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7 Saints who rejected abortion, even at the risk of their own lives

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Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cerith Gardiner - published on 07/02/22

The desire of these holy women to save their unborn children proved more important than their own lives.

Since the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the subject of abortion has been very much in the news. Laws about abortion have now been put in the hands of voters and their elected state representatives, which means abortion will remain a contentious issue that people will fight for and against for some time.

Throughout history there have been those who’ve fought for the life of the unborn, even if it was detrimental to their own health. Here is a selection of holy women who’ve championed life in its earliest stages and can inspire us today.

The story of this young 21st-century Catholic mother is particularly painful, but very inspiring. Fresh from her honeymoon, Chiara discovered she was pregnant. Doctors, however, told her the pregnancy wasn’t viable and recommended she have an abortion. She refused.

At her birth, little Maria Grazia Letizia lived for less than an hour. Yet, it was long enough for her to be baptized. On her memorial card “We are born never to die” was written, to remind everybody of the beautiful sanctity of life.

Sadly, Chaira’s second pregnancy also proved complicated. This time her baby had no legs or a liver and the mother was told her child would die. Once more, Chiara and her husband defied the doctors and continued with their pregnancy. Their son Davide Giovanni lived for 38 minutes and he, too, was baptized.

Finally Chiara became pregnant with her third child. This time the pregnancy went well and the child was healthy. Chiara, however, wasn’t. Doctors found she had cancer of the tongue. While she could have been treated, this would have put her child in danger. Chiara refused all treatment, including painkillers, in the hope her child would be delivered safely.

Thankfully a little Francesco was born in good health, but Chiara’s cancer had spread and she eventually died in 2012, just four years after her wedding. On the day she died she was wearing her wedding dress, and her face was filled with joy.

Servant of God Emilia Wojtyla

You’ll be familiar with this surname as it belongs to Pope St. John Paul II’s mother. However, you may be unaware that if she’d listened to doctors, we would never have known the beloved pontiff.

When Emilia was pregnant with her third child, her doctor believed her life was in danger and advised her to abort. She and her husband decided to find another doctor who would help her continue the pregnancy.

On the day she was due to give birth, her husband and son went to church to pray. Emilia asked the midwife to open the windows so that the first sound her child would hear would be the Litany of Loreto sung every evening in the parish across the street. These wonderful sounds possibly set the little Karol on his road to holiness from the day he entered the world.

Venerable Annie Zelikova

This young devout girl from Moravia went off to Mass every day by herself so she could receive the Eucharist; something that was so important to her deep faith. When she was 13 she overheard a conversation where her mother chastised a relative for having an abortion: “That’s a sin against heaven and against the infant—you can’t kill it!”

Due to her young age she didn’t understand the meaning of what her mother was saying. However, she felt that God was asking her to make reparations for what was occurring. She decided to do so by offering God her life. The young teen then discovered through her spiritual director that she was actually sacrificing herself in part for the abortions that were being carried out throughout the world.

God answered her desire to offer herself for the sins of others. The teenager fell ill and was given three months to live. Although she lay on her death bed for another four years, offering up her life to console God for the deaths of the unborn, she eventually died at the age of 17 of tuberculosis.

Blessed Marianna Biernacka

This Polish mother sacrificed herself for her unborn grandchild. In fact, the farmer’s wife was living in Poland during World War II. When soldiers came and randomly selected people to execute in retaliation for the German soldiers who been killed nearby. Biernacka’s son and his wife, Anna, were among those chosen.

However, Anna, already a mother of a little girl, was expecting a child, so Biernacka offered her life in exchange of her daughter-in-law’s. The soldiers agreed and the grandmother was executed two weeks later with her rosary in hand. Her daughter-in-law went on to live to a ripe old age of 98.

Blessed Maria Corsini Quattrocchi

This final saintly story is a little less heart-wrenching than the others. When pregnant with her fourth child, this brave mom started hemorrhaging due to placenta previa — a condition where the placenta covers the cervix, endangering the mother’s life. Considering that this happened at the beginning of the 20th century, by refusing an abortion Maria was essentially signing a death warrant.

However, Maria and her husband — who was not particularly devout — ignored doctors’ pleas and took to prayer to find hope. Their prayers were answered. The pregnancy went far enough long that the baby could be induced early and survive.

The family went on to thrive, with three of the siblings becoming religious. Enrichetta, the youngest, went on to live a life so full of heroic virtue that Pope Francis declared her venerable last year.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

You may be aware of this 20th-century pediatrician and mom of four, who is also the patron saint of unborn children. When pregnant with her fourth child, Gianna suddenly felt immense pain. Doctors discovered that she was not only carrying a child in her uterus, but a tumor as well. The only way to be sure she would survive was either to have an abortion or a complete hysterectomy. In both cases the baby would die, but the tumor could be treated.

This was not an option for the devout Gianna, so she decided on a third option, to just have the tumor removed. Doctors carried out the procedure, but there were complications throughout her pregnancy. When it came to delivering her child Gianna insisted that the baby’s life should take precedence over her own. Eventually, her daughter Gianna Emanuela was born by cesarean, but her mother died seven days later from septic peritonitis.

While these remarkable women showed considerable strength in their own situations, we shouldn’t forget the story of a particular holy woman who did have an abortion...

Servant of God Dorothy Day

In her early 20s the famous social anarchist and journalist became pregnant. Her then-boyfriend pressured her into having an abortion, and afterwards abandoned her. Not only did this leave Day in tremendous pain, she openly shared that she felt regret about the abortion every day for the rest of her life.

However, as a Catholic convert, Day decided that one way to try and prevent other women from going through a similar experience was to bravely share her own story. This was particularly courageous considering the era. (In fact, you can find some interesting snippets of her story on Catholic Education.)

Day spent her life inspiring others with her deep faith and witness to the Gospel, and her story has no doubt encouraged other women to take a stand for life and say “no” to abortion when pressured.

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