In 1919, almost 100 years ago, a young journalist living in New York discovered that she was pregnant. She was dating an editor, Lionel, who was nine years older than her. He pressured her to have an abortion. He told her that if she had the baby he would leave her and her journalism career would fall apart. Her family was 700 miles away. She had few friends, no real faith in God, and no money.
She went ahead with the abortion – all alone. She later said that the doctor was “dirty and furtive. He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding.”
When she returned to her apartment, she found a note from Lionel, saying that he was leaving her. “It is best” he wrote, “that you forget me.”
The young journalist was Dorothy Day, who later converted to Catholicism and became a great social activist, a holy mystic, and a friend to the poor. Years later, she explained that she felt she had to choose between the child she had conceived and its father; between the love of her boyfriend and her love for the child. She wrote “I wanted the baby but I wanted Lionel more. So I had the abortion and I lost them both.”
Dorothy Day learned that day in 1919 what thousands of women learn painfully each year—that abortion does not solve problems, it only adds to the pain. She learned that abortion does not heal our hurt, it only creates new wounds. Abortion does not protect women, it harms them; it brings not freedom, but coercion. The legal protection for abortion makes it easy for boyfriends, or husbands, or parents, or employers, to coerce women; to tell them that to preserve their jobs, or family life, or relationships, they must sacrifice their own children.
Dorothy Day learned what Saint Teresa of Calcutta learned from her work among women who had suffered abortion, that “abortion is profoundly anti-woman. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”
Abortion has been available in our country for more than a century. And, for 44 years, it has been legally protected, in every state of our nation, by the tragic decision of Roe vs. Wade. In those 44 years, abortion has taken the lives of millions of children, and, it has caused untold pain, regret, and coercive harm to millions of women. It is time to end the scandal of legally protected abortion in our nation.
Last Saturday, I joined thousands of Nebraskans in the annual Walk for Life, a witness to the fundamental dignity of every human person, especially the unborn, the most vulnerable among us. At the end of this month, young people from Nebraska and I will travel to Washington, D.C., where we will witness to the dignity of life in the national March for Life with hundreds of thousands of Americans, walking, praying, and witnessing, in the hope of ending legal protection for abortion.
We witness to life because we believe that every single human person is made in the image of God. We believe that children, and women, deserve better than abortion.
The good news is that more young people than ever before report acknowledging the fact that abortion takes a human life, and that abortion harms women. Young people today are more likely to identify as pro-life than at any time since 1973. Millennials want to see legal protection for abortion eradicated. They also want to see policies which support the sovereignty of the family, the protection of women and the dignity of of the poor. And they’re willing to work towards those goals.
We should be encouraged by Catholics, young and old, who are working to end legal protection for abortion in our country. We should be optimistic, though cautiously optimistic, about the possibility of support for life from the incoming administration. We should continue to pursue policies which end legal protection for abortion, and hold our incoming administration accountable to its pro-life promises.
But the story of Dorothy Day reminds us of something important: ending legal protection for abortion is a critically important goal, but it is not the only goal. When Dorothy Day had an abortion, performing the abortion was a misdemeanor in New York State. Both she and the doctor broke the law. But Dorothy Day did so because she felt she had no choice: because she had no family nearby, no community, no material support, or emotional and spiritual support, she was coerced by her child’s father.
Abortion is often a temptation when expectant mothers face the challenges of loneliness, of spiritual emptiness, of unstable relationships and absent families. Poverty is often a factor in choosing abortion, but spiritual poverty, isolation, and hopelessness are far more powerful factors. The Lord calls us to give the gifts of freedom, of healing, of grace—to be conduits of love—in the lives of women and families who might be tempted to consider abortion.
This means that our parish and school communities, our social circles, our Church’s entire life, must seek out, welcome, and support those who might otherwise never find the Lord—those who, absent his love and the love of his Church, might be led into terrible and painful choices.
This January as we commemorate 44 years since Roe vs. Wade, we can be grateful that the tide is turning in our nation, and we have hope for ending legal protection for abortion. Let us also remember those who, like Dorothy Day, need the unity of the Church, and the mercy of God, before considering abortion, or after having one. And let us pray for all victims of abortion—babies, and women—as we work to build a culture of life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.