That is a tough one. I do have great hope for a more pro-life culture based on the growing number of young people who are actively pro-life, and a more varied and inclusive pro-life movement. I also think that the restrictions will continue to be voted in, state by state, and that abortion will be seen more and more as an unhealthy and tragic choice, especially if the truth is admitted to in the mainstream culture about just how physically and psychologically harmful abortion is to women (evidence abounds). 

But I am less optimistic about the protection of embryos in fertility technology and for experimentation; and worried about the encroaching acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide. I think people are often intimidated by “experts” in science and medicine, and many decisions are made in times of crisis and vulnerability. The pro-life movement needs to be vigilant and stay focused on the life issues from conception to natural death, making important distinctions along the way. For example, as a Roman Catholic, I find other Catholics unclear about what constitutes “extraordinary means” in end-of-life issues—the mainstream media paints an insultingly simplistic picture of Church teaching when it comes to life issues. In the larger picture, while one can fight abortion from a human rights stance, some of the “hard cases,” especially in end-of-life decisions, are hard to fight for without an underlying belief in God—without the belief that it is only God who gives and takes life, and sometimes suffering is a mystery that is accepted, because it can be redemptive.

So, I think that a return to respect for, and curiosity about religion in our culture will be a great factor in how well the pro-life movement does in the future.

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About Christopher White 0 Articles
Christopher White is director of Catholic Voices USA.