President Biden, recently and wrongly, implied that Saint Thomas Aquinas would side with him to support legalized abortion . Some pro-choice supporters (also wrongly) claim Saint Antoninus of Florence as their patron saint. Both claims appear to be based on specious arguments about the medieval understanding of pregnancy. But could there be an actual patron saint in Heaven for those who have personally experienced abortion?
Since 1973, when the Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton US Supreme Court decisions opened the door to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, many millions of unborn children have died. This means that many millions of women and men have also experienced abortion in some way. Is there a patron saint of the Catholic Church, a heavenly intercessor for healing and peace, for those who have participated in abortion?
Faithful Catholics might propose a heroic woman such as Saint Gianna Molla for the job. After all, Molla was a twentieth century Italian physician and mother who refused to have an abortion when she found herself in a dangerous pregnancy. Instead, she literally laid down her life to save the life of her unborn child.
There are also many women martyrs celebrated by the Church who suffered death because they refused to give up their chastity. That number includes women who had consecrated their lives to Christ and refused to marry, from third-century martyr Saint Agatha of Sicily to seventeenth century martyr Blessed Marina of Omura, Japan. It also includes laywomen and girls like Saint Maria Goretti, a devout twelve-year-old from Italy who resisted rape and was killed by her attacker in 1902.1
But those female saints, valiant as they are, are unlikely to be perceived as heavenly friends to many modern women. What if you were raised in a home without any religious faith and were never told that abortion was wrong? What if you grew up without positive role models for moral behavior in your family? What if you bought into the tsunami of lies promoted by the Sexual Revolution and became sexually active? What if you simply gave your heart away too quickly because “everyone was doing it”? The saints of heroism and purity described above may only highlight your painful past. Even more devastating, if you were sexually abused, molested, or violated, particularly at a young age, your purity was not something you gave away: it was stolen from you.
Therefore, perhaps it would be better to consider the less-than-pure saints and blesseds of the Church from the past two thousand years—and there are plenty of them.
According to the Gospels, Saint Mary Magdalene was possessed by seven demons before our Lord cast them out of her (Mk 16:9, Lk 8:2). Over the centuries, it has often been assumed that this Mary was the same one who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and was therefore perhaps a repentant prostitute (cf Lk 7:37-50 and Jn 12:3). We can’t be certain about her occupation before she became a follower of Christ, but whatever it was, her life was literally hell on earth.
However, the fifth century Saint Mary of Egypt freely admitted that she had become a prostitute in Alexandria until a vision of the Blessed Mother moved her to repentance. She lived the rest of her life as a penitent in the desert. Saint Margaret of Cortona was also far from saintly when she ran away from home as a teenager to become a young man’s mistress in thirteenth century Italy. When the man was murdered, she underwent a deep conversion and began to live a devout life, even becoming a third order Franciscan.
Slogans about “choice” notwithstanding, many women end up considering abortion as the result of someone else’s choice or because of circumstances outside their control. The Jewish matriarch Rachel watched her sister bear children for their husband Jacob for many years, unable to bear one herself and bitterly jealous. (Gen 30:1).How many women today turn to abortion because of painful relationships and difficulties in their marriages?
Many centuries after Rachel’s death, the prophet Jeremiah wrote about “Rachel weeping for her children”, as he described the wrenching situation of the Jewish people after being conquered by their enemies, with the survivors taken away forcibly into exile. (Jer 31:15). The poverty and suffering of the Jews during this time was devastating. How many women agonize over the decision to have an abortion but choose it in the end because of a lost job or another financial hardship outside their control?
There are plenty of examples of devout wives who faced abuse (Saint Rita of Cascia), unfaithfulness (Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo), poverty (Blessed Elizabeth Canori Mora), and single motherhood (Saint Marie-Marguerite d’Youville), bore that tremendous cross heroically, and are now saints and blesseds of the Church. But are they the best patron for this situation?
Any pregnancy requires the involvement of a man, as well as a woman. There is no shortage of men who lived wild lives when they were young but eventually repented and became men of great holiness. Therefore, men who have been involved in abortion—as fathers who encouraged, demanded, or paid for the abortion—have patron saints as well. While Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Gabriel Possenti, and Blessed Charles de Foucauld may not have been directly involved in abortion, they were not strangers to sexual sin.
Some suggest the “Holy Innocents” as patrons for the unborn children lost to abortion. “Holy Innocents” is the name given to the young boys of Bethlehem who were murdered under the orders of King Herod the Great as he tried to kill the Messiah. Each of those young boys had a name and a family. Interestingly, the women and men who repent of participation in abortion often find great healing in naming each lost child. After all, God knows the names of the Holy Innocents, just as He knows the names of every child lost to abortion.
Pope Saint John Paul II addressed women who have had abortions with great compassion in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae . In no. 99, he described God as the “Father of Mercies”, a powerful title that reminds every sinner (that is, all of us) of God’s forgiveness. Also, the image of Mary as Our Lady of Czestochowa can speak powerfully to the hearts of suffering women and help them in their healing, as described in this interview of a founder of a healing ministry for women after abortion.
But perhaps the most obvious candidate is not yet a canonized saint: Servant of God Dorothy Day.
Dorothy was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, into a nominally Christian home. As a young woman, she was passionate about social justice; one cannot escape the thought that if she had been a young woman in the 1970s, she would have burned her bra and been a card-carrying feminist. Instead, she was a card-carrying anarchist, Socialist, and advocate for women’s rights in the early twentieth century, and she even spent time in jail for picketing about these issues.
Unsurprisingly, Dorothy’s passion led her into multiple love affairs. And an abortion. That abortion and the child she lost affected her so deeply that when her common-law husband refused to accept a later pregnancy—and her growing Catholic faith—she left him. She began working as a writer to support herself and her daughter, and then she met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant. Together they founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, and she spent the rest of her life promoting the rights of workers and justice, but always rooting herself in Catholic social teaching. As a follower of Christ, she didn’t care about “the poor” as an amorphous category or a righteous cause; she lived with poor people and cared about poor people and their struggles.
Dorothy was controversial—and passionate—throughout her life. For reasons more related to some of her political opinions than her abortion, the Church may balk at holding her up as an example to every Catholic as a saint. But she was also deeply Catholic, turning to her faith in Christ and the teachings of the Church to decide how to live her life and to serve others in need.
Whether the Church ever recognizes Dorothy Day as a saint or blessed or not, the story of her life is an inspiration to all those who have been involved in abortion. She shows us that the grave sin of abortion is not an unforgiveable sin—that our God is a Father of Mercies, ready to forgive anyone, anytime, who turns to Him in humility.
Most importantly, Dorothy and every one of the saints and blesseds described above remind us that Heaven is full of women and men who suffered and sinned in this fallen world of ours. The women and men who have experienced abortion have more patrons in Heaven than they can imagine, whether a given saint was personally involved in an abortion or not. And there are plenty of compassionate women and men right here on earth, serving in groups like the Church’s Project Rachel , ready to help every one of them know God’s love and healing.
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