Healing the wounded
Mary Cunningham Agee’s ministry brings healing to women with unplanned pregnancies . . .
Mary Cunningham Agee had it all: a Harvard MBA and professional success in a Fortune 100 company. Yet she chose to leave the corporate world behind to establish the Nurturing Network, an international charitable organization dedicated to helping women with unplanned pregnancies.
Because of her efforts and the work of 50,000 volunteers, more than 20,000 women have chosen life for their unborn children since she founded the organization 25 years ago. Today the Nurturing Network (TNN) is active in 50 states and 30 countries.
Saving babies, saving moms
A member of Legatus’ Napa Chapter, Agee was honored with Legatus’ first Ambassador of the Year award in 1993 for her pro-life efforts. Her story begins in 1985 after a second-trimester miscarriage. The desolation she felt afterwards redirected her heart and mind to the abortion issue. After interviewing hundreds of postabortive women, Agee discovered that the vast majority expressed deep regret. Their reasons for choosing abortion had nothing to do with “choice.” Most felt they had no choice.
Agee discovered five pressure points that led to the abortion: The child’s father (who often forced the woman to choose between him or the baby), parents, employers, colleges and peers that offered no support for the pregnancy.
TNN sprang from these conversations. Using the skills she honed in the business world, Agee devised “cluster communities” across the nation. These clusters consist of five core resources within a specific geographic area: doctors, counselors, educational and employment opportunities, plus nurturing homes of families who volunteer to host TNN clients. Every TNN client has an individually tailored program provided free of charge.
Seventeen years ago, Alvina was a graduate student in biochemistry who became pregnant prior to her final semester. She seriously considered having an abortion, but then remembered reading about TNN.
“I decided that I didn’t want an abortion, but I didn’t want to interrupt my studies either,” Alvina explained. “I just needed to be away for one semester.”
TNN found a compatible university for Alvina in Omaha, Neb. Within two weeks she was flown to a “cluster community” in Omaha where she lived with a “nurturing family.” Alvina completed her studies and had her baby.
“Whatever I needed was provided for me,” she told Legatus Magazine. “It was incredible how it all came together. I received love and support from people who didn’t know I existed before all of this.”
Ann is a recent TNN client. She became pregnant in 2009 as a result of rape. Because of her strong Catholic faith, abortion was never an option. But Ann worried about telling her parents and not graduating from college on time. Plus, her insurance company refused to cover much of her medical care. TNN immediately set her up with counselors. Ann’s career counselor encouraged her to continue her education and become a teacher.
TNN helped Ann with loan and grant applications and aided her monetarily. Agee and the counselors provided her with constant encouragement. Eventually, Ann decided to give her child up for adoption.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the help and support of Mary, Katie and the others at TNN,” Ann explained. “They have made everything so incredible and have shown me such blessings and love.”
Healing the hurt
Pro-life leaders applaud Agee’s emphasis on women in need.
“At a time when the pro-life movement’s emphasis was on the unborn child, Mary rightfully recognized, with the intuition of a woman’s heart, that the most effective response to the threat to the child was to respond to the needs of the woman,” said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, the Sisters of Life’s superior general.
After 25 years at the helm of TNN, Agee has counseled a generation of women. Half of the 20,000 women TNN has helped had previous abortions.
“It was eye-opening to me,” said Agee. “To a person, they feel regret and sadness. This is something that wounded them — and they don’t wish to repeat it.”
When feminists speak about abortion as a positive thing for women, Agee uses actions rather than words to convince otherwise.
“It’s not enough to say you’re for life if you’re not prepared to roll up your sleeves and help someone,” she explained. “And if you’re pro-choice, that’s not sufficient either unless you’re willing to spend time with a woman who is looking for an alternative to abortion. That’s where I have seen real conversions in the feminist movement.”
One of Agee’s more profound observations has to do with the culture at large.
“How could this have happened to so many women? You have to look at the culture,” she said. “When I look at the intake interviews, there is one thing in common for over 90% of the women. It’s not education, economic circumstances, or religious orientation. The one thing in common is that all of them have a missing father.”
The missing father results from death, desertion, divorce or disability.Women in this situation are at risk and need help, Agee explained.
“When I founded TNN, there was much more need to move people to different locations because of shame,” she said. “We operated almost like an underground railroad — moving someone from Florida to California. We have fewer clients today that request that level of confidentiality.”
Another challenge is the availability of abortion pills. “Women had longer to think about what they were doing 25 years ago,” Agee said. “Women today make an impulse decision, take a morning-after pill and never look back. If they don’t make that decision, they are so delighted to find TNN.”
Another TNN success is that about 80% of its clients return to help other pregnant women.
“This is the only thing we ever ask of a client: that she gives back in some way to a TNN client when she is ready,” said Agee. “Some do immediately, some in a number of years. I can’t tell you how many times clients have rolled up their sleeves and counseled another client and commented on how it really is the final step of healing.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.