Stacy (Molai) Thomlison knows that life can be hard and unfair, that we can afford to help one another along the way, and that many of the contentious debates inside the Beltway actually are about and affect real people.
Thomlison is 31 and suffers from Crohn’s disease, a chronic gastrointestinal condition that threatened her life when she was a teenager. This patient is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by seven state attorneys general in response to the Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers, regardless of their religious convictions, to provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The lawsuit seeks to strike down the mandate “as a direct violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Thomlison relies on her medical insurance for supplies that would otherwise cost her $300 to $400 a month. Each hospitalization and surgery costs $3,000 to $5,000. “Should the mandate be upheld,” she insists, “I would gladly give up my insurance coverage, despite the very real risk that would pose to my financial well-being and my health.” Without the specialized care she needs, obedience to her conscience rather than the mandate could put her life in danger. That’s not quite how the president sold the bill: your conscience in exchange for medical insurance.
Thomlison is in the target age bracket for the administration’s cynical ploy to scare voters with mendacious rhetoric about a GOP “war on women.” But she sees through it. “‘Free’ contraception under this law isn’t really free,” she tells me. “Everyone pays for it. Being forced to use my money to help pay for contraception violates my conscience as a Catholic and is therefore a violation of my constitutionally guaranteed rights.” She adds: “What worries me the most is the violation of our ‘first freedom,’ the freedom of religion. If this freedom is taken away, others will be sure to follow.”
The recent Supreme Court ruling upholding another part of the health-care law has been an opportunity to educate: “There are so many people who know ‘something big’ is going on, but they don’t know exactly what it is or why they should care one way or the other. It has been a great opportunity to enter into meaningful conversations with people and to encourage them to continue to educate themselves.”
Media portrayed the recent Fortnight for Freedom as a political campaign of sorts. Bishops were accused of being a de facto arm of the Romney campaign, for simply raising awareness about the gift of freedom and our responsibilities to protect it. Thomlison is not concerned about the rap: “It shouldn’t be a partisan issue to defend constitutional freedoms.”
This may not surprise you, because you’ve already been introduced to her zeal, but Thomlison is also a missionary — not in some foreign land but in the heartland: Omaha, Nebraska. And her evangelism isn’t only about the drawbacks to the president’s health-care law. She is a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a support to students who seek to live their young lives in accord with the gospel.
“The college campus is a unique environment where students are away from home but not fully in the ‘real world’ yet,” Thomlison says. “It is a time where young people make many important decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, like choosing a career and finding a spouse. They also make important decisions about religion. Missionaries help college students to realize their faith is not something their parents believe or something they’ve been told; missionaries help students to make their faith in Jesus their own.”
Thomlison has some experience with the realities of living authentic Christianity, particularly in the face of suffering. But she says that, while Crohn’s disease has inflicted pain on her life, it has also helped her become “a better person”: “Experiencing this kind of suffering has made me more compassionate, patient, and understanding.”
The illness has also, she says, brought her closer to God. Her missionary zeal took hold of her during a pilgrimage she “tagged along” for, to the Holy Land in 2009. She says the friendships she formed there, rooted in faith, were pivotal in bringing her to where she is today.
Keenly aware of the often unspoken trials that men and women face, Thomlison looks forward to returning to the nursing profession she left after hooking up with FOCUS three years ago. “It is my great desire to work with ostomy patients like myself,” she says, so she is getting an extra certification in wound, ostomy, and continence care. At the same time, she’s also “prayerfully considering religious life.”
Rest assured, though. Nurse Stacy is not going to try to impose her religious beliefs on you when you are at your most vulnerable, or try to take away your birth control. As for her lawsuit and this moment in history, she points out that she is just an American. “I’m concerned about protecting the freedoms that the Constitution of the United States guarantees, not just for me, but for all of us. This isn’t a ‘religious’ issue, it is an American issue. It affects all of us.”
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.