FAIRFAX, Virginia, March 3, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - This week the pro-life community celebrated the life of the great Dr. Bernard Nathanson, famed for his dramatic conversion from a leading abortionist to a stalwart and outspoken advocate for children in the womb.
Dr. Nathanson’s passing reminds us of the powerful testimony of the dozens of doctors who have left the squalor of their abortion facilities and committed themselves to life-giving and authentic health care.
Dr. John Bruchalski is one of these doctors. A former abortionist in his ob/gyn residency, the 50-year-old Virginia native has now become a leading light in pro-life medicine. Through his unique Tepeyac Family Center, one of the largest free-standing pro-life medical practices in the country, Dr. Bruchalski’s team offers a safe haven for women in crisis pregnancies, spreading hope through authentic health care that respects the natural processes of the woman’s body, the right to life of the unborn child, and the eternal end of the mother’s soul.
“How do you combine the best of modern medicine with the healing presence of Jesus Christ? That’s what we’re about,” he told LifeSiteNews.
‘More abortion, more destruction’
Though raised in a devout Catholic family, Bruchalski says he began his exit from the faith when he left for Catholic college. There, he was taken in by professors and friends who claimed that the Catholic Church can change with the culture - that its teachings on divorce, homosexual marriage, abortion, and contraception would eventually conform to the pervading cultural values.
“It became a non-issue - you could still be a great Catholic and choose to dissent from particular Church teachings,” he said.
By the time he entered medical school in 1983 at the University of South Alabama, contraception and abortion seemed to him “the way to promote health and happiness and wholeness in a woman’s reproductive life.” Aiming to be the best gynecologist he could, he learned the different methods for abortion, sterilization, and artificial reproduction, and began providing them during residency.
But he began to have doubts. “I didn’t see happiness or joy in my clinics,” he explained. “Wherever I had more abortion, more contraception, there were more broken relationships, more infections, more destruction, more brokenness.”
“I didn’t know what to do because the professors were saying ‘Well, we just need more education, more contraception, more abortion to answer these questions,’” he added.
‘A better way to practice medicine’
Bruchalski first felt the call back to the faith of his childhood right before beginning his residency, when a friend convinced him to take a trip to Guadalupe in Mexico City. He says there he heard Our Lady of Guadalupe - whom Catholics revere as the patroness of the unborn - ask him, “Why are you hurting me?”
Yet he wasn’t ready to respond. “I kind of put that in the back of my mind,” he said.
Then two years later, between the 2nd and 3rd year of residency, his mother took him on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where many Catholics believe Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, has been appearing since 1981.
He says the pilgrimage reawakened the great love for Christ and Mary that his parents had nurtured in him during his childhood. “It was the simplicity of the messages of getting back to conversion,” he explained. “And then I had an experience there with a young woman from Belgium who was there praying for the pro-life cause. She told me she had a message for me about Our Lady and began telling me things about my life.”
“It was life changing for me.”
When he got home, he told his professor that he could no longer commit abortions or sterilizations, though he expressed shame to LifeSiteNews that it took him a year to fully extricate himself from these anti-life procedures.
He began reading the works of Pope John Paul II, particularly the pope’s landmark addresses on the theology of the body. He learned about natural family planning under the mentoring of Dr. Thomas Hilgers, the Couple to Couple League, Mercedes Wilson and Family of the Americas, and Dr. Hannah Klaus. And he studied the exciting advances in natural reproductive technology pioneered by Dr. Hilgers, who founded the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska.
“When I came home, I was given the grace not only to see myself as I really was - you know, my whole life passed before me - but I actually saw that ... there was a better way to practice medicine,” he explained. “The approach to reproductive health was the polar opposite to what Planned Parenthood was saying. That’s what Our Lady told me my role was going to be.”
Creating a loving atmosphere where abortion becomes unthinkable
He put that vision of medicine into practice in 1994 when he founded the Tepeyac Family Center with his wife in the basement of his house. The obstetric and gynecological medical facility now boasts six pro-life physicians and one nurse practitioner.
Based on a Catholic vision of health care, the Center promotes health practices that respect the natural rhythm of the woman’s cycle and the sanctity of human life. They advocate natural family planning as opposed to contraceptives, and in cases of infertility they focus on treating the underlying causes rather than using assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization.
“We believe that health is based on the relationships found in community, and we believe that if we love enough in medicine we can create a loving atmosphere where abortion becomes unthinkable,” he said. “Almost like an abortion-free zone.”
“Our approach is that we hate the disease but love the patient, especially the weakest of our brothers and sisters,” he added.
They are the only practice in the country offering full obstetrical care for patients from crisis pregnancy centers, and they have a special dedication to welcoming the poor. Of the over 700 babies they delivered in 2009, 30% of the mothers did not have commercial insurance.
“As we tried to be a for-profit practice, ... the Blessed Mother kept saying, ‘You must see the poor in your daily life to be rewarded,’” Dr. Bruchalski said. “It’s one thing to try to be a pro-life practice, it’s another thing to try to see the poor in your pro-life practice.”
“The renewal of medicine is going to involve both social justice - seeing the poor - and the Gospel of life. It’s both/and, not either/or,” he said. “You can’t be an NFP-only doctor. You must serve the underserved. And if you serve the underserved, in order to provide excellent cooperative medicine that treats the disease but loves the patient you have to have the basis for natural family planning in your practice.”
The Tepeyac Family Center now operates under an umbrella organization called Divine Mercy Care, which raises funds and heightens awareness through educational programs. Their network of services includes a perinatal hospice, and in coming years they hope to offer a family practice, pediatric care, and a mental health program.
“Ideally, we would like to be a city on a hill, where you have a multi-specialty group that is dedicated to the healing and the wholeness and the healthiness of the human person in body, soul, and spirit,” he explained. “A medical facility and a medical system where the human person is respected as he’s made in the image and likeness of our God.”
Though their services are available to people of any creed or culture, he said they believe that through medicine they can offer patients “the happiness, and wholeness, and healthiness that comes with coming to a deeper sense of the sacred in their own life.”
Offering hope for life with a child
Dr. Bruchalski said his experience working with abortion-minded women has shown him the need to focus on offering women hope for life with their child, rather than emphasizing adoption or images of fetal development.
“You can show women fetal development and many of them it doesn’t phase,” he said. “Remember the fetus, the baby, the unborn child is an adversary to the woman, it’s going to cramp her life.”
Abortion-minded women see adoption, on the other hand, as a “double negative,” he says. “Not only are you not qualified to be a mother and care for the child, but you have to give the child up,” he explained. “They hate that choice, so for them the abortion becomes the best alternative, the least terrible of those options.”
“You really have to focus on [the fact] that there is life after having a child, that there is a way out of your predicament,” he said. “Just meeting women where they are by being able to listen to their pain and their agony and their suffering, and then love them so much that we walk them through this.”
Practicing the theology of the body
The Center has a special focus on implementing John Paul II’s theology of the body, which Dr. Bruchalski says was “revolutionary for relationships, for medicine, and for families.”
He said one’s approach to medicine is profoundly impacted “if you believe that the story in Genesis is real and that we were created in the image and likeness of God, and that men and women are complementary - that we were not meant to be alone - and that our bodies speak a language to us, our actions, and that to love God and to love neighbor is what we’ve been called to do.”
“The theology of the body in medicine means that you cooperate with the body, you don’t repress it,” he explained. “You focus on health, not disease. You don’t treat desires, you treat the disease. You don’t treat people like products. ... You don’t try to go to the best doctor who creates the healthiest babies with the best techniques. Because we’re more than products, we’re people.”
“We are just now developing the wording and the language of translating [the theology of the body] from the religious and the anthropological to the medical and the scientific,” he added.
Spreading the Gospel of life in medicine
Divine Mercy Care hopes to inspire and mentor other health care professionals to take up the Gospel of life in their practice. In February and March Bruchalski’s spending two weeks on a speaking tour to 22 medical schools in 19 states with Medical Students for Life.
“At the heart, abortion is a medical procedure,” he said. “We need to inspire doctors to step out in faith and become the men and women that God’s called them to be.”
His conversion experience shows that “no one is beyond God’s mercy, no one, no one,” he said. “I was doing the abortions because I believed it was the lesser of two evils, ... yet I realized that people were just more broken after the procedure. There might have been a brief respite from the stress and strain, but most relationships broke up after the abortion.”
“The mercy of God was what truly penetrated my heart.”
Find more information on Divine Mercy Care and the Tepeyac Family Center here.