by Michelle Herberger
Several years ago, when watching a film on post abortion healing, a woman who had had an abortion spoke something that continues to influence my desire to see people healed from their experience of abortion. She said, “I made the choice to terminate life and continued to do so by my self-destructive behavior. Finally, I heard a voice within that told me I’d destroyed life long enough, it was time to live.” That was a very strong respect life statement and one of which I had not considered. Post abortion healing is a respect life issue.
Current statistics reveal that one in four women in the United States will have an abortion by age forty-five. Feelings of hopelessness are often the case of those who have experienced abortion. Pope Francis is particularly reaching out to women, realizing that many were under tremendous pressure from significant people in their lives to terminate their pregnancy. Often, these women felt as though they had no choice.
For several years, I have had an opportunity to meet with women through Project Rachel, a confidential post abortion ministry and have seen the devastation abortion has caused to those who have experienced it. Many women develop coping mechanisms that can allow them to continue on with their everyday life following the abortion. As a result, it can take years before a woman begins to face and deal with the consequences of her abortion.
According to the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, there are several coping mechanisms that are common among women who have had one or more abortions. I have seen these firsthand in my experience of listening to the stories of women in Project Rachel. Women can “rationalize” their decision by telling themselves that the baby is better off. Often, they can “repress” their feelings by saying that although it was a difficult decision, they would do it again given the same circumstances. Or, perhaps they felt as though there was no other choice and they were being forced to have an abortion. This reflects the felt hopelessness of their situation. Occasionally, women will attempt to “compensate” for their abortion by being overly involved in church activities, working in the pro-life movement, becoming a super mom, or other high achievement activities. Under all this “success,” I have witnessed much shame and self-loathing. Some who are quite vocal in the pro-choice movement may actually be reacting to their own pain regarding their abortion. It’s as though they are trying to convince themselves that their choice was indeed a good choice.
There are several possibilities for those who have had an abortion to experience healing, forgiveness, and hope. The Archdiocese offers Project Rachel, a confidential, one-to-one ministry, whereby the individual meets with someone who will walk with her through some steps toward healing, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation for Catholics.
The Archdiocese can also refer to neighboring dioceses in Kentucky for a weekend retreat experience, Rachel’s Vineyard. Little Way Pregnancy Resource Center offers a scripture study, “Forgiven and Set Free” which is a ten week, small group process for women. Although the program is not specifically Catholic, the group will be facilitated by Catholic women who have been trained and volunteer at the Center. Together, these ministries become part of a “menu” of healing ministries available to those who have experienced abortion.
One unspoken tragedy of abortion is that in many ways, the one who has experienced an abortion “loses” her own life as well to feelings of shame and guilt, failing to allow herself to grieve the loss of her child and move to a place of hope. The first step on the road to healing is realizing the need for healing. As seen through the actions of Pope Francis, the Church stands ready to extend the Lord’s unending love and mercy to those who seek it.
To speak to someone confidentially about an abortion and to discern a healing option, please call: 502-471-2155 or email: ProjectRachel@archlou.org