As Catholics celebrate Respect Life Month throughout October, they honor and seek to live out the Church’s teaching that all life is sacred.
Ten years ago, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated this point in a speech in Vienna.
“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite. It is ‘a deep wound in society.’”
Through the mercy of Christ, the Church has a special role in healing these wounds caused by abortion.
Over the past decades, the issue of abortion has caused a great division in society, but many have crossed that great divide, going from pro-abortion to pro-life. Our Sunday Visitor spoke to a number of people who have found the beauty of the Church’s teaching. The journey, they said, has been life-changing.
‘They thought I was wacko’
Leslie Davis Blackwell was once a poster girl for pro-abortion feminism. The bumper sticker on her minivan read: “Pro-Women, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice.” She is now radically pro-life, working to counteract her former politics and healing from two abortions. But becoming pro-life caused many of her friends and family to think she had lost her mind.
In 1980, at only 20 years old, Blackwell was pregnant when she landed a job as a morning talk-show host on a local TV station. She quickly ended her unplanned pregnancy rather than turn down such an opportunity. The celebrity status went to her head. Partying and sleeping around led to another abortion.
“The second one really got me,” Blackwell said. “I was hollowed out; I hated me.” A string of media jobs, fast living and belief in a New Age version of God kept her guilt at bay.
In 1987, Blackwell married in the Episcopal Church (she had ditched her Catholic roots years earlier) and had two children. She loved motherhood, even finding work to do from home, but rather than face the pain from her abortions, she immersed herself in pro-abortion politics.
After the death of her father in 2008, Blackwell’s beloved Aunt Betty comforted her and gradually helped transform the anti-Catholic bitterness into an understanding of the beauty and truth of the Faith. Beginning with the Blessed Mother and the Divine Mercy devotion, Blackwell was drawn back into the Church.
At this time, a personal encounter with God made her realize that she had taken away two lives.
“I went to Rachel’s Vineyard and sought healing,” Blackwell said of the post-abortion ministry. “It took me three years.”
Meanwhile, she became passionately pro-life. Those around Blackwell thought something must be wrong with her.
“My family thought I was having a breakdown,” she said. “They thought I was wacko and blamed my Aunt Betty. All hell was breaking loose around me. The first year after my conversion was brutal.”
Blackwell credits God’s grace and the Blessed Mother with leading her through healing from her abortions — and from 30 years of destructive behavior such as substance abuse.
She now shares her story through the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
“Now I speak the truth,” Blackwell said. “The gifts of the Holy Spirit have radically changed me.”
Many of her old friends don’t keep in touch, and much of her family still does not understand her. Blackwell said that four out of five old friends had abortions.
“They are uncomfortable around me, but some have quietly come to talk with me about it,” Blackwell said. “The truth has set me free.”
Leslie Davis Blackwell speaks outside of an abortion clinic. Courtesy photo
‘Healing takes away the rage’
Although becoming pro-life can happen in an instant, healing and transformation take time, according to Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel and the executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing. The inspiration to dedicate her life to post-abortive women came from encountering many who have been wounded by abortion. A friend in high school who had given up her baby for adoption, but a year later had an abortion, told Thorn, “I can live with the adoption; I can’t live with the abortion.”
“Healing permeates everything; it’s a soul wound,” Thorn explained. “It’s a process that takes time, but the healing takes away the rage.”
She said that accepting forgiveness from God is often a struggle in the beginning.
“When women — and men, too — come to understand they are forgiven, they are renewed and come to advocate for life,” Thorn said. “Not everyone chooses to go public with their story, but they come to respect life.”
For those who go public, Thorn warns them to be sure family members know about the abortion. She recalled one woman who spoke publicly at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., while her mother and grandmother watched on TV in California, shocked because they never even knew about the abortion.
‘I thought women would die with coat hangers in alleys’
As a teenager, Jewels Green was pressured into an abortion and became suicidal over it. Despite her trauma, Green later worked at an abortion clinic for five years to convince herself that it was OK.
When Green learned of a surrogate mother accepting full payment while heeding the parent’s demand to abort the baby because of its Down syndrome, it opened her eyes to the horror of all abortions.
“I thought women would die with coat hangers in alleys without us. I thought we were providing a necessary service, even though I went home and cried about my own baby every night.”
Green said she is glad that aggressive tactics and violence against workers is no longer common. She was working at an abortion clinic in 1994 when two receptionists at an abortion clinic were shot to death in Boston.
“We saw ourselves as heroic crusaders,” she said. “But if I had been killed back then, I wouldn’t have had the chance to convert.”
Once her position on abortion changed, Green, now a mother of three, said everything changed: her friends, her job and her religion.
She and her husband both became pro-life advocates, and they entered the Catholic Church in 2012.
This past January at Vermont’s annual Rally for Life, Green spoke in the Senate chambers and listened to another speaker’s adoption story. As they left the calm of the state building, outside they found a sea of angry women in pink hats. The crowd was descending on the state Capitol for the Women’s March.
“There were about 400 people at the pro-life event indoors, and we were greeted by about 4,000 Women’s March attendees when we left,” Green said. “Streets were shut down, and I had to wade through the sea of protesters — and their ridiculous signs — to get back to the hotel. It was surreal to have just left a life-affirming event and then be surrounded by so many angry people.”
Green cautions pro-lifers, however, to understand that women who show up for abortions are not evil.
“It’s abortion that is evil,” she said. “Everyone is reachable. Just make sure everyone in your life knows you are pro-life and that you are a safe person to come to.”
When Green’s attitude on abortion changed, she found comfort in former abortion worker Abby Johnson’s book “Unplanned: The Dramatic Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey Across the Life Line.”
“I was so glad to know there were people to shepherd me into the culture of life,” Green said. “It’s our job to shepherd them into this new worldview as they wonder, ‘What now?’”
With so many lost in darkness, Green said everyone must keep singing the chorus of truth.
“It needs all of our voices.”
‘I saw my son’
It’s been more than 40 years since Theresa Bonopartis had an abortion at the age of 17. It was legal in New York then. Despite coming from a Catholic home, her parents kicked her out and pressured her into an abortion. Because she had no job and no money, she felt she had no choice.
It was a saline abortion, said Bonopartis, director of Lumina and co-creator of Entering Canaan, both of which are post-abortion ministries. She also is the author of “A Journey to Healing Through Divine Mercy” ($9.95, Marian Press).
“I saw my son,” she said. “I rang for the nurse. She came and picked him up and put him in a container.”
Bonopartis died inside at the horror of it all.
“I always knew it bothered me,” she said, “but no one wanted to talk about it.”
A downward spiral led her into a bad marriage and depression.
“I ended up leaving when the kids were 2 and 4 because things were so crazy,” Bonopartis said. “I looked for help, but therapists would not acknowledge that killing your own child devastates many women. It’s still that way.”
Finally, she went to confession and found a priest who gave her spiritual direction.
“I came into a relationship with God and found a therapist who did post-abortive counseling,” Bonopartis said.
One of the lies of abortion is that getting rid of the baby gets rid of the problem. In reality, the problem only gets bigger. Even when a post-abortive woman gets married or has another baby, she finds the past abortion does not leave her alone.
“Abortion hurts not only the woman, but anyone connected with it, including spouses,” Bonopartis explained.
During the men’s retreats put on by Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in union with the post-abortive ministry, many men are found to be struggling with marriage problems caused by the residual guilt over abortions.
A previous abortion, when revealed during an engagement, can cause the relationship to end, Bonopartis said.
She tells men: “She trusted in your love enough to tell you this, and you loved her yesterday, and she’s the same person.”
Bonopartis tells women: “If you can’t tell someone who you are, then that’s not the person you should be marrying anyway.”
She sends couples to counseling and to a priest to work through their emotions and to heal the wounds caused by abortion.
Despite the heartache, healing is possible, Bonopartis said.
“Once a couple knows God and his mercy, and accepts his forgiveness, they can find the courage that comes from knowing they are loved.”
Chuck Raymond’s wife, Linda, had an abortion as a teenager in 1976, before they were married.
| Chuck & Linda Raymond
“We panicked,” he said. “In fear, ignorance and selfishness, and with bad advice, we chose an abortion thinking it was a quick, secret fix to our problem. It was not.”
Instead, Raymond said it was an emotional disaster that deeply affected Linda for decades while he blocked it out. The couple later married, but Linda’s bouts of deep depression and woundedness hurt their relationship.
“Only after a reversion to my Catholic faith did I awaken and seek forgiveness and healing,” Raymond said.
Attending a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat together for abortion healing changed their lives. They have been married 36 years now.
“Today, with God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, we are very active in many pro-life ministries — including Silent No More — to share our story of pain and healing with others,” he said.
‘He said nothing, but raised two fingers’
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, director of the Institute for Marital Healing, has made it his life mission to help save marriages. He has worked with hundreds of couples over the past 40 years.
At times, the conflict from abortion is buried, according to him, so that the couple does not realize it is the root of much of their marital problems. A priest friend once shared with Fitzgibbons that he always asks couples who quarrel excessively if there has been an abortion in their past. The answer is almost always “yes.”
“The first time I asked that of a married man in a marriage with severe quarreling,” Fitzgibbons said, “he said nothing, but raised two fingers.”
“Often, intense periodic anger that emerges in the wives requires their understanding that the work of forgiveness for abortion trauma needs to go on for many years, if not for the entire life of the marriage,” he said. “Also, spouses come to understand that their intermittent deep sadness and loneliness for the unborn child gives rise to their feeling of being betrayed — and [to] their anger,” Fitzgibbons said.
In response, he said that through forgiveness — of self and each other — the sadness and the associated anger are diminished. He also noted that it’s important for couples to communicate about the recurrent pain to help protect martial trust in one another.
There is no quick fix, he said, but recognizing the source of the problems and seeking healing is important.
“Masses for the unborn have been reported to be helpful and are recommended by the priest I cited,” he said.
Fitzgibbons also encourages couples to take the post-abortion pain into the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to participate in a post-abortion healing program.
‘Where will I go?’
Pro-life advocates often imagine that employees at abortion facilities are heartless. Yet, according to Pamela Whitehead, project manager and prayer team coordinator for And Then There Were None (ATTWN), a ministry to help abortion workers leave the industry, such employees believe they are helping people.
“It’s very easy to forget sometimes that these are normal people,” Whitehead said. “They are moms and dads. They are friends. They have families. They are all worthy of redemption and forgiveness.”
Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson founded ATTWN to assist former abortion clinic workers through the emotional, spiritual, legal and financial transition when going from a pro-abortion stance to pro-life. More than 355 abortion workers and eight abortion doctors have left the industry and sought healing through the ministry’s counseling, peer support and retreats.
Whitehead said abortion facility employees are hired to work at the front desk with no medical qualifications. With the possibility of making more money than they’ve ever made — and thinking it’s more than they can make anywhere else — these employees often are asked to work in the procedure room.
“By then, they think, ‘Where will I go? Who will hire me after working here?’” Whitehead said. “Our message is one of hope and conversion. It’s thinking about a group of people who are, quite honestly, demonized by so many. No one is beyond the power of conversion, because no one is beyond the power of Christ.”
Patti Maguire Armstrong writes from North Dakota.
|Men Need Healing, Too
Abortion is not just a woman’s issue. Each of the more than 60 million babies aborted in the United State since 1973 had a father. Although the father’s role varies, from against the abortion to pressuring the mother to have one, there is a wound.
Kevin Burke helps men heal from the effects of abortion. He is the co-founder, along with his wife, Theresa Karminski, of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, the director of Men’s Outreach for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and a pastoral associate with Priests for Life.
“Abortion is often a closely guarded secret even for men,” Burke said. The men who are powerless to stop an unwanted abortion are at risk for immediate emotional trauma, he said.
“These men need help as soon as possible, as they struggle with anxiety, nightmares, sleep disturbance, depression and rage at their inability to protect and save their child’s life,” Burke said. “Even men who may function fairly well after their abortion loss, there are ways this loss impacts their lives and relationships.”
Burke said that anger, substance abuse, problems with relationships or problems at work are common responses to the guilt or sadness over an abortion.
“Abortion recovery programs can help men find restoration in Christ, grieve this loss and reconnect in love with their aborted children,” Burke said. “In the process, they are strengthened as men and fathers.”
Programs like Rachel’s Vineyard are centered on the word of God, the sacraments and shared experiences that open the heart and soul up to God’s mercy and healing grace.
“So many women and men emerge in time with a deeper faith commitment, more intensive prayer and worship life, and feel called to share this gift with others,” Burke said.