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What Dorothy Day means to those healing from a past abortion


Theresa Bonopartis - published on 12/15/21

Her conversion and trust in the love and mercy of God points the way to healing and forgiveness for those who are repentant.

As the cause for the canonization of Dorothy Day founder of the Catholic Workers Movement  enters into the next phase, it should bring great hope to those who are suffering from a past abortion. 

Having procured an illegal abortion herself in 1919 her subsequent sufferings were much like the ones millions of women and men are experiencing today. Her conversion and trust in the love and mercy of God points the way to healing and forgiveness for those who are repentant.

Although Dorothy did not speak of her abortion publicly, she wrote about it in her autobiographical novel, “The Eleventh Virgin.  She felt it would seem hypocritical to speak out against abortion, something many women that have experienced abortion still feel today. She also was concerned that some people would use it as a justification for abortion, something she was very much against.

 In 1974 despite her silence, she was a signer of a petition against legalized abortion, less than a month after the decision of Roe vs. Wade.

A saint who had an abortion

Dorothy’s abortion story will resound with many. Like countless numbers of young women, she speaks about being afraid to go home and face her mother’s disapproval when she learned of her pregnancy. She delayed, I am sure in the hope of finding a way to keep her baby and was in her fourth month of pregnancy when she told the baby’s father.

In her words, “I got pregnant. He (her boyfriend Lionel) said that if I had the baby, he would leave me. I wanted the baby, but I wanted Lionel more. So I had the abortion and I lost them both.” “I always had a great regret for my abortion” she later says. 

After her abortion Dorothy went into a deep depression and tried to commit suicide, she also was afraid she would never be able to have another child.

Each of these manifestations of abortion, the coercion, the fear, the depression, and the deep regret and despair are very common to women who have had an abortion, but the continued denial of abortion’s impact by society leaves many feeling like they are the only one’s suffering.

It can be hard when you are suffering to believe that there is forgiveness, or any hope for this grave sin. It seems to those locked in the pain that abortion is “unforgivable,” but no sin is unforgivable to God.

Dorothy’s life is proof of this. God is always seeking us out and calling us back to Him. He is always desiring our healing and our reconciliation. He is always waiting for us; we just need to be willing to go to Him.

A message of hope and forgiveness

Perhaps God has brought about the cause for the sainthood of Dorothy Day, in part, to let the millions of souls lost to God because of abortion know through her example of faith, that there is hope, there is mercy, and there is not only healing but through His grace holiness. 

In speaking about Dorothy Day when opening her cause, John Cardinal O’Connor, said this:

“To be sure, her life is a model for all in the third millennium, but especially for women who have had or are considering abortions. It is a well-known fact that Dorothy Day procured an abortion before her conversion to the Faith. She regretted it every day of her life. After her conversion from a life akin to that of the pre-converted Augustine of Hippo, she proved a stout defender of human life. The conversion of mind and heart that she exemplified speaks volumes to all women today on two fronts. First, it demonstrates the mercy of God, mercy in that a woman who sinned so gravely could find such unity with God upon conversion. Second, it demonstrates that one may turn from the ultimate act of violence against innocent life in the womb to a position of total holiness and pacifism. In short, I contend that her abortion should not preclude her cause but intensifies it.”

Dorothy Day was baptized into the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, 1927. I found this is very significant. Part of the healing process from abortion is to develop a spiritual relationship with your aborted child. To name them and pray to them. To reclaim by grace what was lost by grave sin.

In “The Gospel of Life” St John Paul II, in speaking to women who have had an abortion says:

 “I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly, what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and to his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.”

I would not at all be surprised to learn that Dorothy’s child who is, “living in the Lord” was instrumental through prayer for her conversion to the faith and her deep love of God and trust in His love and mercy. 

If she were alive today, I believe that Dorothy Day would probably be joining us in our monthly “Witness for Life” prayer vigils at the Planned Parenthood, (formally, Margaret Sanger clinic) on Mott Street in New York City, a place she knew so well. I believe that along with her work for the hungry, forsaken, and homeless she would be ministering to those who have had an abortion. She would be proclaiming that “we are loved.” She would be a witness to the mercy God has for each one who has had an abortion.

I have no doubt Dorothy herself did a lot of “silent suffering” as a result of her abortion. I am sure that she is praying and interceding before the throne of God, bringing many souls back to His merciful heart!

We are blessed to be witnesses to her conversion of heart, to see the possibilities and the desire of God through His grace, to bring healing and holiness to each of us no matter what the sin, even the sin of abortion. 

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