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Human Life Review: Forty Years Of Fighting For Human Life And Dignity


“We won’t be like Nazi Germany. No one should be able to say, whatever happens, that they didn’t know what’s actually going on here.” When journalist James Patrick McFadden spoke those words, he was referring to the holocaust sparked by the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision and its companion Doe vs. Bolton, which legalized abortion during all nine months of pregnancy. In the immediate wake of Roe, he founded The Human Life Foundation and The Human Life Review, a dynamic and multi-faceted quarterly. His mission was to confront and to document the assaults on human life and dignity wrought by Roe, including abortion, infanticide, cloning, euthanasia, and eugenics.

After Jim McFadden died in 1998, his daughter, Maria McFadden Maffucci, stepped up as the Review’s editor. She continues to keep the torch burning at the HLR offices in midtown Manhattan. In a recent interview with Stella Morabito for The Federalist, Maffucci reflected on the evolution of the pro-life movement and the Human Life Review’s scope and critical role in that movement.

Stella: So much has happened over the past 40 years since Roe and the founding of the Human Life Review. If you could first give a quick tour of the life of the publication itself, what highlights would you point to? And what is it up to today?

Maria: What comes to mind is that in 1983 President Ronald Reagan wrote an article for the Human Life Review called “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,” which about a year later was published in book form… Another interesting high point was when Walker Percy, the famous novelist, wrote a letter to the New York Times about abortion, and not only did the Times not publish it, but they didn’t even answer him. We published it. When my Dad founded the Review in 1975, the eminent British author Malcolm Muggeridge was really enthusiastic and he started contributing. Archbishop Fulton Sheen was one of our first subscribers. And William F. Buckley, with whom my father worked closely at National Review, was a very strong supporter of the Human Life Review at the outset. But I think the great thing about the Review is that from its earliest days we’ve been open to all sorts of articles from all sorts of different people.

When Walker Percy, the famous novelist, wrote a letter to the New York Times about abortion, and not only did the Times not publish it, but they didn’t even answer him. We published it.

We’ve managed to keep going for 40 years, which isn’t that easy since we are a print publication. We’ll have a new look starting in Winter 2015 and The Human Life Review is now online as well. Our website has a weekly blog and Twitter feed now also. And we’re looking forward to more people being a part of the conversation. We definitely want to reach the pro-life leaders of tomorrow. We want to reach more people in the medical profession and the legal profession, because we’re going to have to really fight back against what’s going on.

Stella: In recent years you also started hosting a big October event in Manhattan, The Great Defender of Life Awards Dinner. What can you tell us about the event, and some of your past honorees?

Maria: Yes, the upcoming dinner on October 23 will be our twelfth. The first one, in 2003, was a testimonial to my father because we had chosen “Great Defender of Life” to put on his tombstone. And our first honoree was Congressman Henry Hyde. In the past we’ve also honored Nat Hentoff, who is a Jewish atheist pro-life columnist for the Village Voice, honored Mary Kenny, who is an Irish journalist and TV personality in England and Ireland ,Bill McGurn, formerly with the Wall Street Journal and now with the New York Post. Last year we honored Eric and Susanne Metaxas, the first time we honored a married couple.

At this year’s ceremony we’re honoring Clark Forsythe, who is senior counsel for Americans United for Life and author of “Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade.” Our co-honoree is Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, who is a real dynamo and represents the youthful face of the pro-life movement. Sally Muggeridge, the niece of Malcom Muggeridge and president of the Malcolm Muggeridge Society, is our mistress of ceremonies. It’s a wonderful evening because there’s such a feeling of camaraderie and we honor people who deserve to be honored.

The Changing Abortion Debate

Stella: In general, how do you think the content of the abortion debate has evolved during the past 40 years?

Maria: In the early days of Roe, people would ask: “who can say when life begins?” People talked about “products of conception” or “bunches of cells.” Nobody argues that way anymore, especially now with ultrasounds. There’s no question it’s a baby. We used to think if people just knew, they would change their minds. But now they do know, and it’s much more blatantly utilitarian and increasingly eugenic. The question from the other side isn’t whether or not the baby is alive in the womb, but: “Well, what kind of quality of life would that child have?” or “Why should my own life be put on hold?” So I think the debate has evolved in a frightening way in that sense.

There’s no question it’s a baby. We used to think if people just knew, they would change their minds.

Stella: The pro-abortion side’s arguments seem to be appealing more and more to raw emotion these days, to justify things like late term abortion. That was something most pro-abortion folks used to really squirm about if you mentioned it. What aren’t people getting about this? And can you see any way for a real debate to evolve with things this extreme?

Maria: They’re definitely relying on emotion. We’ve reached such a point of narcissism and selfishness in our society. For example, with Wendy Davis advocating for late-term abortions in Texas, the stories are always emotional. It’s always about a woman who really wanted a child, but the child would be disabled and the mother starts thinking about what that child’s life would be like and how much the parents would suffer. It’s the arrogance of deciding that someone else’s life won’t be good enough. And it’s hard debating because right now people have such different moral codes, such different compasses.

The one logical thing that I think should work—if people were paying attention—is to note that if one group of humans can be killed, then any group of humans can be killed. It only depends on who’s in power, who’s deciding which group to kill. That ought to scare people. But it doesn’t, because they have a sense of security that they’re always going to be on the right side, the powerful side. And that’s just not true. People should be able to see this from past struggles, like slavery and the Holocaust. Logically the parallels are obvious. However, people just don’t see them. I watched Twelve Years a Slave, a terribly powerful movie. And I remember wondering if Hollywood would ever praise a movie that exposes abortion for what it is, because the themes are the same: man’s inhumanity to man, and considering one class of humans “less-than.”

An Open Discussion of Infanticide and Eugenics

Stella: Yet there are bioethicists today who shrug off human dignity. What do you make of the Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer and his outlandish support for infanticide and his animal-rights arguments?

Maria: Peter Singer is part of this movement that seems almost like science fiction. He is a utilitarian, and believes pain is bad, actually thinks we can do away with suffering. And believes parents should have the right to kill even their born children up to a certain point—he doesn’t say what age that is. The scariest people are people like Singer in academia who advise medical boards.

If you don’t believe in God, then there’s nothing wrong about making some life-and-death decisions for yourself and for others.

Stella: Sometimes when I hear such outlandish views, I ask, “Do they really believe that stuff?”

Maria: I can’t get into his head. I think we should argue all of the life issues from the standpoint of human rights, from common sense. But there is a point—and this comes to Singer’s goal of getting rid of suffering—that if you don’t believe in God, then there’s nothing wrong about making some life-and-death decisions for yourself and for others. If you don’t have a belief that some things are just beyond the pale for humans to do to each other—that murder and suicide are wrong because they’re deeply morally, and transcendentally wrong—then it’s hard not to feel sympathy for some of those hard cases.

Stella: So what kind of impact do you think the abortion culture, and now open discussion of infanticide and euthanasia, have had broadly on American society today? On the American family and the coarsening of American culture, including the hook-up culture among youth?

Maria: Regarding the hook-up culture, biologically women will suffer more from the consequences of sex. But even for men, I think it hurts the relationship between the sexes terribly, and of course that hurts the family. By trying to control it all and closing off opportunities, the whole family unit is hurt. And you can’t really fight this if you don’t talk about sex. You can’t trivialize sex. As a society if we don’t stop trivializing sex we aren’t going to have respect for human life.

For people born after 1973, I don’t know what kind of collective mental effect it has to know that you could have been aborted, to know that your siblings might have been aborted.

Another impact is that for people born after 1973, I don’t know what kind of collective mental effect it has to know that you could have been aborted, to know that your siblings might have been aborted. What does that do to you? It gets into your consciousness. And that’s the thing. If you know you had a sibling aborted, and that it was “okay” and your mother was exercising her rights, you can’t say there’s a not a part of you that doesn’t wonder who that sibling would have been.

Stella: It’s going to create some pathologies across society, it seems.

Maria: Yes, it must. Also, there are all the men and women who aborted and think it’s not affecting them. We all agree now that divorce has repercussions. That doesn’t mean we think it should never happen. But we all agree that divorce has negative effects on children. But with abortion we can’t say that. You can’t even go there. With all of the studies done on divorce, following kids for generations, you’d think we’d be doing that for families that had abortions.

Beneath the Glossy Magazine Covers

Stella: What’s your take on the “War on Women” rhetoric? You and I can see abortion itself as a central element of a full frontal war on women. The March for Life in Washington has a huge contingent of post-abortion women who will tell you how horribly destructive and violent the abortion culture has been to them. So how do you think the pro-abortion side co-opted the “War on Women” rhetoric so that being pro-abortion became synonymous with being pro-woman?

Abortion and sex without consequences is turning women against their own uniqueness.

Maria: I think it’s because they focused on contraception. They focused on Mitt Romney and made him seem like he wanted to send women back to the ’50s and ’60s being the stay-at-home mom with the perfect little casserole. And that does scare women. Of course, it seems at face value like a step into the past where women’s careers and education were not taken as seriously. So they focused the argument on that in order to distract people from abortion. And no matter how much we’d say it’s not about contraception, they know that, propaganda-wise, they’ll win with that kind of fear-mongering.

At the same time, when you do start studying life issues and abortion, you realize that some contraceptives are abortifacients, and you ought to take a serious view of sex. The sad thing is that abortion and sex without consequences is turning women against their own uniqueness. So many women at the end of the day regret not having children. Abortion is definitely a war on women. There are a lot of base motives for pushing certain contraceptives, pushing abortion. There’s money-making (Planned Parenthood, after all, is a billion-dollar business!) and there’s eugenics. The big push for contraceptives, especially dangerous kinds like Norplant, which focuses on certain demographics, is eugenics. But if the mainstream media is against you right now, they’ll twist the reasonable things you say and they’ll let slide things other people say that are horrible.

Stella: There was a movie this past summer, a box-office flop called “Obvious Child,” which was supposed to put a positive spin on abortion. What’s your take on how they’re putting together their propaganda? Does it seem like the pro-abortion elites are now just kind of trying on different things for size to see what works?

Maria: Yeah. It’s interesting because they’re trying to do what we’ve been seeing with pro-life indie movies like “Bella” and “October Baby.” With those, you might kind of sit there and wonder if this is propaganda trying to make you see the pro-life point of view. But “Obvious Child” was just so obviously a propaganda movie for abortion.

“Obvious Child” is an amazing title. It was trying to show that the woman was “obviously” a child and not ready to be a mother. But what about the fact that it’s obviously a child she aborted, and she’s a stand-up comic and she has a fling and she has an abortion and she makes a joke about it? Ha ha ha. You know. Not funny. Even when they try to be flippant, I’m surprised they would use that title, because you can so easily say “Obviously it’s a child.” It’s just so weird.

Stella: And why do you think it’s so easy for people to wave off the Kermit Gosnell horrors in that Philadelphia abortion clinic? Do you think it’s desensitization? Or have we reached such a point of ignorance as a society that we don’t even know how to dig ourselves out?

Kermit Gosnell was horrible, but people tell themselves that he was an ‘outlier’ or ‘the exception.’

Maria: I don’t think it’s new. I think it’s human nature. I think that throughout history, there are always awful things that happen. Someone will mention them, and you’ll say “No! They don’t really do that, do they?” And once you find out that they do, you can maybe do something about it, or go back to your state of ignorance before. Let’s just take the example of slavery. In the movie, Amazing Grace, he [abolitionist William Wilberforce] tried to show that the way slaves were brought over from Africa was completely inhuman. People knew that, but they chose to look the other way. We all do it to some extent. Because it’s overwhelming. And also people think when things are that bad, it just can’t be true across the board. Gosnell was horrible, but they tell themselves that he was an “outlier” or “the exception.” There’s this glossy-magazine idea of women’s health care and it doesn’t go with the Gosnell idea. They just don’t want to believe it.

Stella: Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a campaign by the pro-abortion side to get women to “share their abortion stories” as a means of pushing back against lost public-opinion support. Cosmopolitan ran a story by a young woman who videotaped herself undergoing an abortion, then posted it on the Internet. New York Magazine recently touted “abortion doulas,” hand-holders for women while they have abortions. What do you think is driving all of this?

Maria: It’s complicated. Definitely among people who’ve had abortions, there’s reluctance to face what they’ve done, so they take all that energy into justifying what they did. And there are younger people who buy the line that this is important for their freedom so they need to just champion it and be hardnosed about it and not give in to any other feelings. The problem is that reality is what it is, and the truth of it still comes out.

The abortion doula story was awful. It was awful that a young woman would put herself through this. The emotions are complicated. Again, abortion is a huge industry. It’s not all sincere emotion. It’s a lot of strategic PR. But what really scares NARAL and Planned Parenthood is the absence of [an] enthusiastic following among the young. We have that ourselves now. I think young people are not going to make abortion their life’s cause. The stories of some of the women who first pushed for legalized abortion are very invested in justifying their own abortions. What scares them is not seeing the same kind of passion on their side among the young. The bad thing is that so many medical decisions are made in crisis without a lot of knowledge, so that young women who really want their babies are intimidated by professionals. They defer to them and end up aborting.

Human Life, Inc.

Stella: So what do you think allows Planned Parenthood to get a pass when it comes to a healthy American skepticism of big business?

We don’t see someone saying: ‘I think you should have an abortion, but—full disclosure—I’m two abortions away from my quota.’

Maria: Again it’s a glossy, women’s-magazine way to cover up the fact that it’s a huge business. That they’re under pressure to talk you into an abortion. That they have quotas. Abby Johnson’s book ,“Unplanned,” is all about that, how much pressure she was under as a clinic director to come up with the requisite number of abortions and make more money. So where’s the healthy cynicism about this business, not to mention the laws insisting that clinics are clean? When a doctor talks about a drug, he needs to disclose whether or not he is paid. We don’t see someone saying: “I think you should have an abortion, but—full disclosure—I’m two abortions away from my quota.”

Stella: When we’re talking about the life issues—abortion, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, euthanasia—is there a certain point at which we just say we’re dealing with eugenics?

Maria: I think from the very beginning we were dealing with eugenics, because Margaret Sanger [who founded Planned Parenthood] was a eugenicist. One of the driving forces behind liberalizing abortion laws was not really women’s rights. It was eugenics. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in an interview with NYTimes Magazine: “Frankly I had thought that at the time it [Roe v. Wade] was decided, there was concern about population growth, and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” But she’s not different from many other people. They’re just smart enough not to say it. Richard Dawkins recently said if you have Down Syndrome, you should be killed. Why? I mean that’s how the Holocaust started—with disabled children. It’s really been about that forever. Eugenics is also coming more to the fore in screening for characteristics in sperm and egg donors.

Stella: Is there any particular human life issue that you see as the biggest threat facing human dignity in the coming years?

Maria: I would just say the biggest threat is what’s happening at end of life or with sudden disabling and not having life support offered. Obamacare and incentives for saving money are reaching a boiling point. How are you going to feel safe? My father was prescient about that, that a doctor would become either a “quality of life” doctor or a “sanctity-of-life” doctor. And there are going to be fewer and fewer sanctity-of-life doctors. If you are a sanctity-of-life doctor, who is going to back you up, hospital-wise, medicine-wise, insurance-wise?

Reaching Out When People Don’t Want to Talk

Stella: How can we help people of goodwill best understand what is really at stake? How can we make them more aware of their own human dignity as well as the dignity of others?

There’s no one way to reach everyone. That’s why the pro-life movement has to be so diverse and have so many different approaches.

Maria: With the number of abortions we’ve had in this country, it’s hard to reach people. If you point out the evil of it, you’re going to get a defensive response. So how do you try to start to say: “We’re all human. We all make mistakes. There are a lot of pressures. Let’s try to open our eyes, forgive ourselves, and move on.” That’s another reason being religious helps. Understanding that we’re all sinners and we’re capable of doing horrible things, but we can be forgiven. If you don’t have that and you take pride in your behavior, it’s just too crushing to see that your behavior is wrong. There are a lot of very good people who are pro-abortion. How do we reach them? What we do at the Human Life Review is try to appeal to people’s brains and hearts. But there’s no one way to reach everyone. That’s why the pro-life movement has to be so diverse and have so many different approaches.

Stella: Going forward, where would you say the Human Life Review is headed, in terms of focus?

Maria: We’re going to be part of this counter-cultural movement now against Obamacare. There’s a great opportunity to reawaken people’s sense of right and wrong when it comes to these things. Question the authority of Obamacare. We want to give people the tools to work intelligently against these really inhuman policies. And we need to reach out more to popular culture. We need to have pro-life themes well represented in the arts. As Seth Lipsky of the New York Sun said: what the pro-life movement needs is an “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a great work of fiction or a movie that really shows people the humanity of the unborn.

Stella: The Human Life Review is no ordinary academic journal. It’s astonishingly dynamic. What can you tell us about the diversity of the journal’s contributors and its scope?

Maria: We’ve had famous people and we’ve had brilliant academics contribute, but we’ve also had an anonymous man write poignantly about how his father was euthanized—“let die” in a hospital. I think our youngest contributor so far is a homeschooled young man whose pro-life speech won a speech contest. We’ve had stay-at-home moms, and teachers, and one of our recent contributors is a wonderful man, retired, who volunteers at nursing homes and has a great perspective on end-of-life issues. We have academics who read the Review, but many of our most faithful cover-to-cover readers are not. They’re businessmen, doctors, moms, dads.

The Review is meant to encompass a broad type of article and it’s also meant to be a record. So part of our editing philosophy is to let people speak as much in their own voice as possible. And when you pick up a copy, there may be one article that’s very journalistic, like Bill Murchison, who’s a columnist and is one of our senior editors. His articles are wonderful. They read quickly. They’re witty. And then you might have a real research paper by Mary Meehan, another senior editor. Or a truly thoughtful philosophical essay by our third senior editor, Ellen Wilson Fielding, Throughout you’ll see that kind of combination. So we see it more like an orchestra, not one instrument.

Stella: Bravo! And congratulations to Human Life Review on its fortieth!

Maria: Thank you!

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