From death to life
The Mother of God’s intervention leads a Legate from abortionist to pro-life hero . . .
What does it take to change the heart of an abortionist? In the case of Dr. John Bruchalski, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, it took the gentle but persistent intervention of the Mother of God.
Although Bruchalski grew up in a devout Catholic family, he bought into the abortion culture in medical school. He performed abortions, prescribed contraception, constructed IUDs, sterilized women and took part in in vitro fertilization (IVF). Bruchalski believed that he was helping women deal with the “chains of their fertility.”
“I thought my approach would bring peace, but all I saw was more brokenness,” the 51-year-old doctor told Legatus Magazine. “I saw multiple broken relationships. Many of my patients were on anti-depressants.”
It wasn’t until a friend took him to Mexico City right before his residency that things began to change. As Bruchalski sat quietly inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he heard a woman’s voice clearly ask him, “Why are you hurting me?”
He looked around but only saw a few Mexican pilgrims on their knees praying in Spanish. There was no one else around. That voice played in his head for the next two years.
He went back to the U.S. and continued to perform abortions, trying to dismiss the voice as momentary insanity. Two years later, between his second and third year of residency, his mother suggested a family trip to Medjugorje — a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina where some believe the Blessed Mother has been appearing since 1981. Although Bruchalski was still far from the Church, he thought the trip might be a good way to relax.
A Belgian woman on pilgrimage there approached Bruchalski, saying she had a message for him from Our Lady. The woman proceeded to tell him things about his life. She told Bruchalski that he had been called to medicine by the Father.
“She told me 50 secrets about my life,” he said. “Forty-four have come true. After this encounter my entire life broke down.” Bruchalski realized he had to change the direction of his medical career.
“When I got back, I told my professor that I could no longer do abortions, sterilize or perform IVF. He realized that I had had a religious experience and said, ‘Please don’t spread this to others.’”
Serving the poor
Though it took many years, Bruchalski and his wife Carolyn founded the Tepeyac Family Center in 1994. This pro-life OBGYN practice in Fairfax, Va., is one of the largest freestanding pro-life medical practices in the country. They now have six physicians and one nurse practitioner.
The practice is based on a Catholic vision of health care that seeks social justice and defends the sanctity of human life at every stage. Tepeyac staff teaches natural family planning and, in cases of infertility, looks for the underlying health problem rather than resorting to in vitro fertilization. Tepeyac has directly applied Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body to the science of fertility.
Physicians and staff also serve the local poor free of charge. After he returned to the Catholic Church, Bruchalski says it wasn’t enough to stop doing abortions. He was compelled to serve the poor. Part of Our Lady’s message to him was that if he was able to see the poor in his daily work and follow the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life, the practice would be blessed.
In 2009, Tepeyac delivered over 700 babies. One third of the mothers were under-insured or had no insurance — proving that a medical center can serve the poor pro bono and still remain financially viable.
“We have partnered with every crisis pregnancy center in the area,” Bruchalski said. “If we cannot convince a woman not to have an abortion, we look her in the eye and say ‘We don’t think this is good for you. Some of the doctors in our practice have done abortions. We have seen what it does to people. The pain is not worth it. But if you do have an abortion, we will be here for you to give you after-abortion care.’”
Another Tepeyac mantra is that good health is based on relationships in community: If your relationships are solid, abortion becomes highly unlikely.
“You have to care for those around you,” Bruchalski explained. “As a doctor, you hate the disease, but love the patient. We can love enough in community to make abortion unthinkable.”
“He’s walking the walk,” said Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder and director of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy. “It’s one thing to say you’re a pro-life doctor, but he’s really living the corporal works of mercy. I’ve known John for 20 years. He radiates God’s love to everyone who comes in the door. He’s raised the bar.”
For many pro-life medical students, the prospect of entering a hostile workforce that often seeks to impose abortion is daunting. To this end, Bruchalski has partnered with a group called Medical Students for Life. This past winter he spoke to thousands of students in 25 medical schools over the course of two weeks.
His message for these students is that they can make it professionally as pro-life doctors by practicing excellent medicine, by being “wise as a fox” and by earning their colleagues’ respect. He dissuades them from attending medical schools like Harvard where students have to perform abortions. Despite the ever-present culture of death on campus, the issue of freedom of conscience — the right to refuse to participate in procedures that go against one’s religion or conscience — is gaining ground, Bruchalski said.
“There are many patients who don’t want a doctor who does abortions, so pro-life medical students shouldn’t abandon their convictions. If a school pressures a student into performing abortions, any number of Christian legal firms will defend them. Medicine is an act of mercy. It’s a calling and you have to integrate your conscience into your profession,” he said.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, credits Bruchalski for fearlessly integrating his faith into his work.
“He is unabashedly Catholic in medical practice,” she said. “In this day and age, it’s a rarity indeed. I think the fundamental problem with many Catholic doctors is fear. They live in a culture that expects contraception and abortion. They lack the commitment that Bruchalski has.”
Fifteen years ago, Bruchalski developed testicular cancer. The only doctors who helped him by taking over his rounds were, ironically, abortionists.
“They took over my rounds because I had helped them on multiple cases,” he explained. “I showed them that I was competent and that I cared about them.”
When it comes to converting abortionists, he said, friendship and love are essential. “It’s very hard to change the mind of a doctor, but you can do it by practicing excellent medicine with mercy in community.”
Bruchalski says the more that Tepeyac consistently does for the poor — all the while practicing excellent medicine — the more they gain the respect of local abortionists.
One local doctor stopped doing abortions, and at least four others have stopped offering contraception, he said.
“It’s about disciple-making and becoming friends,” Bruchalski said. “You don’t demonize them. You give them a chance to see the human side. Ultimately God is in charge of conversion, but it’s all through friendship.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.