Kathryn Lopez

Perhaps O'Connor's most palpable legacy was the establishment of the Sisters of Life, a religious order of women who protect and defend human life through prayer and service. They take in women and their children, and minister to people suffering from the consequences of abortion. Pregnant women frequently come to the Sisters after referrals by pregnancy-care centers, priests, or women who have previously been served by the Sisters. The Sisters of Life help form the backbone of the pro-life movement.

The Sisters were part of a coalition of Catholic religious orders that issued a statement in opposition to the final health-care legislation in the House. The statement read, in part: "Protection of life and freedom of conscience are central to morally responsible judgment. We join the bishops in seeking ethically sound legislation."

After the vote, Lipinski told a hometown columnist, "I could not vote for a bill that would change the status quo on funding for abortion." His honesty and clarity on the details and principles helped him be honest about other problems with the legislation, too. "There were aspects of the president's package that I liked. Helping people get insurance, that sort of thing. But we weren't really voting for health reform. We were voting for a bill that is financially unsustainable. And I couldn't support that bill," he said.

At the O'Connor celebration, Helen Alvare, a law professor who has worked with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops helping to direct its pro-life campaign, credited the late cardinal with "enable[ing] the pro-life movement to survive and to thrive" through his leadership and encouragement at a time "when we felt outspent and overpowered."

In the wake of the passage of that health-care legislation, it's a familiar feeling. But the "strictly non-partisan," as Alvare described it, message of Cardinal O'Connor, along with his living legacy -- the work and the prayers of the women of the Sisters of Life -- should serve as inspiration to Boehner and Lipinski and every Catholic and other American legislator, activist and voter discouraged by our culture's deepening embrace of death and despair. For a movement is kept viable in no small part through leadership.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.