Mad about Maddi

(Photo: Kristina Hernandez/Students for Life of America)
Supporting life in the mess of human life

In a sea of graduation celebrations these weeks, Maddi Runkles stands out. Maddi Runkles isn’t the name of a school, and she isn’t a student who marched with her Christian school. She’s a young mom who had a graduation ceremony like few others.

Maddi, a 4.0 student, was president of the student council, played soccer, and was seven months pregnant on graduation day. By her telling, she made a mistake when she had sex out of wedlock, something that good Christian girls at good Christian schools would be best to avoid. But what happens when they fall? The school gave her a two-day unofficial suspension and removed her from leadership positions for violating the institute’s moral code. Fine.

But what if the student then chooses life for her child — rather than compiling mistake upon mistake? Celebrate that second decision and help her all you can! That was the approach Students for Life took when they gave her her own graduation ceremony at a Methodist church in Boonsboro, Md., near her home. Maddi’s school had decided that as a pregnant student, who would be showing by then, she would not be graduating with the rest of the class. So Students for Life stepped in.

Millie Lopus, director of the Women’s Care Center in Baltimore, which provides help for women of all ages in similar situations — often pregnant unintentionally or otherwise unexpectedly — was in Maddie’s situation two decades ago. In her case, she was pregnant in college and believes she was spared the pain of abortion. She gives thanks for a little honesty and the support she got that helped her see she could choose adoption for her child. The Jesuit priest president of Loyola University, where she was attending school at the time, “couldn’t have been more supportive,” she recalled in an interview with me, and he shared his sadness that there were no “pregnant women on campus any more.” His hope was not that more college women would find themselves pregnant, but that if they did, they would feel they had the support to have their baby one way or another. Instead, he well knew, abortion is too often the solution to an unexpected pregnancy.

Kristen Hawkins, president of Students for Life, was similarly motivated when she decided to hold a graduation for Runkles. She wasn’t looking to encourage anything except support for students who find themselves pregnant, and she aims to inspire “hundreds of Christian schools to reexamine their treatment of pregnant students.” She couldn’t let it go — not only for the sake of Runkles, but because “abortion is a Christian problem,” she says. “Over half of women who have abortions identify as Christians and more than 40 percent of those are regular churchgoers.”

“If Christians would stop seeking abortions, stop identifying as ‘pro-choice,’ and stop voting for politicians who support abortions, we wouldn’t have abortion in our nation,” Hawkins tells me. “Period.”

“I actually had a mother come up to me at Maddi’s graduation,” Hawkins shares, adding:

At first, I thought she wanted to chastise me for helping to make Maddi’s story public, but I was wrong. She began crying and told me that she was in Maddi’s exact shoes when she was 18, a senior at a Christian school, and pregnant out of wedlock. She said she chose wrong and is so proud of Maddi for standing up and choosing life, doing what she failed to do. Becoming pregnant under difficult circumstances and yet still choosing life for her child was something we thought deserved to be celebrated. Maddi is a courageous example to others in her situation, and we hope young women who are facing similar circumstances look to Maddi and her story and decide to choose life.

The graduation ceremony included $16,000 in scholarship money and 7,000 messages of support. Hawkins explains her long-term aims:

We want to change campuses so that no young women ever feels she has to choose between the life of her child and her education. We know choosing life will be difficult for her, but we want her to know that we are walking with her every step of the way and seeking true social justice with her. Granting Maddi a college scholarship was a way that we could tangibly help her achieve her educational goals while having her child. Her college degree will mean that she and her child will have the best chance of living a life out of poverty.

Beyond Runkles, Students for Life has a Pregnant on Campus initiative, active on both Christian and public-school campuses, “to make sure women know their Title X rights (that pregnant women can’t be discriminated against), to support women and educate them on both on and off campus resources, and lobby the school for diaper decks, child care, and lactation rooms.”

Embracing this approach could mean not only a graduation for Maddi Runkles but a move forward for our abortion politics. Real choices for life on a campus near you: That’s not a political agenda but a human way to approach life.


Q&A Stephen Mirarchi: Fatherhood as Heroism

YouTube’s New Father Figure

The Transformative Power of Fatherhood

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Top Trump Attorney Resigns

John Dowd, the lead attorney representing President Donald Trump in the special-counsel investigation, resigned Thursday, two sources briefed on the matter told the New York Times. [jwplayer PCWBu1GF-wKJ9CRQU] Dowd, who began leading Trump's legal team last summer, has repeatedly floated the idea of ... Read More

Thursday Links

It's William Shatner's birthday: Here he is in 1978 'singing' Rocket Man, plus a Star Trek/Monty Python mashup. Sold: Isaac Newton’s Notes on the Philosopher’s Stone. It was a long time before anyone admitted that he was interested in alchemy. High-tech forgery: Computer-generated 'Rembrandt' ... Read More

Korea: A Deadly Question

Olympic Games often have political significance, as in 1936 and as in the Olympics just past -- the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Those Games seemed as much political as athletic. I talk about this with Michael Breen on my latest Q&A. Breen is one of our best Korea-watchers, one of our soundest ... Read More
Film & TV

Superannuated ‘Idol’

In the pilot episode of Fox’s American Idol, Simon Cowell defined the show’s thesis: “We are going to tell people who cannot sing and have no talent that they have no talent. And that never makes you popular.” The show’s producers and its three judges -- Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson -- kept ... Read More