For James McFadden, it all started Jan. 23, 1973. While vacationing in Florida, he bought a copy of The New York Times and read about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade. McFadden, the associate publisher of National Review, would later describe his reaction to the news as a “daylong road to Damascus.”

“I hadn’t realized these kinds of things were going on,” he said. “I hadn’t realized ... that the Supreme Court of the United States could put the moral persuasion and moral power of this country behind killing babies.”

Once he realized it, though, he was determined that his fellow Americans would not be able to say they didn’t know that, across the nation, unborn babies were being killed.

“We won’t be like Nazi Germany,” he declared. “No one should be able to say, whatever happens, that they didn’t know what’s actually going on here.”

To that end, McFadden established the Ad Hoc Committee in Defense of Life in 1973 and the Human Life Foundation in 1974. The foundation published the first issue of The Human Life Review in winter 1975 (HumanLifeReview.com).

In four decades, the need for the Review has grown greater than ever, says the foundation’s president and Review editor, Maria McFadden Maffucci.

“So many people feel isolated in their pro-life beliefs,” explained Maffucci, daughter of Review founder McFadden. “They get this idea from the media that only religious people who aren’t very smart are pro-life. If the media really reported on things truthfully, it would be clear how many problems [abortion] has brought, even from a secular point of view.”  

 

Pro-Life Who’s Who

The Review’s inaugural issue included writings from federal Judge John Noonan, French geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune, who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome, and U.S. Sen. James Buckley, who, with Sen. Jesse Helms, introduced the first human-life amendment in the Senate. Playwrights Clare Boothe Luce and Eugene Ionesco both appeared in early issues of the journal; George Will and George Weigel have contributed multiple pieces, as well as Alveda King.

In 1977, the journal printed former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s speech made upon being awarded the William E. Ladd Medal by the American Academy of Pediatrics in October 1976.

“I fear the attitude of our profession in sanctioning infanticide and in moving inexorably down the road from abortion to infanticide, to the destruction of a child who is socially embarrassing, to you name it,” he wrote.

“I am concerned that there is no outcry.”

That outcry has been in the pages of The Human Life Review.

 

Presidentially Pro-Life

“There have been many, many fantastic, wonderful, important articles published in the Review,” said Jack Fowler. Now the publisher of National Review, Fowler was hired by McFadden in 1983 to work with him on The Human Life Review and related projects.

“Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation”  — written by then-President Ronald Reagan — stands out to Fowler. “To have the sitting president of the United States write ... an article that was a great moral argument for our side” was remarkable, said Fowler.

Even Maffucci isn’t really sure of the exact chain of events that led to a manuscript by President Reagan — with the president’s handwritten corrections on the pages — arriving on her father’s desk. The Human Life Review published the piece in 1983, marking the 10-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life — the unborn — without diminishing the value of all human life,” the president wrote.

“Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and therefore should be slaves,” he went on. “Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide.”

This essay was published in book form in 1984 and republished by the Review in 1993.

“On its own, it has saved any number of lives, has influenced young men and women and has prevented actual abortions from happening,” Fowler explained.

 

Slippery Slope

Not every piece published by the Review is anti-abortion. In 1995, The New Republic published a piece by Naomi Wolf, in which she wrote, “Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die.”

“This Wolf moment was a real hot moment in the debate,” recalled the Review’s managing editor, Anne Conlon. “Someone of her stature, on the other side, was acknowledging — in this very reputable magazine — that abortion was a bad thing; it was evil.”

The winter 1996 issue of the Review reprinted that essay, along with a symposium of responses to it by other writers.

The Review doesn’t run pieces solely about abortion. It has addressed withholding medical care, war and capital punishment, as well as sperm donation, freezing embryos, in vitro fertilization, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia and cloning.

The Review has also led to the publication of five books in the last decade; Conlon has edited these collections of pieces published in the journal, helping to provide a sort of pro-life primer in the modern culture.

And as for the Human Life Foundation, in the past 40 years, it has distributed $1.5 million to pro-life pregnancy centers, Maffucci noted.

The work McFadden began in 1973 isn’t only about providing a written record of a movement; it’s about saving lives — by changing hearts and minds and by supporting those working on the front lines. And despite its evolution — the website includes access to the newest issue of the Review, as well as a large archive, and it is also on Twitter — its mission remains the same, and its staff is as passionate as ever.

“The Review needs to celebrate a 45th and a 50th and a 60th anniversary,” said Fowler. “Not that I’m looking ahead to another generation of aborted children and euthanized seniors — but we know the culture we live in. This is a small but important bulwark that needs to exist.”

Elisabeth Deffner writes from

Orange, California.

Photo courtesy of Human Life Foundation