Washington, D.C. — Finally, Pope Francis extends an olive branch to conservatives! Such was the tone of the ridiculous headlines and analysis in response to the pontiff’s first annual address to the Vatican diplomatic corps. He happened to point out, in case you haven’t heard, that he’s opposed to abortion. “It is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day,” the pope said.
Rather than checking a political box — as if he were a political candidate meeting primary-scorecard prerequisites — the pope was simply reiterating Church teaching. Forty-one years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, we ought to weep for the lives lost and pain suffered, and resolve to do better to help build a culture of life — an alternative reality embracing the love that we owe one another as loved children of a generous Creator.
Eleanor McCullen does just this. She is the lead plaintiff in a Massachusetts case that the Supreme Court heard exactly one week before opponents of abortion would march on Washington, as we do every year on the anniversary of Roe.
As Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out time and again during oral arguments, McCullen’s is not a protest case. While the law that imposes a 35-foot buffer zone outside of abortion clinics in the Bay State is supposedly designed to stop women from being harassed or intimidated, McCullen stands outside a Planned Parenthood clinic to offer help. If you’re a woman who has made up your mind and have no interest in a stranger’s aid, she will not try to force you to listen to her. But if you were walking toward the clinic hoping for a sign to turn around, she may just be it. McCullen will walk with a struggling mother. She’ll drive you to a sonogram, she’ll drive you for food and diapers, she’ll stay with you — years later, she’s a part of the lives of the many mothers, fathers and children she’s helped.
But the law limits her. “This law impedes my work,” by preventing what she can say and do outside an abortion clinic, McCullen told press gathered on the Court steps after the hearing.
In a culture that veils such a grave, irreversible decision in the rhetoric of choice and health, this is not simply a matter of McCullen’s free speech rights, but a woman’s access to information.
Outside the Court, McCullen delivered a gentle impromptu sermon. “The poorest of the poor is the child in the womb … Today, the womb is the most unsafe place to be for a child.” Despite this dire situation, McCullen is optimistic: “We are a generous society, we are a loving society — we help people, and that is what I’m trying to do.”
In her write-up of the case, National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg quoted McCullen saying, “I go where the Holy Spirit leads me.”
That’s the reality of McCullen’s life. She gives voice to empathy when talking with women trying to cope with their pregnancy and motherhood. She never pretends it’s easy, but lets them know they are not alone.
She does this because in that unborn child, she sees the face of Christ, as Pope Francis has similarly said.
As McCullen walks with anyone willing, this is her reality, a reality where she knows that each and every man and woman — unborn, disabled or elderly — is loved by a Creator who redeems suffering and offers constant counsel. Her heart bleeds with love for the lonely and the desperate, for the struggling mother who is scared and doesn’t know where to go for support. That’s not liberal or conservative; it’s just a tender and compassionate presence.
McCullen is a countercultural witness who imparts to her brothers and sisters with the love of the illuminating light of faith. The Massachusetts buffer zone is not the American way — and that’s a bipartisan position, with a brief filed from the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as from pro-life groups such as the Bioethics Defense Fund — but it is the occasion for some supreme enlightenment about the radical demands of love that our politics would like to distract us from.
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Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online, director of Catholic Voices USA, and on the board of the Catholic Information Center. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.