Abortion, Motherhood and the Role of Mary

COMMENTARY: The Blessed Mother emphasizes the great dignity of motherhood as well as the unparalleled dignity of her child.

Virgin and Child, 1660.
Virgin and Child, 1660. (photo: Rijksmuseum / Public domain)

Pro-abortion demonstrations over the past few months, and rising to a crescendo in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, have told the world, with unremitting vehemence, that women have a right to control their own body, a right to a safe abortion, and that the unborn is not yet human being. On the negative side, they have shown a hostility toward the Catholic Church and, in particular, to Mary, the Mother of God. The hostility toward the latter is well symbolized by the mantra, “keep your rosaries off our ovaries”.

Pope St. John Paul II expressed the role of Mary in the ongoing battle between life and death in his 1987 encyclical, Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer). He made the remark that, “For Mary, present in the Church as the Mother of the Redeemer, takes part, as a mother, in that monumental struggle; against the powers of darkness.” Abortion is a rejection of motherhood, and therefore, a rejection of Mary, the Mother of God. Furthermore, Mary’s Son is a Redeemer who wills the redemption of many who emphatically refuse to be redeemed.

Dr. Denise Mari, a clinical psychologist, who has served as the director of Trinity Institute for Catholic counseling in New York City, has had extensive experience with women who have suffered from post-abortion syndrome. She has observed that “through the defensive process of denial, the post-abortion woman has suppressed the normal grief process due to the killing of her child and is unable to accept her responsibility for the abortion. This maladaptive coping reaction blocks her inner healing and ability to forgive herself and others.”

Mary is the Mother of God. In her motherhood, she emphasises the great dignity of motherhood as well as the unparalleled dignity of her child. She represents an image that is abhorrent to those who are demonstrating for abortion. 

It is only too clear that Mary does not condone abortion. Killing one’s own unborn child is not, for many women, easy to accept, but this difficulty is compounded by the fact that they place themselves in opposition to the greatest mother in history. As a consequence, as Mari points out, the attitude toward the Mother of God (theotokos) becomes theotokophobia, “the persistent unreasonable avoidance of the Mother of God.” She has found that women who have had abortions find it difficult to focus on Mary even when Marian prayers are assigned to them by their confessors or recommended by their counselors.

Mary is not only the Mother of God, but in a spiritual sense, she is the mother of all human beings. Her image with her Child, the inspiration of innumerable paintings, is something to be imitated, not rejected. Mary’s role with regard to abortion is twofold. Initially, she represents the beauty of motherhood, and, by contrast the wrongfulness of abortion. In this way she discourages women from having an abortion. Secondly, as a true mother, she is a source of healing for women who have had abortions.

This secondary role is often met with strong resistance. She can be accused of provoking guilt or appearing as “holier than thou.” For the healing process to be completed, the woman must recognize that Mary is a true mother, a vessel of love and mercy who is a source of healing. Accordingly, as Mari writes, “when the woman suffering from PAS is graced with removal of impediments to her relationship with the Blessed Virgin, she will begin to draw from Mary the special maternal strengths she needs to complete he post-abortion recovery (“Hiding from Mary: A Sign of Post-Abortion Syndrome” (Homiletic & Pastoral Review, May 1992).

The main apostolate of Sisters for Life, a community founded by Cardinal John O’Connor, is to heal women who have had abortions. These women are encouraged to write letters to the child they aborted. This is a form a therapy that begins, not with wild rhetoric, but in reality. The unborn child they aborted is truly a member of the human family.

Among the many important contributions modern psychology has made is an improved understanding of the relationship between the mother and her child in the womb. The unborn child is not simply a part of his mother’s body. It has its own individuality which is distinguishable from that of its mother. The relationship between mother and child is not that of an owner and tenant, but is a genuine relationship. John Macquarrie, author of Mary for All Christians, has made the following observation: 

“Even before birth, a child growing into relation with its mother, and from the very beginning is receiving influences that help to mould it one way or another. Already that child is becoming an individual person within the community of persons to which it belongs.”

Hostility toward Mary the Mother of God is an affirmation of both her presence and her power. Her rejection is an affirmation of her presence; her help is an affirmation of her power. Pro-abortion demonstrations are desperate attempts to turn the moral world upside down, to prefer death to life, hatred to love, and atheism to Christianity. In the midst of this turmoil, Mary stands as a formidable and undismissable witness for life.

In the conclusion of his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope St. John Paul II makes the following statement:

“As the Church contemplates Mary’s motherhood, she discovers the meaning of her own motherhood and the way in which she is called to express it. At the same time, the Church’s experiences of motherhood lead to a most profound understanding of Mary’s experience as the incomparable model of how life should be welcomed and cared for.