Kathryn Lopez: Touching testimony at Jackson confirmation hearings

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A few days ago, Eleanor McCullen’s telephone rang. It was a woman she had met outside an abortion clinic 18 years ago. The woman explained that she was looking through her daughter’s baby book, and underneath the picture of her then 3-month-old was Eleanor’s business card that simply read, “Hope, help and love.”

The woman’s daughter, Rose, is graduating from high school and heading to college. The mother called to thank McCullen for her long-ago assurance that she did not have to have an abortion: “I want to thank you for being there that day,” she said. “Rose is the joy of our life.”

McCullen is a sidewalk counselor who has spent over two decades outside Planned Parenthood in Boston. She recently testified at the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. It was not their first interaction: Years prior, Jackson had written an amicus brief against the free-speech rights of McCullen, who was the lead plaintiff in a buffer-zone case the Supreme Court heard in 2014.

McCullen and free speech won that day. So did love. I was there for the oral arguments. After they were done, McCullen lovingly stood on the steps of the Court and implored Americans to be better to women and children.

McCullen is an authentic, grandmotherly witness to hope and hospitality. Her home has been the setting for many a baby shower over the years. She and her husband have had many a baby named after them. During her brief Senate testimony, she explained that at the clinic, she offers the women approaching a listening ear and some company on the journey to embracing life: “I will stand with you throughout the nine months and beyond. I will hold your hand.”

“I just stick with the mothers and their families for as long as they need my help,” she said, calling it “an incredible privilege” to help women with whatever they need — from medical care to financial support. She said her house is a treasure trove of “baby clothes and bassinets.”

During her Senate confirmation hearings, Judge Jackson may have opted not to define what a woman is or when human life begins, but McCullen points to the truth of what women are capable of. A woman has the awesome capacity to bring life into the world. McCullen is a breath of fresh air, giving much of her life over to allowing women who are already mothers to embrace an often-unexpected joy.

Our culture pressures women to have abortions if they want success in life and work. But what is career success without love?

McCullen told the Senate: “So many women I’ve met believe that their only choice is to end the life of their baby. It is in that moment of isolation and fear that I have the privilege of offering a different choice: one that empowers and encourages the woman to know she is fully capable of becoming a mom and pursuing a job, and going to school, and having a successful and happy life. … It’s a powerful moment when a woman looks at me and our eyes connect and she stops to talk. It’s in that moment I promise her she will never walk her journey alone.”

In January 2014, on the steps of the Supreme Court, she told reporters: “The unborn child is the most defenseless, the most marginalized, the most fragile. … (T)oday, the womb is the most unsafe place to be for a child.” She said that sometimes a woman is looking for a sign that she has an alternative to abortion and being outside the clinic with her sign about hope is all a woman needs.

In what became an impromptu rally for love that day, McCullen said: “Americans love people. … What about all of those hurricanes and disasters? The Philippines and Katrina? What did our American people do? They got in planes and trains and buses and they built up the houses for the people. We are a caring country, but unfortunately, the sad part is, we take the life of our young in the womb. But we are a genuine society, we are a loving society. We help people, and that’s all I’m trying to do — help someone (who is) desperate and abandoned.”

All indications suggest that if confirmed, Justice Jackson would be a reliable vote for the abortion industry. But McCullen is praying for something else. She’s the best of America, and I’m glad the Senate got to hear from her. She challenges us all to be better.

(Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.)