Abortion’s pain is healed by love
Inearly didn’t go. Monday is a difficult day to be out of the parish, but given that it’s the ebb tide of the holidays I decided I would, and I am so pleased I did. I spent a moving and profoundly instructive few hours at a presentation hosted by the Good Counsel Network at the Brompton Oratory. There were two talks presented by two American ministries called Silent No More and Rachel’s Vineyard. (Both have excellent websites you can Google.) Silent No More is a campaign run for people who have had an abortion, or rather, as they express it, people who have suffered the pain of losing a baby through abortion. The choice of words is significant. Silent No More is trying to change the culture of death not by political lobbying, but by telling women the truth, the truly frightening truth about what abortion does to women. It is taken as a given that abortion is the destruction of innocent human life. But the campaign is trying to counter the message of the pro-choice lobby by getting women who have had abortions to speak about the terrible sufferings – physical, psychological and spiritual – that abortion causes and to destroy the myths which say it is a routine procedure, “it’s just a blob of jelly” etc. The campaign believes that women who abort their children are themselves victims of the culture of death and that the idea of “choice” is a fallacious one. The pithy phrase was: “Why did these women choose abortion? Because they felt they had no other choice.” Abortion is always symptomatic of a terrifying lack of choice. For all the talk of liberation from the feminist lobby, it is the contention of these people who have dealt with thousands of women facing a choice that 95 per cent of decisions to abort are made as a result of the manipulation or coercion of the father.
Dr Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, says: “Once a woman has made a decision to abort, it is a clear indication that her difficult challenges have resulted in absolute despair. In her desperation she forgets that God has a plan for her life. Likewise she cannot see that He also has a plan for the life of her child.” As Catholics, we must of course, maintain an absolute principled opposition to abortion, but this must be matched with enormous compassion for the women who have had abortions, of whom the numbers are huge, even within our congregations. To heal these women is a priority for us as a Church. Dr Burke insists we need to comprehend the desperate circumstances that drive women to seek abortion. We need also to recognise that these emotions remain after abortion.
It was the testimony of women themselves that brought home the true extent of the trauma of abortion. On the 30th anniversary of the Roe vs Wade case which legalised abortion in America the pro-choice lobby were planning a march outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC. Silent No More members arrived an hour before, carry placards saying “I regret my abortion” and “Women need love, not abortion”, and invited women to come to the microphone one by one to give testimonies of how abortion had ruined their lives. Apart from the physical scars and wounds and often permanent damage to their reproductive systems, all the women had suffered mental health problems. Anger, suicidal urges, terrible self-esteem, and of course, profound spiritual wounds, including the fear of damnation, had all been carried deep in these women’s hearts.
Rachel’s Vineyard is the name given to a retreat programme for anyone who has suffered the pain of losing a baby because of an abortion. It welcomes not only mothers but also sometimes fathers or grandparents who also feel the effects, and even people in the abortion industry (and the point was well made that it is an industry with a powerful lobby).
Based on scriptural meditations, the celebration of Confession, Mass and sacramentals, and some powerful symbolic rituals, over 40 hours the retreatants are encouraged to unburden themselves of the terrible secret which has bound them for so long, to face the truth of what they have done, and to learn that there can be forgiveness for it. It addresses the paradox which Dr Burke says those who live with such pain face, on the one hand wanting “to bury abortion related memories and run away from the feelings”, and on the other having “a desperate hunger to find an outlet for the pain, to find reconciliation, understanding, peace and healing”. She is clear that this healing comes from Christ. There now are between 600 and 700 such retreats conducted worldwide annually and the hope is that they will grow in England.
It was thought-provoking and moving to hear how large numbers of the women who have been through this trauma and found healing become not only the most powerful advocates to oppose the pro-choice lobby; they also become very good Catholics seeking to live their faith fully according to the mind of Christ. They are “a piece of new evangelisation in a culture of death”, for they embody the Gospel message that only Christ brings forgiveness and life from sin and death. I loved the simple mission statement which introduces Rachel’s Vineyard: “Our hope is that in Christ the past need not stain the present or dictate the future.” Even the horror of abortion will finally only be countered with love.