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.
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.”
“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.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.