These 20th-century holy men and women (and a girl) are a global testimony to the beauty of life.
As the United States commemorates the 48th anniversary of legalized abortion, it’s easy for pro-life advocates to become discouraged. But in our work to provide resources for pregnant women and their partners (while also fighting for legislation that honors the dignity of every human being), we have a host of intercessors who worked against abortion on earth as they do in heaven.
Bl. Luis Belda Soriano de Montoya (1901-1936) was a Spanish husband and father of six. A lawyer, Luis was involved in various apostolates, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Nocturnal Adoration Society, and the Diocesan Council. In addition to those duties, he wrote articles and gave talks to encourage the practice of the faith, particularly condemning the increasingly accepted practice of abortion. He was martyred during the Spanish Civil War.
Ven. Annie Zelikova (1924-1941) was a Moravian girl with a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, attending Mass daily after receiving her first communion. At 13, she heard her distraught mother pleading, “That’s a sin against heaven and against the infant—you can’t kill it!” Annie didn’t understand what was happening, but she knew that God was asking her to make reparation for this evil. She offered God her life. Her spiritual director explained that she was making reparation for abortions. Within six weeks, Annie had been given three months to live. Instead, she lay dying for four years, offering her life to the Lord to console his heart and make reparation for abortions performed throughout the world. She died of tuberculosis at 17.
Bl. Marianna Biernacka (1888-1943) was a Polish farm wife during World War II. When her son and his pregnant wife were arbitrarily chosen for execution, Marianna begged to take the place of her daughter-in-law so that the baby might live. Clutching her rosary, Marianna was killed; her daughter-in-law lived to be 98.
St. Gianna Molla (1922-1962) is best known for her heroic death, offered for the life of her unborn daughter. Married just before her 33rd birthday, Gianna hoped to have a large family while continuing her work as a physician. When she became pregnant for the sixth time (immediately following two devastating miscarriages), doctors found a tumor in her uterus. Gianna was ready to do whatever was necessary to save her baby, though doctors advocated for an abortion. But Gianna gladly chose a treatment that would protect her unborn baby, reminding Pietro, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child—I insist on it. Save her.” The baby was born healthy and Gianna died a week later.
Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a convert to Catholicism and the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, an international movement of solidarity with the poor. A single mother, Dorothy had lost her first child to an illegal abortion and regretted that choice even before becoming Catholic. Though she almost never spoke of her abortion (for fear that her example would encourage other women to make a similar choice), she considered it “the greatest tragedy of her life.” Dorothy was an outspoken proponent of nonviolence, but generally spoke more gently on the issue of abortion. She worried that if it came out that she’d had an abortion, her work as a vocal opponent of abortion would make the movement seem hypocritical. Perhaps more, she wanted to be a voice of mercy to post-abortive women, while remaining absolutely faithful to the Church’s teaching. Dorothy is a beautiful witness of the healing that parents can find after abortion and the way God can work in them to make them great saints.
Ven. Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994) was a brilliant geneticist, the scientist who discovered that Down syndrome is a result of trisomy 21. He was celebrated by the medical community until he realized that his work was being used to encourage parents to abort their children. At that, he spoke out, begging people to defend the unborn. It was career suicide and he knew it. On the night he won a prestigious award, he asked his audience to question the morality of abortion. Returning home, he told his wife, “Tonight I lost my Nobel prize.”
Servant of God Maurice Michael Otunga (1923-2003) was the son of a Bakhone chief in Kenya. Rather than following in his father’s footsteps, Otunga converted to Catholicism and entered seminary. He was ordained a priest, made bishop at only 33, and ultimately chosen to be the first Kenyan cardinal. During his time as Cardinal Archbishop of Nairobi, Otunga was an outspoken advocate against abortion and contraception. Though he was not overly cooperative with Muslim leaders in general, he united with them in encouraging people to resist laws decriminalizing abortion, insisting that abortion (like contraception) was a western imposition and that people of every religion ought to oppose it. Due in part to his leadership, abortion remained illegal in Kenya (for all but the most extreme cases) until after Otunga’s death.