NEW YORK — When Maria Maffucci signed on for the pro-life movement as a teenager, she had no idea how personal her stand for life would become.
Today, in a culture that encourages abortion for babies with prenatal imperfections and increasingly treats elderly patients as a burden, she is raising a special-needs child and helping to care for her 80-year-old mother, who is recovering from a series of cancer surgeries.
“I’ve learned a lot more about medicine than I ever knew before, just going through this whole cancer process with my mom,” she said. “She needs someone to be with her overnight, and [family members] are taking turns staying with her.”
The demands of the pro-life ethic have truly hit home for Maffucci, but, then, she was born into the movement.
Her father, James P. McFadden, was a pioneer pro-lifer who founded the Human Life Foundation and its quarterly publication, Human Life Review, soon after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Maffucci grew up watching her father, who also worked for National Review, pound out pro-life prose and fundraising letters on his sturdy manual typewriter. Her mother, Faith McFadden, is an author in her own right, publishing the story of her conversion to Catholicism in the book Acts of Faith.
Maffucci “grew up in a pro-life world and never had a problem with that point of view,” she explained. “I never remember questioning it because it was just so much a part of who I was, and it made so much sense. I mean, who can say that killing little unborn babies is a good thing?”
She started in the movement when she was in high school, working for her father during summers and vacations, stuffing envelopes, collating newsletters and answering the phone. She attended Holy Cross College, where she joined a pro-life group, “but we had only a few students, and it didn’t get much off the ground.”
After graduating, one of her editorial jobs was with First Things, the magazine founded by Father Richard John Neuhaus. In 1993 she married Robert Maffucci and gave birth to a son, James, who was diagnosed with autism. Now 16, he attends a private school for special-needs students. The Maffuccis live in New York City and have two other children, both girls.
In Her Father’s Footsteps
After her father died in 1998, Maffucci decided to follow in his footsteps and became president of the Human Life Foundation and editor of Human Life Review. Her mother serves as vice president and senior editor.
It was a tough decision because she knew that the demands of the foundation would eat into family time. But she “couldn’t see all the work my father had done just end like that. The pro-life movement was just too important, and there were lots of people who told me that we had to continue.”
Known as the intellectual quarterly of the pro-life movement, Human Life Review publishes reflective, well-researched original articles and reprints some of the better writings from publications around the world. The foundation also publishes books, including the recently released The Debate Since Roe, a compilation of articles that tracks the pro-life movement from its beginnings and places today’s issues in perspective.
This is the kind of thoughtful journalism the Review specializes in, yet the work is done by a small staff on a shoestring budget.
“We are always behind schedule and wondering if we can make it financially year to year,” Maffucci said. “We have wonderful donors and supporters, but we need more and newer ones.”
‘It’s Not Heroism’
She also feels pulled in many directions, dividing time among her job and her children, husband and mother.
“I’ve read about the ‘sandwich generation,’ who are split between children and parents, but it never hit home until now,” she admitted. “Our generation is really living in the middle now.”
Her autistic son is “sweet and even-tempered,” she said. Yet she asks herself, How can I have this child who needs this extra attention and have this job that sometimes pulls me away?
Caring for her mom can be “overwhelming,” she admitted. “But it’s my mom, someone who has given her life for me and my siblings, so you don’t even count the time and effort.”
About her “sandwich” life, Maffucci said that her pro-life upbringing helps her cope.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t see what I’m doing for my family as pro-life work,” she explained. “I just see it as living out your life as God has prepared it for you. But maybe that’s the point. We shouldn’t look at ‘pro-life’ as a special sort of virtue. But our culture is so changed that people see you as making a heroic decision to raise a special-needs child or care for your elderly mother. But it isn’t heroism; it’s really the only way to live your life.”
Register correspondent Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.