Sister Magdalene Goes to Washington

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The Sisters of Life offer respite and help for pregnant women every day of the year.

Washington, D.C. — “No matter the circumstances, it is always better to give life to one’s child.”

You may not agree with that bold statement. But you may be heartened to know that there are people in the middle of the busiest city in the world who offer respite to any woman who finds herself pregnant and terrified.

Sister Magdalene Teresa had traveled from her mission work in New York City to Washington, D.C., for an event sponsored by the National Review Institute and the Heritage Foundation highlighting some of the alternatives to Planned Parenthood that exist in the world — places that offer health care and other help to pregnant women in need.

Sister Magdalene is a member of the Catholic religious community known as the Sisters of Life, all of whom have taken a vow to “to protect and enhance the sanctity of human life.” There are about 100 of them, working out of Visitation Missions in New York City and Toronto. Their work there is the reason Sister Magdalene was recently just down the block from the U.S. Capitol building.

Sister Magdalene says that when a woman turns up at their mission, more likely than not “she feels like her life is over.” The Sisters help 1,000 women a year, and Sister Magdalene has been at her post for a dozen years. She talks about the women whom the Sisters have met over the years — whom they are likely meeting today, as you read this. “Given real support and a listening ear, women choose life,” she says.

“When a woman sees how many people believe in her, she begins to believe in herself,” Sister Magdalene continues. “Many of the women who come to us are very vulnerable, and find themselves in very difficult circumstances.

“This is the deepest desire of a woman’s heart, to be given a real choice,” she says. “When she is given a real choice, she won’t choose abortion. She knows in her heart of hearts that giving life to her child is the only choice she can really live with.

“The lie of abortion is that everything will go back to the way it was before you were pregnant, while in the heart of every woman is the resounding truth that maternity is forever.” Sister Magdalene has seen the long-term consequences. In addition to the Visitation Missions, the Sisters have a healing ministry to women and men who have suffered because of an abortion. “Women suffer for years, silently, alone, unable to find healing. The sorrow of abortion burdens them throughout their entire life. They report sleepless nights, years of escape to risky behaviors.” Typically, a woman the Sisters have met after an abortion has a deep regret and mourning; she wishes she could turn back time, saying that she would have made a different decision “if she only knew.”

“We have come to see in them the great betrayal of abortion.”

A woman who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant may not see any way forward. So the Sisters of Life stand ready to welcome any woman who wants to choose life for her child, offering “a real lifeline.” Sister Magdalene explained that “we want her to hold on to this line of hope long enough for us to introduce her to all the resources available to her. Every day we see how powerful it is to listen to the desires of a woman’s heart, to reverence her great beauty and dignity. To stand with her and uphold her in the hope and the gift of new life, all in a way that is true to her and her child.”

The Sisters serve any woman, of any economic means, of any age, race, marital status, or creed. “As little girls we don’t dream of broken hearts and abortion,” Sister Magdalene says. “To help women truly flourish, we need to stand with them.”

“Every woman has great dreams,” Sister Magdalene says, with eyes that proclaim the depth of her reserves of hope, a reservoir that women drink from daily when they meet her and other Sisters. “These dreams do not have to end when they become pregnant.

The Sisters of Life were founded to fulfill a promise from the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York that any pregnant woman who wants help can get it from the Church there.

“We often ask: If everything were different, if you had an apartment, a job, and people you could share this joy with, what would you do? ‘Then I would keep my baby.’” That is the choice that we need to make so much more possible than it often seems. That’s why the Sisters exist, founded to fulfill a promise from the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York that any pregnant woman who wants help can get it from the Church there (the current archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has reissued the pledge).

Whatever your views on abortion, you might also be encouraged to hear Sister Magdalene’s contention that “there is a tremendous sleeping giant of men and women all over the world waking up. There are so many who are silently being summoned at a grassroots level to defend life, one heart at a time. So many people want to put their gifts, talents, time, resources towards building a culture of life — a place where women do not have to face fear and pressure when they become pregnant outside of the desired circumstances.” Frequently, she says, these people want to help because they themselves were involved in an abortion. And they don’t want anyone to have to go through what they did. They don’t want others to have to know “the pain and sorrow that comes from abortion.”

“Everyone has a gift to put at the service of life.” Whatever your view of abortion, we can do this. After four decades of legal abortion in America, our nation’s soul is in need of healing. A whole new window into the dehumanization that inevitably occurs because of it has been opened in some of the recent undercover videos of Planned Parenthood executives. So many people who are involved in Planned Parenthood do care about women, do want to help. We can build on that by insisting that every woman really and truly has the choice to embrace the life of her child.

Chris Christie’s recent viral video gives his testimony that being pro-life means throughout life. It resonated because it touches the depth of the generous hearts of Americans. Let’s go there together: from the beginning, till the very end, and at every moment in between. Giving support to the open doors of the likes of the Visitation Missions is a start.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice (available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon.com). Sign up for her weekly newsletter here. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.