Dorothy Day's frank chat about her abortion

James Martin SJ, in America magazine, blogs about a newly surfaced account of a brief conversation that Dorothy Day had with a Catholic Worker colleague  about her abortion.

Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and longtime peace activist who is now being considered for canonisation, spoke with Marshall a few years before her death in 1980. It is the first time that this conversation about her abortion is being shared publicly. Martin received it as part of a group email, and received permission from fellow movement member, Daniel Marshall, to publish it in his blog.

Day's publisher Robert Ellsberg writes: “It’s clear from her private writings … that Dorothy was very concerned about abortion, but she didn’t want to appear judgmental, partially because of her own experiences.  Nor did she want to sound preachy, because she was very private about her abortion, and she didn’t share that part of her life.  But she did speak about with some people, including myself.  

“In that case, a woman had just told her that she justified her own decision to have an abortion because Dorothy did, which may explain why Dorothy was so uncomfortable about talking about it.  Overall, Mr. Marshall’s story sounds like a credible account of a conversation with Dorothy.” 

Ellsberg also pointed to one letter in the collection All the Way to Heaven, where (dated Feb. 6, 1973) where she writes to a woman considering and abortion and describes her experience.  “I am praying very hard for you,” she writes.

Marshall writes of the conversation: “Dorothy said, 'You know, I had an abortion.  The doctor was fat, dirty and furtive.  He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding.' …

“I hung on every word that she said, not only because she was Dorothy, but because, although I had heard a rumour that she had an abortion, I was aware that few people knew of it from her.

“I understood from Dorothy that she was asking me to comprehend what the consequences would be of a public statement from her on abortion and also that the public consequences might be a distraction from the issue and the cause.  What she thought of abortion was clear as a bell from what she said.”

FULL BLOG: Dorothy Day and Abortion: A New Conversation Surfaces (James Martin SJ / America)


Biography of Dorothy Day (The Catholic Worker Movement)

Dorothy Day Library on the Web (The Catholic Worker Movement)

Dorothy Day Guild (Cause for Canon Canonisation)

The Online Mass


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