Abortion is surrounded with a cloud of unrealities and untruths. Some of this is because of emotional distress. Some of it is because of omissions and lies. It is an evil that seldom speaks its name. Sometimes it is called “choice.” Sometimes it is called a “procedure.” Sometimes it is called “women’s healthcare rights.”
In reality it always ends a human life. An expectant mother does not cease to be a mother because she has had an abortion. Many women realize this afterwards and bitterly regret their choice. They feel ashamed and guilty. They feel devalued and exploited. They feel worthless and depressed. Some can even feel that God will never forgive them for what they have done.
Project Rachel is a ministry to women and men who have been involved in abortion. It is a network of specially trained priests, religious sisters or brothers, counselors, and laypersons who care for those suffering the aftermath of abortion.
In addition to referring for sacramental Reconciliation, the ministry provides a variety of services, including pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats, and referrals to licensed mental health professionals. It is open to people of all faiths or of no faith. We are fortunate in this diocese to have a chapter of our own (https://www.diocs.org/Respect-Life/Post-Abortion-Healing).
No sin is unforgivable. The worst sin ever committed in human history was the crucifixion and death of the Incarnate Son of God. Yet even from the cross Christ spoke words of forgiveness. He speaks those words still.
It can be difficult for a woman to hear them in the wake of an abortion. Her emotions can blot out any other awareness. Over and above her guilt, she can feel anger at having been lied to. She can feel disconnected from her family and friends, even from God. Many find themselves silently speaking to the child they have lost.
The reaction may not be as intense for the man. He may have participated in the act by providing payment or transportation. He may have insisted on the abortion. And he may in time come to realize what he has done. Or, alternatively, he may not have participated. He may have had nothing to say about the survival of his child and he may be suffering a full-scale grief.
In either case, family members and friends may be aware of the situation, wishing to be supportive but not knowing how to be.
Anyone who reaches out to Project Rachel will first of all encounter people who care, people who show compassion. The ministry does not pile on guilt. It knows it is dealing with brokenness and regret. It does not seek to compound these. Instead it offers welcome and graciousness.
A first need may be one for reconciliation. Project Rachel involves priests who are trained to deal with this need gently. They embody the mercy and love of Jesus himself. As the penitent names her or his sin, its evil can be burdensome, but Jesus always forgives.
Since 1973 when the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, an estimated twenty-eight million women in the United States have had one or more abortions. These were women who were challenged and stressed by the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. The people on whom they normally would rely for support in difficult circumstances were unable, unwilling or unavailable to help with the crisis pregnancy. Boyfriends said they weren’t ‘ready for fatherhood.’ Or husbands said they weren’t ready for another child. A woman who lacks the willing support and encouragement of the father to help raise the child is more likely to choose abortion.
It is possible that this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court may restrict or even overturn the Roe decision. Whatever the court decides will create its own cultural and political challenges. One thing that it will not change is the heartbreak of women who regret their decisions to have an abortion. Project Rachel is there to help. Our God is a God of mercy and compassion. With him there is always a welcome for the repentant, and the Church seeks to embody that welcome.