Tag Archives: Abortion

Dorothy Day and Abortion

I feel that, as in the time of the Desert Fathers, the young are fleeing the cities–wandering over the face of the land, living after a fashion in voluntary poverty and manual labor, seeming to be inactive in the “peace movement.” I know they are still a part of it–just as Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers’ Movement is also part of it, committed to non-violence, even while they resist, fighting for their lives and their families’ lives. (They, together with the blacks, feel and have stated this, that birth control and abortion are genocide.)

I agree with them and say–make room for children, don’t do away with them. Up and down and on both sides of the Hudson River religious orders own thousands of acres of land, cultivated, landscaped, but not growing food for the hungry or founding villages for the families or schools for the children.

Dorothy Day Open Letter to Fr.Dan Berrigan On Pilgrimage 1972

It’s not often mentioned and perhaps not widely known that before her conversion Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, had an abortion. In her novel The Eleventh Virgin she describes her character having an abortion and then being deserted by her partner afterwards. This was indeed Dorothy Day’s own personal experience when 22 years old. She doubted that she would ever get pregnant again and she refers to this fear in her book, The Long Loneliness. Pelvic sepsis following this illegal and possibly unsterile procedure was not unusual and the consequent Fallopian tube obstruction could result in sterility. She rarely wrote about abortion but was profoundly remorseful of her lifestyle before her conversion. In the Long Loneliness she describes how very blessed she felt when in 1925 she realised that she had become pregnant with her partner Forster Batterham. One can only surmise how her faith journey was influenced by the remorse of her earlier abortion and her bliss at becoming pregnant again. This time this new life would be welcomed and baptised into the Catholic Church even if she was to lose the man she deeply loved.

Some might say what right have I have to even raise the issue of abortion because I am a man. We are all touched by human life but as a medical doctor and specialist anaesthetist I was particularly involved as I was asked to anaesthetise for abortions several times in my career and refused. I always noticed who was Catholic in the anaesthetic department by seeing who were claiming their legal right under the 1967 Abortion Act to be conscientious objectors. One colleague even said that he wished that he was Catholic so that he could refuse despite the fact that the legal right to refuse also applies to any person on simply conscience grounds. In my personal experience I don’t recall any other person refusing who wasn’t a Catholic. I should always be grateful to Cardinal Heenan who obtained that legal concession in 1967. When I hear criticisms of the institutional Church I thank God how its intervention in 1967 protected both my mind and soul.

Lenten marking of the MoD, at the entrance opposite Downing Street.

There are probably two reasons why I could never have been a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology. The first is that I don’t think I could have suffered well the severe sleep deprivation and secondly of how to negotiate the 1967 Abortion Act. As a young doctor with no friends in high places the last thing I needed was being a “troublesome” junior doctor with inconvenient scruples.

There are two Lenten witnesses I have tried do whenever possible in London. The first is the one that any follower of Dorothy Day would find not unusual. This is the marking of the Ministry of Defence building as a sign of Christian opposition to nuclear war preparations. Dorothy Day regularly did civil disobedience against the New York civil defence preparations for a potential nuclear attack. She viewed this as legitimising plans for nuclear war and opposed the nuclear arms race from 1945. As a consequence of this frequent witness she once spent time in jail. My second witness was praying at an abortion clinic which was usually until recently in Ealing London at the Marie Stopes clinic. Both require a commitment to non-violence.

Ealing, London, Marie Stopes abortion clinic

When planning to pray at Ealing I was pleased to be asked to not only sign an online promise of non-violence both verbal and physical before the witness at the abortion clinic but also asked to sign a hard copy when I arrived. The anti-abortionists prayed the Rosary which I joined and I saw no intimidation of the patients going into the clinic. Their focus on the Rosary meant that there was little eye contact with the pro-abortion demonstrators which removed any spirit of judgement and antagonism and their prayer was combined with practical support for those women who decide to change their decision. However since 2018 anyone praying at this abortion clinic now risks arrest as the local council have instituted what is a virtual no praying zone around this clinic.

Would Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin have approved of my witness for peace at the Ministry of Defence? Would they have approved my witness for life at the abortion clinic? Would they see the connection between the two at a time when over 180,000 abortions are carried out in UK each year and when Parliament voted against a ban on sex selective abortion in 2015? Can you make a call to choose life in one issue and ignore the other?

The first century Bethlehem massacre of the innocents was then a gender discrimination against the male child whereas the global gender select abortion is now a discrimination against the female child. Academics can estimate the missing women globally when the gender balance in society is measured. One academic has made an estimate of 100 million missing women globally, mainly in Asia.

Ray Towey

Abortion Vigil, 1989

You Do Have A Choice

To the mothers who are considering an abortion

We are here, outside this abortion clinic, to acknowledge your freedom to choose and ask you to choose what is right.

The life within your womb is human life.  This is how we all began, developing slowly and hidden within the warmth and protection of the womb.  If this life is not interfered with, a human person, which all would recognize, will be born.  We are opposed to abortion because it attacks this pre-natal human being and because it attacks you, the mother.  Through abortion, this pre-natal human being is killed.  Such an action would not be allowed after birth.  You know that the life within you is a developing human being; how does one decide when to terminate his or her existence?  If you would not do so after birth why do so now?

Abortion is an attack on you as a woman and a mother.  There is no greater power you have than to play a crucial role in giving life and birth.  Nothing is of greater significance.  To submit to an abortion would be to throw this gift away; it would be to say that what you are helping to create is disposable.  But, of course, that is not the case.  You are worthy to bring life into this world.  It is cruel lie what has convinced you to seriously consider an abortion.  Whatever difficulties you face as a result of bringing life to birth you do not have to face them alone.  There are other options, which will protect the life of your child and your dignity as a woman and mother.  The emotional scar of an abortion will remain and hurt much longer than any problems you face now.

To the health workers:

Are you not called by your profession to protect, nurture and heal?  To attack the life within the womb you, perhaps more than the mother, know what you are doing.  Do you fully inform the ‘patient’ of what you are doing in terms of: the development of the unborn child, the reaction of the unborn child during the ‘operation’, or the operating procedure?  Do you describe the developing child accurately, or do you hide the nature of this human life by misnaming this life ‘pre-embryonic development’, or ‘products of conception’, etc.? For the medical profession to be involved in the way it is, demonstrates (again) that there is no necessary connection between one’s training/profession and morality.  A comparable situation existed in Nazi Germany, and exists today with much of the scientific profession making possible the end of all life on earth through the use of nuclear and chemical weapons.

To all:

It is a poor society that induces mothers to kill their unborn children.  We are all the poorer for it.  The loss of three million children since 1967 is an unimaginable loss to the lives of everyone.  The values and pressures, which bring women to the point of accepting the killing of their own flesh and blood is a crime against them and dignity of all women and men.  

We believe that God also is pro-choice.  He gives us free will to choose, even to choose to send ourselves to hell.

A choice is before us all, and we plead that you choose what is right: Choose Life!


[The basics of this leaflet was first distributed outside the abortion clinic on Brixton Hill in Brixton, London in 1989 by Catholic Peace Action.  CPA, through nonviolent action and civil disobedience has worked outside the Ministry of Defence against the nuclear war preparations of the UK.

Analogies: the Bomb and Abortion?

catholicherald.co.uk, 3 October 1986

Continuing our series on Peace, Carmel Martin, anti-nuclear activist, defends our right to live

ON JULY 23, 1986, my third child, a daughter, was born. I rejoiced at the wonder of creation and this new life entrusted to my care.

When I was only 15 weeks pregnant, a time in which a woman could legally have an abortion, I visited the hospital for an ultra sound scan. Through this new technology I clearly saw, much to my astonishment, the child within me sucking her thumb and kicking her legs vigorously, and I couldn’t feel a thing! She was so tiny and yet so alive and human.

To think of abortion fills me with great sorrow, but I am much sadder to hear that even christians are among its supporters, or are at least confused about where they stand. They use the many pro-abortion arguments which place the humanity and life of the unborn child lower down the scale of values. The key assumption in favour of abortion is that the fetus is not human enough to be accorded the human rights that people outside the womb are supposed to have. The basic right to life is denied to what is a unique human being in the prenatal stage of their existence. This is a scientific/medical fact which is often over shadowed by other considerations.

Many men and women do not want to bring the child within the womb to full development for social, cultural, economic or political reasons. Tied up with all these reasons is the “women’s right to choose” argument, which states that the final decision is to be taken by the woman who is pregnant and who alone bears the burden of the pregnancy, birth, and often child rearing. I understand and sympathise with the physical and emotional traumas some women experience; especially if the child-to-be is unplanned and unwanted, or handicapped, or the result of rape; or if the woman/family lives in dire poverty.

I can only make a plea to the mother for the right to life of the child who is innocent and voiceless.

To others and society I say that if we really love and care for the unborn, we need to love and care for mothers. In a more just society of better health care, less poverty and more community support, women will choose abortion less often. Men need to take more responsibility for reproduction, for fighting everything that oppresses women from pornography to rape, and for child-care. Finally, we need to make adoption more acceptable as a nonviolent solution to an ‘unwanted’ child.

The same confusion of values and sometimes callousness regarding unborn children, is reflected in the justification for the possible use of nuclear weapons, which would result in the slaughter of millions of innocent people. In the deadly game of military and economic domination people are expendable. Their life is not as important as our values, our politics, our lifestyle. Mother Theresa drew the connection quite clearly when she said that once society accepts the killing of the unborn, all that is left for us to do is to kill each other.

This we are planning with great speed and ingenuity. There are enough weapons to kill everyone many times over, and more are planned (eg HM Government’s plan to buy Trident submarines). And even if only a small percentage of the world’s 50,000 nuclear weapons were used, climatic changes would result in the destruction or at least a fundamental change to life as we know it. The use of nuclear weapons would not only be murderous but suicidal and yet, as if the rulers of this world have gone mad or believe themselves to be gods, that is exactly what is planned and contemplated.

What else connects these two issues?

Nuclear radiation is most especially lethal to unborn children. The nuclear industry (weapons and power) is causing abortion and birth defects now through radio-active contamination of the environment. Women who survived the nuclear explosions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later gave birth to deformed children. Women in the South Pacific and Australia who were exposed to nuclear testing by the US, French, and British governments also gave birth to deformed children. This genetic damage will be passed on from one generation to the next.

The language of abortion and war dehumanises the victims. In wartime entire nations are called “Reds”, “Communists”, “Fascists”, “members of an evil empire”. The millions of innocent civilians who would be killed in a nuclear exchange are called “collateral damage”. In abortion, pregnancies are “terminated” and the suction bottle contains “products of conception”.

Neither the woman who chooses abortion nor the soldier who is trained to obey orders are exposed to the consequences of their actions. Before an abortion, the woman is not told the full medical and biological facts (not to mention the moral or religious ones), nor afterwards is she shown the tiny arms and legs that are burned or vacuumed from her womb. Soldiers trained to push buttons for nuclear missiles are not told that alongside the 60 military targets in Moscow live 8 million people, most of whom have nothing whatsoever to do with the military.

Mother Theresa is right. The acceptance of the silent holocaust of abortion will pave the way for the nuclear holocaust. But the rev.trse is also true. Our conditional, yet sincere intention to use nuclear weapons, which will result in the murder of millions of people, poisons our very hearts and souls and blinds us to the burning and dismemberment of millions of unborn children.

To conclude with an explicitly religious analogy. In the same way that abortion terminates the life and development of the unborn child a nuclear war will arrest, if not completely destroy, God’s plan to build the Kingdom “on earth as it is in Heaven”. Human sin will have intervened and successfully rebelled against God. But unlike the crucifixion of 2,000 years ago, this global crucifixion of Jesus will not be followed by a resurrection.

With both issues prevention is the only cure. The anti-abortion and anti-nuclear movements can and should work more closely together. The logic of death by abortion and nuclear war is the same, and can be successfully countered by a united front for life and peace; and where necessary, one movement should challenge the inconsistency of the other. The anti-abortionist should not forget the threat to all life, for all time, because of nuclear weapons; nor should “peace” workers forget the war being waged daily against unborn children in hospitals throughout the land.

The symphony of life and peace can drown out the dirge of death, but only if we all play our part to defend life and make peace.

The author is a Catholic mother of three children, ages 5, 3.5, and one month  [Update: a 4th child was born in 1989]. In the last three years she has been arrested five times outside the Ministry of “Defence” in Whitehall while engaging in prayerful nonviolent resistance to the nuclear war preparations in this country.