Catholic women working in the health and science industries came together to share their testimonies and experiences as pro-life physicians and scientists in a panel on Oct. 18 at Georgetown University. The discussion, titled “To Be Pro-Life is to be Pro-Science,” was hosted by Georgetown University Right to Life. 

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory opened the panel with remarks, noting how he was grateful that young students at Georgetown University will “celebrate, listen and engage in dialogue” about how science and faith work together. 

“The world of science is not opposed to the world of faith nor is the world of faith opposed to the world of science,” the archbishop said. 

The moderator of the panel, Dr. Kevin Donovan, who is the director of the Pellegrino Center for Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical School, spoke about how faith has had a long history of working alongside science, up until recent years. 

“In my lifetime I’ve seen a sexual revolution begin and expand, insisting on the personal sexual liberty...and a demand of abortion when this wanted activity results in an unwanted child,” Donovan said.

This cultural shift, Donovan added, has made it more of a challenge for people of faith to work alongside the world of science. 

Sister Grace Usala, a Religious Sister of Mercy who is also a medical resident at Georgetown University, shared her experience as a religious sister and a doctor. It is through the patients that she tends to that she finds the most support, she said. 

“It's the patients who get excited when they see me,” the sister said. “I recognize they see me first as a sister and then as a physician. Even though I’m wearing a white coat, they first see me as a sister … It’s because they honestly see that I’m seeking their good.”

The Religious Sisters of Mercy, she said, seek higher education in order that they might “elevate situations of need.” 

“Our community really feels strongly that we need to be educated at the highest level in order to really be able to give what they have,” Sister Grace Usala said. 

“It’s compatible,” the sister said of her vocation to religious life and to the medical field. “But it’s difficult, and we do it with the Lord’s guidance.” 

Dr. Marguerite Duane, Dr. Maureen Condic, and Sister Grace Usala, a medical resident, spoke about how their Catholic faith guides their paths in the health and science fields in a panel discussion at Georgetown University Oct. 18. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

Neurobiologist Dr. Maureen Condic is an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah. She said that her research on the human embryo had a great effect on her life, both spiritually and academically. 

“The embryo is ultimately what kept me in the Catholic Church, because not only was I astonished at the extraordinary complexity of the human development, but you can’t study human development for very long without becoming overwhelmed by the astonishing beauty of the embryo and the astonishing purposefulness of human development,” she said. 

That conviction, Condic said, was her first religious conviction, which also influenced her belief in the sanctity of human life. 

Dr. Marguerite Duane is the founder of FACTS, Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science, an organization committed to educating people about natural or fertility awareness based methods of family planning. In addition, she is a teacher, a family physician and a mother of four children. 

Duane said her call to be a physician came when at the age of eight, she sat at her mother’s bedside while her little sister was born. 

“In that moment, I wanted to be a part of this in my career, I wanted to be part of this incredibly intimate, miraculous moment in people’s lives,” Duane said. “... That was the day I decided to be a doctor.”  

Another memorable moment in her life that has shaped her career was during her first year of residency in family medicine when a senior resident shared with her some information about how hormonal contraception could affect a woman postpartum, how there were fertility awareness based methods of avoiding pregnancy, and that the Catholic Church opposed contraception. 

“She had the courage to share with me the truth,” Duane said.

“And that night changed my life,” Duane continued, adding that this led her to learn more about fertility awareness based methods, which had been left out of her medical school training.  

“I strongly believe that the Catholic Church should teach fertility appreciation and charting the cycle -- to develop an appreciation for the way their bodies are designed and especially to understand their fertility,” Duane said.

Both Duane and Condic spoke about backlash that they’ve received in their respective fields because of their pro-life views. Both have struggled to get funding for their various programs and research throughout the years, and for Condic, she said, “It has made me a better person.”

Duane said she hopes to continue educating her colleagues in the medical community about the science behind fertility awareness based methods, “understanding the way the body was designed to function normally and naturally.” 

Donovan closed the panel saying that being a pro-life scientist or physician is not a “get rich quick” career. 

“There is no pro-life science, there is no pro-choice science, there is only science,” Donovan said. “And what we do with it, and how we interpret it or misinterpret it, how we apply it or misapply it, depends a lot on more than just science...and that can lead to pain, but it usually results in joy.”