Document 19: Margaret Ellen Traxler, SSND, to A.J. O'Brien, SJ, 3 January 1977, Margaret Ellen Traxler Records 7/1, Marquette University Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Margaret Ellen Traxler was one of the few prominent feminist women religious to speak publicly about abortion; in fact, most Catholic feminists did not take a public stand one way or the other. Traxler supported abortion rights, and this letter to a priest who asked her advice on the question explains her reasoning. For Traxler, the question of abortion rights was linked inextricably to her commitment to feminism and to social justice. As this letter indicates, Traxler believed that poor and marginalized women were given free will by God, and must be trusted to make their own choices. Traxler never encouraged abortion--elsewhere she said she personally opposed it--but her work with poor women taught her that she, and certainly out-of-touch clerics, had no right to make such a weighty decision for others.
Rev. A. J. O'Brien SJ
320 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, Md., 21201
Thank you for your inquiry about the coming hearings in the Maryland Legislature regarding Medicaid abortions for poor women. My advice would not be easy to hear but because you asked, I will try to be gentle. I would suggest that you take your marvelous and good Archbishop Borders with you to women in prison and get their advice. Then go to the welfare offices where men chew their cigars and decide who will get welfare help and how much. From there, go [to] the federally subsidized "high rise homes" and "row houses" of the poor where so many women raise their children and ask them. I think that this is where the Spirit is speaking and this is where the Church, my beloved Church has lost its voice. Jesus is there and not in the safety deposit vaults where churchmen go quarterly to clip their cumulative preferred blue chip coupons.
So in effect, dear "AJ" stop the men of the Church from pontificating over women's bodies and help men of the Church understand why it is that the bishops' synod of the "Low Countries" has plaintively cried, "We lost the working men of the last century, we have lost youth and now we are losing women and that will be the end of the Church." Those were bishops speaking. Bishops whose ears were to the ground, who were listening to the poor. (read Pro Vite Mundi document, No 56. WOMEN'S MOVEMENT AND THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH. (1975): Rue De La Limite 6, B-1030-Brussels, Belgium.
So in essence my advice is to listen to the poor women and after you have heard what they say, let them speak. No woman wants an abortion. I have not heard one say she preferred it. But if you teach that every human person has a free will and that this is her greatest gift given her by God; then let her use that free will in making her own judgement.
To listen to men, one would think that pregnant women got pregnant all on their own.
But thanks, AJ, for at least inquiring. I trust that your message was sincere in making the request.
Very sincerely yours,
Sister Margaret Ellen Traxler SSND
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