After the New York Times published a story last week about Maddi Runkles, Pro-Lifers across the country have offered an outpouring of support. Runkles is an 18-year-old high school senior at Heritage Academy, a small private Christian school. Despite maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, playing on the soccer team, and acting as president of the student council, Runkles will not be allowed to graduate with her class next week, because she is pregnant. Premarital sex is a serious sin in the Christian community, and the school holds students to a code of conduct, which Runkles violated.
After Runkles voluntarily admitted to her pregnancy and offered a public apology, the school board of Heritage Academy decided to exclude Runkles from graduation and remove her from her leadership position on the student council. In response to what they thought was an overly harsh punishment, Runkles’ family sought help from Students for Life, a group that supports Pro-Life student groups on high school and college campuses. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, told the New York Times, “She [Maddi] made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed.” Hawkins contacted Heritage Academy on Runkles’ behalf, urging them to reverse the harsh punishment and allow Runkles to attend her graduation. School administrators have refused. Hawkins added, “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”
Hawkins’ sentiment captures the feelings of many Pro-Lifers who have been shocked and saddened by Runkles’ story. While Maddi’s parents and some of her community have been supportive of her, her school has harshly rejected her. Christian Pro-Lifers in particular have been vocal in their criticism of Heritage’s decision. Although fellow Christians understand the school’s desire not to condone premarital sex and to hold students to moral standards, they are concerned that Heritage’s decision sends the wrong message. Runkles was aware that she signed the school’s code requiring that she not engage in premarital sex. For this reason, she expected to face punishment for her actions. Many Pro-Lifers point out that the actual punishment, barring Runkles from graduation and shunning her from the community, fails to distinguish the sin of premarital sex from the blessing of the child. Other Heritage students have violated the Christian principles in the code of conduct and been punished immediately following the offense and been allowed to return to school. Runkles, who is now visibly pregnant, is being punished long after her sin. Runkle’s father explained, “Typically, when somebody breaks a rule, you punish them at the time they break the rule. That way, the punishment is behind them and they’re moving forward with a clean slate. With Maddi, her punishment was set four months out. It’s ruined her senior year.”
Runkles’ story is one that all Pro-Lifers should consider. Runkles keeps a framed ultrasound picture of her preborn son on her night stand and plans to raise the child with the help of her family. She is clearly deeply committed to being Pro-Life. Yet, in a devastating statement to the New York Times, Runkles said:
Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby. Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.
No woman should be shunned from her community when facing an unplanned pregnancy, a time when support is most needed. No mother should ever feel that abortion would have been a better option than choosing Life for her son or daughter in the eyes of her community. Pro-Lifers have a responsibility to make sure that other young women do not face the harsh rejection Runkles did.
In response to the way she and her son have been treated, Maddi Runkles is working to start a chapter of Embrace Grace, an organization that helps churches reach out to single pregnant women. Churches can hold young men and women accountable to Christian morality, while also offering help when they fall. How can you help mothers in your community? Can you support a scholarship for pregnant and parenting students? Can you volunteer at your local pregnancy resource center stocking supplies and teaching classes for pregnant mothers and their families?