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Sacrifices of Faith: The Pro-Life Legacies of St. Gianna and Jessica Hanna

The recent death of a young mother of four who refused an abortion after being diagnosed with breast cancer calls to mind the example of St. Gianna Molla, whose feast day we celebrate April 28.

St. Gianna Molla

St. Gianna Molla

St. Gianna was an Italian physician, wife and mother who died in 1962 after giving birth to her fourth child, her daughter Gianna Emanuela.  In her short life of 39 years, St. Gianna demonstrated both a zest for life and a profound love of God and neighbor.

She loved to ski and hike; she played the piano and accordion and she loved to dress in fine clothes. But above all, she loved God and her family. She and her husband, Pietro, married in 1955 and soon embarked on building a family. Together, they gave life to four children: Pierluigi, Maria Zita, Laura, and Gianna Emanuela. 

It was while pregnant with Gianna Emanuela that St. Gianna's faith would be tested.

Gianna's doctors discovered she had a benign tumor in her uterus. They gave her three options: abort her child, have a hysterectomy that would have ended the life of her child, or try to remove the tumor and continue her pregnancy. A devout Catholic Christian who believed in the dignity of every human being, she rejected the first choice because it was immoral, and the second as well, even though morally, she could have chosen this option because it was not a direct abortion. But the life of her child was more precious to her than her own so she opted for surgery.

While the surgery was successful, she began to suffer other complications. She adamantly told Pietro, and her physicians that if they had to choose between her life and that of her child, she wanted the baby to be saved.Gianna Emanuela was born in April 1962. Her mother died a week later, on April 28. St. John Paul II canonized Gianna Molla as a saint of the Catholic Church in 2004 and now, on the day she died, we celebrate the sacrifice and maternal love that made choosing life for her baby the only option.

St. Gianna believed that every human life is an irreplaceable gift of God, and that human beings are sacred because they contain the presence of God. She understood that mothers must understand and secure the protection of their unborn children from the moment of conception, even at the cost of their own lives. 

Jessica Hanna understood this truth as well. The young woman â€" like St. Gianna, a devout Catholic â€" was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer in 2020, when she was 14 weeks pregnant with her fourth child. Her doctors advised her to abort the pregnancy but she refused, instead starting an Instagram account to detail her health journey. 

In a televised interview shortly after her diagnosis, she said, "I decided to use the social media to show people that no matter what you think is going to happen, it's trust in God that is the most important ... That you are going to abandon your own desires and wants and you're going to leave it at the foot of the cross and let him take care of it."

After undergoing chemotherapy while pregnant, Jessica was elated when her cancer went into remission. But it returned in December 2022 and she died April 6, surrounded by her family, including the 3-year-old boy who owes his life to his mother's courage and trust in God.

"With death comes resurrection â€" Christ made it so," Jessica posted on Good Friday, one of her last messages on Instagram. "Be joyful in your sufferings."

A Texas woman recently made international news in her quest to abort her baby after receiving a poor prenatal diagnosis. Kate Cox's life was not imperiled by her pregnancy but that's the lie that was spread as she sat beside Jill Biden at the State of the Union address and was thanked publicly for her "courage" in ending the life of her innocent baby girl.

What a kinder, gentler nation â€" and world â€" it would be if instead of hailing as heroes those who call for the destruction of unborn children, we instead spread a message that there is no greater love a mother can have than putting her child's life in front of her own. 

On St. Gianna's feast day, let's ask for her help in transforming our minds and hearts so that all of us can show the kind of courage and absolute faith that she â€" and now, Jessica Hanna â€" have shown to the world.

Fr. David P. Begany, SSJ, is a Pastoral Associate of Priests for Life and pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Baytown, Texas.

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