For over three years now, I have been blessed by God with the wonderful opportunity to work with the post-abortion healing ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It has been a humbling and awesome experience to walk with the women and men who have had or participated in an abortion in some way. I have a deep love and respect for each person as they come to grips with the reality and consequences that their choices brought about.
In October 2011, I attended a Healing Visions Conference and heard Project Rachel founder Vicky Thorn speak. One of the ways in which she described herself was that she was an expert in a field that does not exist. I have come to see her as a pioneer in the field of post-abortion healing as she gathers resources and insights from everywhere and learns to apply them to the post-abortion healing process.
In many ways, even though we have passed the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States, there is still little being written concerning the post-abortion ministries of the Church. One reason for this is the confidential aspect of the ministry. Over the last few months, I have felt a call to share some of my insights into this important ministry as a way of helping others understand how to bring about Christ’s healing to those wounded by abortion.
The first insight gained in my post-abortion ministry is that there are a lot of people whom the person who had the abortion has to come to grips with and learn to forgive. It seems that most people who have participated in an abortion stall their healing process because they do not understand how many people that they are angry with (right or wrong).
For example, a woman may not realize that she is angry with her parents for not providing an environment that would have helped her choose life.
Sometimes a woman must forgive the man involved in the conception of the child. This is especially difficult for men who wanted the child, but had no legal way to stop the mother from having an abortion. I cannot help but feel a lot of hurt, doubled in this area, occurs because, as Pope John Paul II pointed out in his Theology of the Body, the man and woman said “yes” to each other in the language of the body and are now saying “no,” resulting in a violent conclusion (the abortion) to this part of their relationship.
A man or a woman who has participated in abortion may be angry at the Church for not being a place where they could come for help at this moment of need.
Angry with God
Finally, the person may also be angry with God, and this anger can take on many different forms. Sometimes the anger at God is for “causing the pregnancy.” Other times they are angry because “God still loves them.” This love that they feel they do not deserve tortures them more than we may ever know. Helping people discover all the different individuals directly or indirectly involved in their decision to abort, and helping them to understand and forgive, is a major part of the healing process for everyone suffering from post-abortion syndrome.
Another powerful insight is that the key person whom they must learn to forgive is themselves. A woman coming to grips with having an abortion must face the fact that she has done something horrible, as well as the fact that, as horrible as the act of abortion may be, God’s love is stronger. Accepting responsibility for her actions is often much easier than accepting the fact that God still loves her. Often blessings from God become sources of sadness as the post-abortion woman desires God to punish her for this evil act. Helping her understand that our God is a God of love and mercy may be the hardest part of the post-abortion ministry.
Many times the situation is complicated by the woman’s love for her present situation that she knows she would not have without having had the abortion. For example, a woman who had an abortion when she was in college now feels guilty for enjoying her married life with two children. It is important for her to realize that good can come from evil and it is OK to enjoy the good. In some sense this is what our whole Christian faith is based on. We have benefited from the evil of killing God in the crucifixion and have been blessed with eternal life through the resurrection.
From Warm, Caring Place to a Very Cold Place
A woman who has had an abortion also must come to grips with the fact that she was duped by those she trusted. She was promised a quick, easy answer to her problem, and it turned out to be anything but that. She was promised that the people at the clinic cared for her, but every story I have heard from women who had an abortion about their experience in the clinics sends a chill down my spine.
From listening to their stories and the stories of those who have worked in abortion clinics, it seems that once a woman has committed to have an abortion the clinic goes from being a warm, caring place to being a very cold place. Women are told that it is not a baby but rather a bunch of tissue, yet deep down women know better. And they definitely know that they bought the lie and, worse, that they bought the lie knowing it was a lie.
The great thing about this situation is that not only does my heart go out to these women, but I know that our God’s heart also goes out. These women are still His daughters who He loves very much. Sharing that truth with them over and over again helps them eventually learn to forgive themselves because they begin to see that they don’t have to earn God’s love, but rather just accept it.
The final insight I would like to share is that women who have had an abortion need to realize that the reaction that they are going through is normal. Our society tells them that there is no such thing as post-abortion syndrome and that there are no consequences from an abortion, but now their bodies and minds are telling them differently. They need to understand that denying, or pretending for years that the abortion did not take place, is natural because denial is a defense mechanism which protects the mind from things that it cannot comprehend at the moment.
But denial only lasts so long, and once we feel safe, our mind and body will want to figure out what had happened. So sometimes regret for an abortion comes years after the abortion. Women may then find themselves being rude or even mean to loved ones because subconsciously they don’t feel worthy of love. Or they are afraid to get too close to people because they think it is only a matter of time before God punishes them for their abortion. Sometimes they may even experience physical symptoms because of the stress caused by brain and body wrestling with what they have done.
I pray that my insights may help you come to understand some of what may be going on inside someone wrestling with their choice to abort or to participate in an abortion, because some estimates show that one out of every three women in our pews each Sunday have had an abortion. While I cannot back that figure up with any facts, I do know from my own personal experience that many of the women I meet in my post-abortion ministry attend Church every Sunday and some are very involved in their parishes. So those who are suffering from their choices are much closer than you may think. TP
Father Pastorius, ordained in 2003 for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is pastor of Epiphany Parish in South St. Louis, Mo.