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Christopher ParkerJanuary 19, 2023
A painted sign on paper reading "Goodbye Roe"Pro-life demonstrators are seen near the Supreme Court in Washington June 15, 2022. The court overruled the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision in its ruling in the Dobbs case on a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks June 24. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Maria McFadden Maffucci is the editor-in-chief of the Human Life Review, a quarterly journal founded by her father in 1975 after the Roe vs. Wade decision. The Review publishes commentary primarily on abortion and euthanasia, but recent topics have also included the Covid-19 pandemic and feminist thought. America spoke with Ms. Maffucci to discuss the future direction of the publication in November.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Your father, James Patrick McFadden, was the founder of the Human Life Review, and you’ve worked there in different editorial capacities for a number of years. How have you seen the publication change? How has it remained the same?

I think a major change is that with the introduction of the internet, we now have the website as an arm of the review, which is a great change, especially now because we have news and blogs and things like that. The Review is still a quarterly, that hasn’t changed, and so there is a long lead time for each issue. We publish a lot on new and developing issues, but there are also persisting issues like abortion that we covered in the 1970s and ’80s and are still covering now. It’s kind of disturbing in some ways, how things haven’t changed.

For example, in one of our very first issues in 1975, we covered the congressional hearings on fetal tissue research, which was just coming out, and here we are still arguing about that. But of course things have changed mightily over almost 50 years. My dad was at National Review magazine, and he started the Human Life Review from there, and I think that whole world of conservatism has changed immensely. I’m not sure what conservatism is anymore.

How would you describe the contemporary mission of the Human Life Review? Has it changed since the Dobbs decision?

The mission has not changed. The mission is to educate and to change hearts and minds. So while we certainly devoted a lot of space to the Roe decision and why we thought it was a bad decision, the Dobbs decision has opened up a whole new host of issues, heightened many battles. There’s more misinformation than ever to confront.

It’s kind of disturbing in some ways, how things haven’t changed.

Our mission is still to educate and to write the truth about life issues—not just abortion. Even in our very first issue we covered more than abortion.

Since the Review’s founding, many states have passed so-called “right to die” or “medical aid in dying” laws, and the push to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia keeps growing worldwide. We consistently cover alarming developments internationally as well—for example, in Canada, where this spring, euthanasia will be legal for those struggling with mental illness. In the United States, there is a real disconnect between the nation mourning the high suicide rate on the one hand, and on the other approving laws that teach that choosing death is a “right.”

Would you say that the editorial goal of the magazine is to help people join the pro-life movement or more to act as a forum of thought for those who are already pro-life?

Our hope is that people want to be open-minded and read arguments based on reason. And I hope that has happened. The majority of our readers are pro-life. We may have strengthened their understanding and their courage. We definitely work as a community for people who feel isolated in their beliefs, and we always have. There are definitely people who have come along with us on a journey and become much more pro-life than they were.

Truly, our mission is to reach the “mushy middle” of Americans. I think that the arguments today are so emotion-laden and slogan-laden, and I wish that people could really take a step back and talk with people that they disagree with and find some common ground. The polarization is just awful, and there’s not a lot of space for reasonable conversation.

Recent issues of the journal have included commentary on issues traditionally seen as separate from the abortion debate, including commentary on “disproportionate” Covid-19 lockdowns and the legality of same-sex marriage. Do you think commentary on these issues makes it harder to reach across ideological lines and reach new readers?

I think that if readers are truly open-minded, they should be able to evaluate opinions they both agree and disagree with without shutting down the conversation. Not everyone who writes or edits the Human Life Review has the same opinions on all the related issues.

Certainly many who write for the Review see the Obergefell Supreme Court decision as problematic as well, and many conservative pro-lifers object to same-sex marriage; however, the Dobbs decision deserves to be considered on its own. In the movement now, there are gay pro-lifers, and married gay pro-lifers, as well as progressive and atheist pro-lifers, and there are examples of cooperation and solidarity among them with traditional and religious pro-lifers.

In the movement now, there are gay pro-lifers, and married gay pro-lifers, as well as progressive and atheist pro-lifers, and there are examples of cooperation and solidarity.

The younger pro-life activists in particular see the abortion question—who deserves the right to live—as separate and urgent. So, yes, I think many in the movement can agree to disagree on other even related issues.

The review is nonsectarian, but as a Catholic myself, I have views that could be considered liberal and others that could be considered conservative because I try to think as a Catholic first. If you’re not going to read something that’s pro-life because you disagree with something one of the authors said on a different topic, then you’re not really engaging with the journal.

Let’s talk a little bit about the election. Obviously, the midterms saw some disappointing results on ballot measures for the pro-life movement. Three states chose to codify abortion and two refused to adopt broader pro-life measures. How will the Human Life Review respond in the wake of the election?

The Human Life Review will respond as we always do. We’ll report the news. We’ll report opinion. Our goal is to try to publish reasonable and true articles and news items without ideological slant.

Here in New York, the ads that have been flooding television during the campaigns all say so-and-so politician voted for prohibiting abortion with no exception for life of the mother. That’s just lying. There are no laws that don’t protect the life of the mother. The Catholic Church has the principle of double effect to protect the lives of the mothers, so there’s a lot of misinformation.

I think a lot of Americans are still uncomfortable with late-term abortions, uncomfortable with abortions in general. But if someone says to them, “Do you think there shouldn’t be an abortion if the mother is going to die?” they’re going to say, “Of course there should be.”

It’s even more of a challenge to get to reasonable truth and common ground. The hyperbole of both sides is just so blinding.

So it’s even more of a challenge to get to reasonable truth and common ground. The hyperbole of both sides is just so blinding.

We’ve persevered now for almost 50 years ourselves, and we’ll just keep going. I was going back and reading some of what my father wrote in 1979. And he said that one of the advantages of the anti-abortion movement was that it wasn’t tied to any economic, regional or political baggage, but unfortunately, we really are now. I sort of wish we could just have a pro-life party.

On the bright side, there are a lot more and very pro-life movements out there from all across the political spectrum. And we are happy to see that. The Human Life Review is trying to do more about how abortion really affects women and how we can have better solutions for women. And that is something that I wish both sides could really try to get some common ground on because whether the pro-abortion activists like it or not, many women are pushed to an abortion because of their circumstances, and they feel they have no other choice.

There have been politicians who have advocated for removing “life of the mother” exceptions—for example, newly elected Idaho state Senator Scott Herndon. Do differing viewpoints on fundamental questions like these make the Human Life Review’s job as a voice for the pro-life movement harder?

As with any major civil rights or social justice movements, there are extremists, outliers and politicians who just say or do stupid things. Not acknowledging the reality of ectopic pregnancies as a life-of-the-mother exception, as it seems Mr. Herndon doesn’t, just doesn’t make medical or moral sense.

I think what makes things harder for us is this unfair standard for our movement, that one ignorant or hypocritical or fringe person or group somehow reveals the whole pro-life movement as illegitimate. The Review has and will analyze and criticize and debate many things in the movement while insisting on the core mission, which is protection for the most vulnerable among us.

I think what makes things harder for us is this unfair standard for our movement, that one ignorant or hypocritical or fringe person or group somehow reveals the whole pro-life movement as illegitimate.

A Gallup poll from this summer found that Americans are self-describing as pro-choice at the highest level since 1995. Fewer than 40 percent consider themselves pro-life as a label. But as recently as 2019, the same Gallup poll had more Americans describe themselves as pro-life. Do you think that the Dobbs decision pushed some people deeper into the pro-choice camp?

The way they do these polls can lead the answers. If you say, “Would you support a law that doesn’t allow abortions in case of rape, incest and life for the mother?” a lot of people would say, “No,” but if you said, “Do you think that a woman should be able to have an abortion in her third trimester?” that same individual might say, “No, I think the child should be protected.” So I do think there’s a problem with the labels, and you really have to look at the survey questions themselves.

The politics since President Trump has definitely caused some people not to want to say they’re pro-life because they feel that that connects them to an extreme wing of Republicans, and I think that’s unfortunate. Again, I wish the pro-life movement weren’t attached really to any political party. I mean, I respect the people who work so hard in our political system, and because it’s democracy, we have to fight for the lives of the unborn. But I do think that the movement has been tarnished by the politics. Not everyone on the pro-life side would agree with me here.

Do you see the Human Life Review as a place where authors can debate what it means to be pro-life or is there a particular vision of the pro-life movement that the review or the editorial board hopes to manifest?

We have published people who disagree with us if they have something interesting to say, so I do see it as a place for debate, but it’s not a neutral publication. The purpose of the publication is to support the dignity of life. So you’re not going to find an article extolling abortion or euthanasia, unless it’s something that we’re publishing for a reason.

But there are debates about what it means to be pro-life, for sure. And that goes back to some of the Covid stuff. There were many reports on things like the nursing home scandal and advocating for protecting people at all stages of life.

In general, the Covid-19 epidemic was another very divisive issue within the pro-life movement and the country, obviously, and still is. This wasn’t in the Review, but I wrote for Newsmax that I was disturbed by an unwillingness on the part of many of my fellow pro-lifers to support protections for others—especially the elderly and vulnerable.

We can argue about what it means to be pro-life because there are so many different factors.

There was a lot of talk of: “Well, it’s only dangerous for those with underlying conditions and the elderly.” That sounds close to the kind of arguments we fight when it comes to euthanasia.

We can debate whether or not Covid restrictions were extreme and whether or not the vaccines are moral or effective, but valuing human life, to me, means, yes, we are our brother’s keeper and that should be held way above politics, ideologies and self-interests.

But we can argue about what it means to be pro-life because there are so many different factors. One we’ve had is the “personhood” movement or the “purist” movement versus the “incrementalist” movement. Some believe if you make any exceptions on abortion like for rape and incest, you’re hurting the movement as a whole; it has to be all life or nothing. And we’ve had many, many debates about that.

And then there are other issues like frozen embryos, which is a debate within the Catholic Church as well. You know, what do you do with frozen embryos? Are those lives worth protecting? Some of our authors may agree with us on abortion but not on euthanasia or not for everything. We don’t agree with everything all our authors write, but I would say what unites us is respect for the dignity of human life.

What role do you think the Human Life Review needs to play in the future of the pro-life movement and what do you think that future will look like?

I would like us to start reaching more young people and more undecided people.

I think the Review is suffering from this general atmosphere that we’re all suffering from, which is lack of reading, short attention spans, too much information. I would like to see us get more into universities because I think if people are asked to read an article, even if they read one of our articles and one on the opposite side, I think they’ll find it really interesting.

We want to be the journal that has the best, most intelligent, most passionate voices about life and be there for people. That was my dad’s vision, that we would get the best people, most brilliant people writing for life. I believe if you are able to reach one person, you could save a life. And that’s what it’s about.

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