What, you expected Mother Teresa to be pro-choice? She was a Catholic nun after all

Household name Mother Teresa of Calcutta briefly returned to relevance when she was canonized and declared a saint Sunday by Pope Francis, who, might I remind you, is also against abortion. Just as social media appearances have largely helped the Pope’s reputation and popularity in a liberal society, decades of ingrained Catholic propaganda have rendered Mother Teresa not only a saint, but a symbol for goodness and compassion. Thus, pro-life news outlets’ quickness to tout Mother Teresa’s anti-choice stance, and cite a savage, probably fictional exchange, between her and Hillary Clinton on abortion, probably confused a good amount of people.

And I get it. We were all brought up worshiping the woman’s perfection and believing she loves everyone, and most people’s constructs of the word “everyone” include pregnant women who are desperately poor, unhealthy, victims of rape, or simply have a different calling in life.

But, as so many other aspects of Mother Teresa’s long career in the business of helping people while also imposing her restrictive system of beliefs on them prove, the newly canonized saint had little interest in objective science, which, believe it or not, draws distinctions between removing a barely-developed fetus and murdering a human being, or for that matter, supporting people who choose to pursue paths not carved out by her God.

It’s not even that Mother Teresa is merely anti-choice. Glimpses of her speeches reveal her determination to completely and utterly demonize women who choose to have abortions, which goes leagues and bounds farther than Republican politicians like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?” she asked, at a National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 hosted by President Bill Clinton. And there’s more. She added: “By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.”

Following this logic, women who have abortions are sociopaths completely devoid of empathy and the ability to love, as oppose to women trapped in desperate circumstances or who simply don’t want to be mothers.

John Paul Ii in Poland in Majdanek, Poland on June 9, 1987.
CREDIT: Chip Hires/Getty Images

She additionally dedicated her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1997 to speaking out against abortion, claiming “the nations with legalized abortion are the poorest nations,” rather than countries that force unwilling women to give birth. All of this, of course, is despite solid research indicating that abortion happens just as frequently whether or not it is legal. The only hitch is that women are 34 times more likely to die from abortion in regions where the procedure is restricted and they lack medically safe access to it.

Naturally, medical safety isn’t exactly of paramount importance to a woman who oversaw an order run on volunteers with virtually zero medical experience, and failed to distinguish between curable and incurable patients, often damning patients who otherwise could have survived. Other critics of Mother Teresa point out how people of color were denied critical medical care and forced to wait for “miracles,” or her tendency to brush off suffering as poor people “[accepting] their lot,” and “[suffering] it like Christ’s passion.”

Mother Teresa
CREDIT: Tim Graham/Getty Images

But more relevant to the saint’s stance on abortion is the anecdote presently being circulated by anti-choice news outlets like LifeNews. It portrays the following exchange between Mother Teresa and Hillary Clinton, supposedly following the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast:

Clinton: “Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?”

Mother Teresa: “Because she has probably been aborted.”

Touché.

The source most frequently cited by those who share the anecdote is an essay by educator Sean Fitzpatrick that appeared in the Catholic journal Crisis Magazine in January this year. And yet, Clinton recounted the exchange in question very differently in her 2003 memoir, Living History:

“[Mother Teresa] had just delivered a speech against abortion, and she wanted to talk to me. Mother Teresa was unerringly direct. She disagreed with my views on a woman’s right to choose and told me so. Over the years, she sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me; her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt.”

The sharp, rhetorical “because she has probably been aborted” line hardly strikes me as “loving and heartfelt,” and for her own part, Mother Teresa has never brought up the dialogue, nor has it ever appeared in any biography of her, the myth-busting outlet Snopes points out.

Despite the simple fact that the biting exchange probably didn’t really take place, Mother Teresa is as against abortion as they come, and, hey, what did you expect? She’s a saint, and as a result, a leading figure in a religion that has, for generations, been used by some as a means to strip women of rights and autonomy. Her concept of human life and where it begins is rooted in her faith as opposed to objective science, and that’s all well except for her rigorous attempts to stigmatize a procedure that saves women’s lives.

Frankly, her views are to be expected and shrugged off. After all, if outdated religious ideology didn’t wholly reject modern, nonpartisan science around fetus viability and reproductive health, I strongly doubt the anti-choice movement would exist at all.