Project Rachel: Healing the Wounds of Abortion

Author: John Mallon

Project Rachel: Healing the Wounds of Abortion:

An interview with Vicki Thorn and Father Blair Raum

By John Mallon

(c) 1995, The Sooner Catholic

Having appeared in three parts in the April 9, April 23, and May 21 editions of the Sooner Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

Two nationally-known authorities on post-abortion counseling recently reassured attendees at a day-long project Rachel workshop in Oklahoma City that yes, indeed, the Church longs for the return and reconciliation of its members who have procured, assisted or undergone abortions.

"The Church definitely wants them in the Church," said Nick Bagileo, director of the office of family life, sponsor of the workshop. "In so doing, the Church is like Christ going after the one lost sheep."

Victoria Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, and Father Blair Raum, a priest from the archdiocese of Baltimore, with doctoral degrees in counseling and ministry, presented the workshop to about 75 counselors and priests at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center March 28.

Thorn spent the morning discussing the different psychological effects of abortion on women who have had them, on parents of children who have had them, on men who fathered the aborted children, and on the siblings of the aborted children.

In one example she told of a young boy with a broken arm who, after overhearing his parents discussing aborting a child with possible birth defects, asked if this meant they were going to get rid of him because he was no longer perfect.

Thorn went on to discuss the effects of abortion on abortion providers. She said it often results in a great deal of depression, anger and mean-spiritedness. She pointed to the example of Bernard Nathanson, once an abortionist himself, who was converted and has become an outspoken pro-life activist.

Raum instructed workshop attendees in an eight-step psychological and sacramental pastoral counseling method designed to bring those affected by abortion back to the Church and back to health.

Bagileo said Raum's approach is the Church's approach. "The whole point is to make us whole, to make us one with God again. Those who have had abortions need to know that there is hope, that there is always life with Christ."

He said the conference was well-received and informative. "For some people there, there wasn't an awareness of the severity of the effects of abortion, not only on women, but on all the parts of the family."

Project Rachel is an organization founded to help men and women with post-abortion healing and reconciliation. Bagileo said that Project Rachel counselors are available locally and can be contacted by calling 405-721-8944. National referrals are available by calling 1-800-5WE-CARE

The following is an interview with Thorn and Raum conducted after their Oklahoma City workshop.

Let's say that a woman picked up The Sooner Catholic this weekend, perhaps she's had an abortion and has had some second thoughts. But maybe, as you said today, she feels the Church may not be welcoming to her, or she has some guilt, shame or fear about coming to the Church with her burden. What do you say to a woman in this position? What should she know about Project Rachel?

Vicki Thorn: I would want her to know that the people involved in Project Rachel have been trained to understand the dilemma that she's faced with, and the pain that she's carrying, so that she could come in confidence in knowing that these are people who understand what her journey is, has been, and where she's going. I'd also tell her that the Church has been very concerned about this from early on, while in the public eye the Church appears to be judgmental and angry about the abortion issue. In fact from the very beginning the bishops have called for this ministry of reconciliation and healing for people who's lives have been changed by an abortion experience. When abortion occurs their life is never ever the same again. The bishops recognize this and that's a piece of the puzzle that people don't know about. The Church cares so much that there is a special Project Rachel where people are prepared for this ministry. So it's safe to come home. And it's safe to come and to seek help in making sense out of this experience.

Father Blair Raum: I would want to emphasize the openness and the availability of this ministry to her when she's ready to avail herself of it. There may be considerable apprehension, there may be fear even, particularly fear of being judged, fear of being condemned, fear of not being accepted by her Church because she may perceive that everything she's done in having the abortion has gone against the teaching of the Church. And that perception would be correct. She has. But she may conclude from that that the Church would not want to welcome her home, or not want to be part of her life anymore. So I would want her to know the Church is ready to assist her and support her in God's healing work in her life, to restore her to the person God wants her to be. The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.

In your talks you made a distinction between the general pro-life movement and Project Rachel. For example, you said that the people who picket clinics are the people on the front lines of a war but you compare Project Rachel to a MASH unit. Could you elaborate on that?

Fr. Blair: Well, the basic thrust of the pro-life movement is to keep the pro-life agenda in the forefront of the American public, and to help to neutralize and overcome the culture of death that's heading us to self-destruction. To do that they're in an adversary position, and an adversary context, debating, if you will, the pro-life/pro-death positions. And if you're going to be a soldier in a war you have to be totally focused, you have to be somewhat hardened, you have to be totally committed. You have to be somewhat hard, and I mean that in a good sense. You're committed to get in there and fight it out to the end. Project Rachel is very sympathetic and supportive with the pro-life movement, because after all, if they win, we win. The idea is for them to go out of business and for us to go out of business so that none of us are needed anymore. We're not going to win unless they win. So we're supportive of the pro-life effort. But at the same time our piece of the story is a different piece. We're not in the war, we're behind the front lines. We're dealing with women who have had abortions, who need healing, need reconciliation and essentially need a safe place where they can come and reconnect with God, with themselves, with their baby, with their family, with their husbands, with the Church. They need a safe place where they can work through their issues and experience the healing grace of God. A safe place is not a war. You have to protect them, almost, from the battle. Isolate them, just like you would in a hospital unit, so that they can receive the healing that they need.

One of the interesting things is that Project Rachel is not just for women. Often the men who are involved have issues and mourning and grief to deal with. Can you tell us something about that?

Vicki: The fathers you see initially are the ones who tried to prevent the abortion, who were opposed to it, and they have an almost immediate reaction. They'll call within hours or days of this abortion occurring and they're very angry that they were cut out of the decision, that their child was lost however this thing unfolded--whether her parents made a decision or she made a decision and didn't tell him. One of the things about the fathers is their anger is absolutely palpable. It's beyond anger, it's rage. In dealing with them you have to help them process and affirm this anger. It's okay to be angry. But we try to help them channel it because this rage is absolutely bubbling over. And then there's incredible grief that's going on. When I talk to fathers on the phone, I just want to weep. We had a father this week who called and I spent a long time on the phone with him because I was very worried about him. He's an honorable man. He's just an honorable human being who wanted to protect his child. He knew his girlfriend was pregnant and said, "Okay, we'll get married, we were going to get married anyhow. I can support you," the whole thing. And she didn't even tell him. She was with him on Wednesday, and Thursday morning she had the abortion. He saw her three times after that before she told him, and when she told him he just went off the chart in terms of anger and sadness. This was a man whose father died when he was 14 and he kept saying, "I wanted to be a dad to my child." I asked him if he had any idea about the sex of his child and he said, yes, it was a son. I asked, "have you thought about naming your child?" He said, "I did that already. So he knew intuitively what as a parent he needed to do as part of this process. But the grief this man is experiencing is absolutely profound. And you hear the issues. He said, he's a cowboy, he said "when my momma died, I swore I'd never get close to a woman again. And I made a mistake. I did. And now I've lost my child as a result of it. And I'm not ever going to get close to a woman again." How do you help him begin at some point to process this whole thing? As we were talking I said to him "The brokenness in her family has to be pretty profound that she would choose this." It was a good Catholic family with lots of money and I asked what her relationship was with her mother. Well, she hardly spoke to her mother. What about her father? She was very afraid of her father. He had never been in a house where people just didn't communicate with each other.

Again this was kind of beyond the beyond for him and so there were all these issues fomenting for this man, and this incredible grief. He'd thought about suicide. He's not Catholic, but he is Christian, and he said "it's always my opinion that you burn in Hell for that one so I didn't think I should do that." But it was clear that it had been a major temptation for him. He really had to think his way through whether he ought to kill himself as a result of this. And you know when you talk to these fathers, there are guys who are coming right off the abortion experience and they just break your heart. I just wanted to weep on the phone with this man because his story was so painful.

The guys who come later have a little bit of distance. The pain is great but not quite so overwhelming as that immediate death experience that these fathers right afterwards have. But the fathers are very interesting. I think I have experienced some of the most profound pain in all the years I've done this from the fathers I've encountered it in terms of gut wrenching sorrow at what's happened. So it's very interesting to see. The men are really where the women were about 10 years ago. Their pain is really surfacing -- big time. Then there are fathers who are responsible for the abortions, who say, "Yeah, I really pushed and I left town, and I kind of abandoned her," and whatever. They talk about being involved in risk-taking behavior. I met one father who had tried to stop the abortion and he climbed mountains, he broke horses, he rode motorcycles. He was a medical professional. They talk about chemical abuse. All these things are to numb the pain and try to prove their manhood in another way. The anger at women is incredibly profound. Distrust of women. You know, "I'll never get close to another woman again." So the issues that come here are very very complicated. And they just keep surfacing in different fashions.

With the whole rise of the men's movement, groups like Promise Keepers, groups of men coming together to say who they are as men, and what they should be doing, the whole men's awareness movement- -men are entitled to their feelings. That's all well and good, but if you surface one set of feelings, the whole ball of wax is going to come with it and we're going to have men who are very, very upset when they suddenly have permission to feel their feelings and they realize it isn't just nice wonderful feelings, but there are all these sad, angry feelings that are going to come up as well. There's the National Center for Fathering in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, which has this wonderful magazine available for free to men now. We're going to see more and more fathers surfacing in terms of this father's rights issue.

There's a man in Florida who called not long ago. I had never heard of him, he just surfaced out of the blue. He's part of a group called Fact One, Fathers of Aborted Children Together as One. And for several years every Father's Day he stages a 24-hour vigil at the White House. He said, "Someday I will fill Lafayette park with fathers." His sign says something to the effect of "Happy Father's Day, Thanks for the Memory," and has a picture of one of the Baby Does on it. He said, "I will fill Lafayette park. I'm determined, I will do that. He sent a picture from last year-- it's one of those ironic pictures--here's this one man out in front of the White House with all these riot police in full gear with this poor little guy with kind of long hair with his sign, and I'm thinking, "Boy, does he look dangerous. Wow. They're spending a lot of money to protect the White House from this guy." But we're going to see more and more of those fathers.

The grandfathers carry incredible issues with them. They're very angry if there's been an abortion. And I think that those fathers and grandfathers, without supportive care, have the potential to act very rashly in some settings. And we really need to be about diffusing that anger, and listening carefully and helping them process it. I think they have the potential to be dangerous. If somebody's going to do something dumb in a clinic because of their rage, that's it. The grandfathers are off the chart. Grandfathers scare me even more than the fathers do. They are really, really, really, really mad.

It sounds like abortion attacks a basic male instinct to protect his child. It sounds like the man you were speaking about a moment ago was enraged because he was deprived of the opportunity to protect his child.

Vicki: Yes. And it was very interesting because he said he bonded to that baby right away. He said that she told him that she was pregnant and he said he thought about it for a couple of days and said, "Cool! I'm a dad! This is cool!" That's it. He made the transition. He said, "How could she not make that transition?" He just couldn't understand the dynamic that would allow her to go to an abortion clinic and have this abortion and kill his child.

And not come to him either.

Vicki: Yes, and not come to him, even as he was offering to be supportive, you know, to get married. They talked about this. She wasn't a teenager. She was 25, he was 28. It's one of those bizarre phenomena. These men tend to plunge into that father's rights thing long before they're healed. That's almost like their atonement piece of it. They just plunge right into it. There's a group that started a number of years ago for fathers, and both of the fathers who started it were on Ted Koppel and all these shows featuring fathers rights issues. Both of them were very unhealed. One of them subsequently had a heart attack and I don't know where he is. I'm supposed to be on his board but it is as if he has fallen off the face of the earth. And the other guy got sucked into some far out political stuff. I mean this is one broken man. This guy was just heartbroken. He was one of the dads on the video we showed today. It is all so very, very sad. These folks just sucked him right in.

You said they weren't healed yet, but they plunged right into this activism. Could you describe what you mean when you say someone is not healed yet and could you explain the specific healing process?

Fr. Blair: The specific process must be modified by the word "sometimes." This is not equivalent to the Ten Commandments. But it seems to work most of the time when these things happen people move down a continuum of grieving.

When men and women are in an unhealed state, they still have a lot within them that they have not yet come to terms with. That most often includes feelings and emotions that have not been expressed, not been dealt with, not resolved. From a spiritual and social standpoint they often feel very unconnected with other people. So a lot of behavior of the unhealed person involves trying to get connected. But when unhealthy people try to connect with other people--there is a metaphor I like to use, and it's an interesting one here--it is as if they walk around with their umbilical cord in hand looking for someone they can plug it into. Because they want to establish relationships, not out of mutual giving but out of their own need, they come to suck out of you what they need for themselves. In a sense they're like people who feel like they're drowning and they're flailing in the water and if you go to try to save them they'll kill you to save themselves, so you really have to be skilled and know what you're doing in order to help them. From a spiritual point of view, they have not experienced the unconditional love of God in their lives and they feel very unconnected. If they go out and become very activist they basically take their pathology and use that to multiply their own problems into the lives of others. And so they create more problems than they really solve.

Once they have reached a good level of healing, they've come to terms with the issues, they have a handle on things. From a spiritual standpoint, for me, the key is experiencing in their lives the unconditional love of God for them. In spite of everything they have done, even the worst case scenario, if you will, they now have experienced that God still loves them. And, in a sense, having gone through this crucifixion process, their resurrection can be quite profound and the spiritual depth that's achievable is really quite profound. They put me to shame often because I have not suffered as they have suffered and therefore my resurrection may not be quite as profound as theirs.

You spoke movingly about the difficulty priests face when it comes to preaching on this because on the one hand they have to present the Church's position, and to a hurting person that might sound, as you said, doctrinaire and sort of cold blooded and not very pastoral. But then, you followed with something fascinating: When these women or men start to go through the process there's a great deal of anger. When you try to identify who they're angry at it may not be the boyfriend because he didn't know what he was doing. It's not the doctor, the abortionist, he was just doing his job. It intrigued me when you said they're usually angry at people who could have and should have told them the truth about abortion but didn't. Could you elaborate on that?

Fr. Blair: Well, the parish priest, that's who I'll speak to, and having been one myself for 24 years in parish ministry, and as a seminarian that makes 29 years, I'm really familiar with that arena. The parish priest is in a most interesting position because he has to take all of the spirituality, all of the theology, all of the Church rules and regulations. The parish priest has the most interesting challenge to translate the Church's rules, regulations, teachings, doctrine, theology, law, all those things into the lives of his parishioners and into his own life. Of course, that's the challenge of every Catholic. This is one of the greatest challenges in the Church. One of the fine lines the priest must walk in the pro-life arena is, on the one hand, he has to support the Church's very clear teaching about the value of life and present that very clear teaching to his parishioners in his homilies, in confession, in catechesis--wherever he is. And at the same time he has to show compassion and love for those who are hurting after an abortion. Now what makes that a difficult question for him is that she who has had the abortion often hears the very strong pro-life teaching of the Church as a judgment against her. It causes her great pain when she hears that teaching. So priests who preach the pro-life message will sometimes experience people getting up in tears and walking out on the homily. By and large I think priests are some of the most sensitive, loving, caring people God has put on the face of the earth. I would say man for man, as a group, this is probably the most caring group on the face of the earth. When a woman or a man gets up and walks out of church in tears at the pro-life message, he, in his sensitivity, often reads that behavior as "I've hurt somebody. I don't want to be the kind of pastor who's going to be hurting people." Therefore he backs off the message.

What he doesn't realize is that the tears are often part of the healing process. He's not inflicting pain, he's just helping her uncover the pain that's already there and beginning to release the pain. It's part of the healing, it's not part of the problem, it's part of the solution. And preaching the truth begins to help her deal with the truth of her own life, the truth of what she's done and, yes, it may increase her pain level.

I'll tell you in 1985 when I was diagnosed with cancer I felt fine. I had never felt healthier in my entire life. They diagnosed this, they cut me open, they got tissue out, they said "You've got cancer." They dumped poisons in me for seven months and shot me with 4,000 rads of radiation. Now when they got finished with all that I felt terrible! They made me sick. But in order to get better, to get healed, they had to take me, who felt fine, and make me sick in order to make me better. That's something of what it's like in this process as well. That she has to go through the valley of the shadow of death in order to reach the end, and to reach the resurrection, she has to experience that pain. And so the preaching often helps her uncover that. And when priests begin to see that it's part of the solution and not part of the problem, and that preaching the truth always benefits, always brings great grace, even though it may also include great pain, then that really begins to resolve the conflict that he may experience in preaching what he may perceive to be a dual message, but really isn't. And he may begin to be the step that brings a number of people to healing in their lives. That's the difficult challenge of the parish priest.

Vicki: I think it's also important as he preaches to talk about the forgiveness part of it, that nothing is too big for God, because that sometimes is that missing piece for that woman. It kind of brings the two messages together, and I think that's an important part of it. I know a number of priests who, having been trained in Project Rachel, are suddenly given a handle on how to homilize about it and how to come at it in terms of a way that makes sense to them and as to who they are pastorally as sensitive human beings. They not only talk about the loss of that child and the loss of the pregnancy but also about all these other things that happen, and that seems to make a lot of sense to priests. That's a real freeing thing in terms of how they can preach about it.

You also both spoke today about the effects of an abortion on the wider family, that it affects siblings of the aborted child on an intuitive level. It affects the grandparents. You spoke about the grandfathers, maybe you could say something about the grandmothers, and the siblings and other people in the family, maybe even the uncles and aunts of the aborted child.

Vicki: The grandmothers often times will seek me out, I think you've had that experience, too, Father. If I go out to do a talk, the grandmothers come in tears and say, "I'm a grandmother and I don't know what to do with this because my daughter's life is a mess, she had this abortion. I just want to see her healed." Clearly they're carrying this raft of pain as well. And so we have to help the grandparents to process this stuff, probably long before their daughters or sons are ready to process it. In processing and doing their own grieving in terms of dealing with just the anger and the disappointment, the death of a dream when your child becomes pregnant out of wedlock, there are all these dreams you have for your child and those things come crashing down. When these grandparents engage in their own healing journey they're going to be better equipped to journey with their child when their child is ready to do it. We need to talk to them about their need to grieve for the loss of a grandchild and sometimes the loss of their child, because the parents of the aborted baby often distance themselves. There might be some very odd behavior going on, dysfunctional sorts of things. We need to encourage them and say that it's important that you do your healing so that when your daughter or your son is ready you're available to them and you've already processed your pain. We help them grieve and identify that it's their grandchild. They know that but society doesn't give them permission to even think in those terms. Sometimes the grandmothers in particular carry that burden of guilt because they were part of that decision, or they said to their daughter you must do this. They seem to internalize that guilt more than the grandfather. At least in my experience it's the grandmothers who tend to carry that, "Well there should have been something more I could have done," or "I said to her 'You really should do this,' I can't believe I did that. It flew in the face of everything I believed in, but I said that." So they carry this real burden with them.

In terms of the extended family, the impact that abortion has on sisters and brothers of the aborted parent is really profound. Oftentimes I'll have someone who comes and says, "You know my sister had an abortion and I don't know what to do. How can I help or what can I do?" We need to give them permission to grieve. This was a niece or nephew that was lost and they know that, and yet when you say it, it frees them to say, "I guess I'm not crazy that I think about this baby in that fashion." I even see how it unfolds in the family beyond that in terms of my own family. Our family should have a young woman, Maria, who would be 18 now, the age of my oldest daughter, Sophie. She has always really wanted a cousin her own age and couldn't understand why God had gypped her. That was really her expression. And I could never answer that question. Because all her brothers and sisters have cousins the same age and the same sex. When I discovered that Maria had been aborted, it was a painful thing because my daughter lost somebody important, and I lost something important, because I would have been I think very close to this young woman. And so I've been able to watch events unfold as Maria's father asks Sophie's forgiveness for having deprived her of this cousin and to watch now as she's processed this as a young woman. She learned about Maria when she was 17. Maria is Sophie's confirmation name. I asked her why she had chosen that name; it was an obvious question and yet I wanted her to articulate what was going on inside of her. She said, "Because Maria should have been a member of this confirmation class and so she deserves the recognition that she should have been here." And I continue to see that Maria is a very significant part of her life. When we celebrated my daughter's 18th birthday with an at-home Mass, her petition was a prayer of remembrance for Maria. So it plays itself out in terms of that generation.

This has been a significant loss for me and it touches me very deeply. It's a significant loss for my daughter as well, and I've watched it unfold in terms of some of the other kids in the family finding out about it. For them it's a significant loss. It's different than it is for Sophie, because Sophie lost somebody that would have been her best friend. For the other kids this would have been an older cousin kind of thing, but I just watch how this unfolds and the circle of brokenness goes on and on. The kids who found out about this have to cope with the fact that this uncle who, for them is almost an alternate parent, could do this; he spent so much time with these kids and they just love him. They really had to think about what that meant. And I know it raised some questions for them in terms of "well now what?" One of the nieces asked the question of him while this was being discussed, "Are you sorry that you did that? Would you do that again?" This is a 12 year-old who's asking these very hard questions about what this means. This doesn't fit with this loving person I know, and how could this happen?

So that circle of brokenness goes on and on. Children who lose siblings suffer survivor syndrome, just like if there were another death from leukemia or a car accident, and they carry with them almost existential guilt--why did I survive when my sibling was lost here? And I think they can't even begin to process the implications that a parent--their parent--could make this kind of decision that would end the life of a sibling. I think that puts them in a real state of anxiety of needing to forget a piece of information they know.

Doctor Ed Sheridan who is a psychiatrist at Georgetown talked about the fact that he had seen children who had learned about an abortion experience who developed a learning disability. They had to block this bit of information about the abortion, but in blocking that they ended up blocking a few other things. That was something he saw quite frequently in his practice with children who knew about the abortions in their family. He also sees children who come in with presenting problems who will draw pictures of missing people. "Who is that?" "Well that's my best friend." And the missing child should be the age of a child that had been lost to abortion, but this child does not have that information, but in asking the parents about it, the parents acknowledge that there was an abortion and that this child should be eight or seven or however old. And this other surviving child intuitively is aware of that. So that circle of impact goes on and on and on and on.

In terms of my own experiences, there was another abortion in our family, and for a long time I suspected this to be the case. I'd been given a lot of clues by the couple involved, but the story had never been told. A number of times I almost asked the question. This went so far as to have a coffee cup in my hand and to say to my husband, "This is it. I'm going to go ask the question." And something would always happen. This summer as this couple now was expecting the birth of their first child, I made the decision that I would have the opportunity to raise the question with the father involved and simply said to him, "I have reason to believe that you are an aborted father. And I need to say to you that if this is the case you must, I want to invite you to, finish your grieving before this baby is born so that you're free to really bond to this child." I was right, but my own experience with this is very interesting because I thought that the mother of this baby was someone different than it truly is. And in my own processing of this--I'm still processing it--I discovered that instead of this baby being in its 20s, which is my mental state, this baby would be right after Sophie, which means when my child was saying "Why don't I have cousins?" she indeed had cousins on both sides of her. I can't process that. I have a very objective view of it, almost like an out-of-body experience. I'm looking at myself saying "Isn't that interesting?" I can't think about whether it was a boy or girl. I don't have this relationship with this baby that I do with Maria. I'm very distant and it's as though I can't bring myself to deal with it. Because two of my kids are impacted in that, a son who also has a girl cousin his age but no boy cousin. My belief is and the baby's father thinks also that this was a son. So right here in the middle of these two kids is another child missing as a result of an abortion. And I've not processed that yet. So here it is on a very personal level and I'm able to look at this and say "Isn't that interesting? Her denial is real great there. I wonder why she has such a problem with that?" But I know it's because of this other piece. This is the other half. This is that other cousin. There were two cousins that she had that got lost in this whole process. So how does that play itself out in the next ripple of the rest of the family knowing, the grandparents knowing? The grandparents don't know at this point. The other aunts and uncles do know. There are some other abortions in there that have now unfolded because of people telling the truth and beginning to do their healing. It's all very complicated. And the long-term implications are just phenomenal. And we all get touched. We just don't know who in our circle of loved ones or friends have had abortions.

It's almost hard to imagine nowadays that there is any family untouched.

Vicki: I believe every family's been touched. Whether it's in terms of a child who's had an abortion, or a niece or a nephew that's had an abortion, or the spouse of a child that's been involved in an abortion experience. I think every family in America has been touched.

Part 2

Editor's note: This is the continuation of an in depth interview with Mrs. Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, a healing ministry of the Church for bringing healing and reconciliation to men and women suffering grief and remorse from the trauma of a past abortion. Fr. Blair Raum, Ph.D has recently been released by his bishop, William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore to work with Project Rachel full-time. In our last edition of the Sooner Catholic we discussed the devestating effects of abortion on the abortive parents and the extended family. In this segment we discussed how it is dealt with (and not dealt with) by the helping professions and the need to reexamine approaches taken by the larger pro-life community. The interview will conclude next issue.

Fr Blair, you've said the psychological community has not come to recognize post-abortion syndrome as something that should be listed in the DSM-IIIR, but you related it to post-traumatic stress disorder. Could you speak about that as a diagnosis of what's happening here?

Fr. Blair: Unfortunately, the APA, the American Psychiatric Association, is influenced greatly by political issues. So at their conventions and meetings where they plan for and prepare the diagnostic manuals, the APA has taken the political position of being pro-choice, which already biases their view of looking at post-traumatic stress disorder, post-abortion specified, that's how you would diagnose it from their manuals. But they publicly deny the fact that there's any problem with abortion aftermath, rather than take a neutral position and make us prove it to them.

Those who have done research in the area, and can present good research can't even get published. So it's a political issue and the problem is that the profession is supposed to be a healing profession. So they've really compromised their basic mission of healing in favor of a political position.

Now given that, that does not stop the mental health professional from seeing this clinically. The problem is the mental health professional may not be looking for it because they may not think it exists. So he may see the symptoms but not know how to add it up. One of my former clients of Project Rachel came to me, she had an abortion, she was in great personal distress over it, so she checked herself into a mental hospital. In individual therapy she told the doctor, "I've had an abortion and I can't deal with it." The doctor was the one who couldn't deal with it. He said, "Well, it's probably predisposing psychological factors"--which to some degree it can be. He had all kinds of reasons why the abortion wasn't the problem. He wasn't listening to what she was saying. He was following the prevailing political theory. In group therapy the therapists consistently steered her around the abortion as the problem. And finally she thought to herself, "These people are not going to help me. The only thing I can do is feign health and get out of here." And that's exactly what she did. She acted healthy. They thought they had solved the problem, they let her go, they had discharged her, and when I wrote for her records they had written on the bottom of her records, "but we're not sure if our treatment was helpful because we're not sure if she was healed or if she just played an act to get out of the hospital." So even they sensed that she may not be authentic. She came to see me and said, "My problem is I got an abortion and I can't deal with it." And then we dealt with it. And that's when her symptoms began to be relieved as she worked through the process and was healed. So the mental health professionals today who follow the APA perspective may not be able to add up the symptoms in an appropriate way to come to an understanding of where she's coming from. And it is not a good service to the client when that happens.

It sounds like this woman was healthy enough to have the presence of mind to seek further help.

Fr. Blair: Yes, she knew what was wrong with her. She knew when the symptoms started and she knew why she was feeling the way she was. She didn't have the resources to work her way through the healing as oftentimes we cannot self-heal. But she had a sense about what was going on with her and what she needed.

But wouldn't be bullied that abortion wasn't her problem.

Fr. Blair: She was searching for help and she was determined she was going to find it. And if they weren't going to give it to her she was going to do what she had to do to get it.

Vicki: These women have a clear sense of what needs to be done many times. They know what the problem is. I had a woman who called Project Rachel in Milwaukee who had been in a psychiatric hospital many times with massive depression and suicide attempts. She knew that her abortion was the problem and she wanted to discuss it. She kept bringing it up. She kept getting the same psychiatrist and he made it quite clear to her that he was the father of two aborted babies and he didn't think that was her problem.

Another anecdotal story someone shared with me was of a male therapist who was helping a father go through a miscarriage experience and the miscarriage father was grieving a great deal. And after the miscarried father left the office the therapist didn't come out, and his fellow therapists became concerned. They came in and found the man just sobbing and sobbing. Well, what happened is the miscarried father's grief had touched the therapist's grief as an aborted father and he had never touched his own grief. So there's also that element in that community, just because of the sheer numbers.

We also have people whose own abortion issues are under wraps. And to give somebody else permission to deal with their pain directly impacts their own experience that might be unhealed. So I think you've got a kind of two-fold kind of thing going, it's not politically correct, but it might also be personally too painful to allow someone else to discuss that, so they tend to go with the "let's talk about your symptoms, oh you have a drinking problem, well we'll deal with your drinking problem. Oh your marriage is coming apart, well, we'll deal with that." The people who are seeking help keep saying, "I want to talk about my abortion. The professionals are saying, "No, we don't want to talk about your abortion."

It sounds like a whole segment of the profession is in denial.

Fr. Blair: The whole society is in denial. I find consistent experience with clients whenever the presenting problem is, whatever the diagnosis is, often if they're in the right atmosphere with the right support and the right safety and the right caring and the right empathy, they will be able to search out what their solution is.

Vicki: Because we have an 800 referral line, we can find people help anyplace in the country, and it always amazes me that the women who call have a sense of at least some of the things they need to do. So if you just ask them, what they have done in terms of resolution, they'll say I did X, Y and Z. They intuitively knew that those were things they needed to do. Are there pieces missing? Yes there are, but it's this drive toward wholeness and this intuitive sense that this was a life event that's got to be reconciled. It is always amazing to me to see how these people, on their own, have put many of these pieces in place just intuitively. They instinctively have taken care of some of these pieces. It's one of the things I see going on, all of a sudden. Maybe it's a new awareness.

But even in terms of the pro-life message, there is that question of how to speak our message. I think that's very important because, as Father Blair says, you've got front line people, but we are no longer speaking to the same group we were speaking to 20-22 years ago. Then we were speaking to a naïve group. A minimal number of people had abortions. A minimal number of people had even thought about it. It wasn't a topic that people were even conscious of. Now we've moved to a new place where people, influential people, will say, "Well of course, everybody knows it's a life because medical science has made that quite clear, but that's an irrelevant point because it's about whether I want to be responsible for that life, so it's my choice about responsibility." Jill Clayburgh says that in a book, and I think it's very articulate, but we have this great gray middle in terms of the pro-life, pro-abortion, pro-choice spectrum of people who say they're "personally opposed but . . ."

I've done a whole lot of things in the pro-life movement. I've been a crisis pregnancy counselor, I've worked in Church education, I've worked with state right-to-life groups, worked nationally, and we always tend to say that we don't know what to do with those people who adamantly say they're "personally opposed but . . ."

What I've come to discover over the past about two years is that many of these people, if we talk to them about abortion's aftermath, will finally risk telling you that this "personally opposed..." is about the fact, and the "but..." is "my loved one has had an abortion." "My mother, my best friend, my aunt, whoever, and I don't know what to make of that. So in my own personal code of ethics, abortion is unacceptable, so I say I'm personally opposed. I could never do that. But I love this person and I don't know what to make of the fact that they had to make this decision. And so I have to believe that they're basically a good person, and there must have been some compelling thing that made them have to choose abortion, so I have to take the stance that I'm 'personally opposed but...." which keeps them fixed in this sort of middle area where they don't deal with it.

When we can very gently present this side that talks about abortion's aftermath, and what it does to the family, and how people grieve, and what impacts the siblings and relationships, these people suddenly are freed to look at what happened to their loved one. And when we talk about the pressures that are placed on these people, whether it's the medical profession saying "you have to do this because this is an unhealthy pregnancy, it's not going to be a healthy baby," or parental pressures, or social pressures, or whatever, when we do that we free these people who are in this gray area to really be able, for the first time, to examine what that abortion experience meant in the bigger picture of the family system.

I am convinced that as people involved in getting the message out, we have to start doing that more often. Because these people are stuck and we in the pro-life movement tend to sort of pooh-pooh these people. I think we have to be much more gentle with them in this invitation. As people who are committed to life we need to engage those people in conversation.

I think sometimes we grow impatient and don't want to talk to them. Rather, we need to say, "Why do you feel that way? Do you know someone who's had an abortion?" Because if we keep our mouths shut and invite the story then they can begin the process of being able to make sense out of it. And we may be the first person who's ever invited them to tell their story. And so I think that's part of re-tailoring the pro-life message -- that invitation to hear the stories.

There are so many people who are wounded. And we're cutting them off because we're coming on in such a fashion as to be so doctrinaire that we can't take time to hear the story. We're compelled to get our own piece of the message out there. We can't be heard. We're not dealing with the same group. These are not naïve people. These are people whose lives have been touched by abortion. I had a whole string of these experiences about a year and a half ago and it was just amazing the consistency of the whole thing.

The most recent one occurred when Father Blair and I were in Poland in September and went into the hotel office. While I was waiting to take care of some business, there was a woman there from Australia who spoke fluent English. She asked what I was doing there and I told her. She was not part of our conference. She just worked at the hotel. I began to talk about abortion's aftermath and how I worked with the Church. And she kept saying "I can't believe the Church cares. I never thought the Church cared about that. Why, that's just amazing to me." She asked me all these questions. This little dialogue went on about half an hour and at the end of it she said to me, "You know, my mother had an abortion after I was born. I've never ever thought about what that might mean to my mother." I knew that she was suddenly in a different spot. She was suddenly looking at this whole experience in a very different way because of our conversation. But it's that ability to spend that little bit of time and draw out her story. I was willing to answer her questions without any judgments. I was just willing to answer whatever questions she had for me. And I think maybe that's the way we need to go because the pro-life movement has been perceived with such anger that people are afraid. They're really hesitant to even approach. We are supposed to be the lovers of the world. We're talking about loving all of life from conception to natural death, and if anything's been lost because of the frustration of what's going on in the pro-life movement, I think it's that ability to just love people and to just be present to people and to invite their stories.

Right now in Boston, since the shootings in the Brookline clinics, the tension on the street is incredible. In the last Sooner Catholic we had a story about an elderly man who has been going to the clinics for years to pray. Allegedly a woman from the other side threw hot coffee on him. He jolted and hit her in the mouth with his cane, maybe accidentally, maybe instinctively, it hasn't been determined yet. A lot of people are realizing that something has to be done to avoid more tragedy but many people feel torn between following Cardinal Law's call for a moratorium, or following the call they sense to be present to pray. That's what this man was doing when this altercation took place, he was part of a rosary group. There's tremendous tension. Is the approach you speak of a solution, an avenue, that all this has to take to avoid more hostile polarization?

Vicki: Yes, I think we have to be keenly aware of the fact that we're now dealing with armed camps on both sides. There was an article I believe it was in Glamour magazine interviewing an abortionist who talked about the fact that he was armed. He regularly carried a gun and he wore a bullet proof vest, and his house was built as a fortress. So we're seeing this arming of two camps and seeing two sets of very angry people, both very wounded.

You can't be an abortionist, a physician, or a health care provider very long without having that get to you on some level. We see, for instance, that at the National Abortion Rights Action League conference every year there are special stress management workshops helping them deal with the fact that alcoholism is a problem, divorces are a problem, nightmares are a problem--these things are going on. So I think that this ability to step back and to listen and love is certainly part of that kind of response. The other thing is something a woman from Virginia, I believe, shared with me. A group of potential adoptive parents have taken a very interesting tack. They go to the abortion clinics, set up a table, bright colors, balloons, coffee, brochures, talking about adoption, about the different kinds of adoption, and giving some portraits of some potential adoptive parents. These are potential adoptive parents who are just there as a kind and gentle presence. And the response they've received from the police is incredible. One woman officer asks to be detailed now to them when they're there because they're just cool people.

It's a different sort of thing. In the few weeks that they've been there--they go once a month -- the have had eight women change their mind because this was a positive, not angry, different approach that really struck people as novel, but also really provided an answer.

Here are adoptive parents who are saying to these women, "We want to be parents, we're willing to take your children." I think those are the kinds of things that we need to be doing.

We've almost entered into the specter of death in the kinds of protests that go on and I think we can get sucked into that ominous, depressive, angry frustration that leads us into violence. I think it's time to regroup in terms of prayer, in terms of saying to God, "exactly what is it that we're about? Who are we as Christians? And how do we need to get the message out there?" Because clearly the message we're getting out there isn't necessarily working with this question of violence on both sides.

There are people whose lives have been broken by abortions, who are out there saying "no way, no how, I'm going to stop abortions." Many of the people who are doing clinic protection will say, "I've had an abortion, it was a good thing," are keeping their own issues under wraps and this is a recipe for disaster. You know, we've reached that point now, we're at critical mass where there's so much woundedness that it's going to spill over. It's not going to stay under wraps any longer.

And this is probably exactly Cardinal Law's point.

Vicki: I think there was a great deal of fear on his part that this was going to escalate beyond this and that there would be more massacre in terms of more lives being lost at the clinics. I think in a pastoral sense he had to say that. I think he saw what was going on. And we don't know what Cardinal Law was privy to that we're not privy to. He's simply not in a position to say, "hey guys, you ought to know." We need to trust that judgment. These are not foolish men and these are not men who respond carelessly. Certainly Cardinal Law's track record as being pro- life and in offering some very creative approaches to pro-life issues has been very important. The women affirming life group, that began in his diocese. There's been a lot of leadership going on there.

Part 3

Editors Note: Herewith is the conclusion of our three part interview with Father Blair Raum and Mrs. Vicki Thorn of Project Rachel, a ministry for healing and reconciliation for people suffering the wounds of a past abortion. Part one ran in our Issue of April 9, and part two in our issue of April 23. It did not run in the May7 issue so we could devote all available space to the tragic bombing at the Murrah Federal Building.

Let me ask you, Father, about women in their 60s and 70s who are suddenly coming to terms with an abortion, or abortions in their life. This is interesting because all these sides of the story are coming forth which we don't often think about, such as effects on the men involved. The stereotypical person traumatized by abortion is a woman in her teens or 20s or 30s. We tend to forget about the men and the grandparents. Could you say something, Father, about the people 60 and over who are coming to terms with abortion in their lives?

Fr. Blair Raum: One of the blessings that has come out of the great tragedy of abortion is that we are gaining a great deal in our understanding of what happens to a person after an abortion. And also what some of the things are that need to happen for healing to take place. Take for example, the woman who is in her mid-60s, like the client I mentioned in my talk today, who had seven abortions in her late teens and early 20s. These were all pre-Roe v. Wade, they were all illegal abortions, they were all what we might today call "back alley" abortions, none of them were sanctioned and even when she began to feel some of the aftermath from her abortion, nobody had the slightest idea what to do with it, and in fact nobody wanted to hear that she had an abortion. Because it was thought of in those days as being such a horrible thing, that she would never think about telling it to anybody, other than a confessor in confession, much less look to somebody to help her for healing, because we hadn't a clue what to do with her.

One of the great liberations, if you will, for her is that now that we've come to this place where we do understand more and more about it...we still have a lot to learn, of course, and by the way, most of our learning comes from the women who've had abortions. They're the teachers, and we're the learners here. We may have the degrees and look like big shots, but she's really the one who's the teacher. We always have to keep that in mind. But now that there's somebody who has some understanding of what has happened to her, and offers it to her, or she perceives that it's offered to her, she can come forward and begin to deal with it. She's not even sure what it means. She doesn't have the vocabulary about it herself, as do most post-war women. They don't know at first what it is they're dealing with. But she can come forward and say, "I've had these abortions and I hurt. Can you help me? Will you accept me? Will you hear my story?" We are now in a better position to help her. So we may see more and more post- abortive men and women in their older years coming forward. And now, we're seeing them for the first time, not because they've been resisting it all these years, it is just that nobody knew how to help them.

It was so unacceptable to have an abortion in those days she thought she would surely be judged and condemned. In those days she probably would have. In the example I used today, she heard a priest say that if you've had an abortion, we don't want you in the Catholic Church. Maybe in the 40s that was a prevailing opinion -- that you were basically going to hell on a skateboard if you had an abortion. The idea for preventing abortions in those days was scare the hell out of people. Literally scare the hell out of people so they wouldn't do it. But now we're in a much different world and a much different Church and we know a lot more. We go much more for understanding than intimidation. Now we are equipped so she might be ready to take that risk and come forward and say "Can you help me? Will you listen to me? Am I really going to hell?" The answer is, "Good possibility you're not. Let's talk."

Vicki: I had a couple of people like that. I had one woman who wrote to us asking if there was Project Rachel in the state where she lived and identified herself as being 70 some years old. She had carried the burden of this abortion for 50 years, so I gave her a referral for Project Rachel in her area. With some of these cases you don't know how it plays out, but this was interesting because a year later I got a letter from her thanking me for giving her this referral. But she had a final question. Her question was if I could please give her the names of some people who knew they were forgiven after an abortion and were going to heaven, because her husband had now died and her two sisters had now died along with her two children who had been aborted and she was looking for some reassurance that she might still have a chance of going to heaven to see them. Of course, that's a little bit tough because my communion of saints folks don't write letters, you know? But for all those years she carried this incredible burden because she didn't know what to do with it until she heard about Project Rachel.

Another very personal story was of someone I had known for years in a working relationship. We had worked in a building together. She was retired at that point and knew everybody in the diocese and so she did fund raising. I went to her house one day and thanked her for doing this and she shared with me that she had had an abortion as a young woman in her late teens or early 20s, nobody in her family knew, this was her secret, but she had done her healing, she had gone to confession, but she had also found another woman who had had an abortion and together as younger women they had worked through this whole process. But her response was, "I'm so glad you're doing what you're doing." It's such an awful place to be. And that one was one of those situations that caught me completely by surprise. The important thing to remember is that we don't know who has had abortions, and sometimes the most unlikely in our thought process are the very people who hurt the most. So we have to be very cautious--and conscious--of what we say about this issue because we don't know who's listening. We don't know that the person we're sitting at a table with, who seems like such an unlikely candidate, hasn't had an abortion. How do we love that person to wholeness and how do we come off as somebody they could share that story with so they're not alone?

Fr. Blair: I'm sure if that priest, many years ago, had known he was affecting this woman in that way for 45 years -- living in condemnation for that long period of time, for what he probably thought was an offhanded remark was going to affect her that way he would probably repent in sack cloth and ashes and do whatever he could to release that. He probably had no idea.

Vicki: The other half of that is that, priests not understanding the severity of the aftermath, may in great compassion attempt to dismiss people's pain, not intentionally, but say, "go and sin no more." We had a case of that in our office, an old woman again, who identified herself as being an old woman, had gone to confession many years ago and had been dismissed. It wasn't that father said you're going to hell, he just said, oh well, okay, here's absolution, be on your way. All these years she had dealt with this pain which was much more severe than how he treated it. She called our office -- there were two of us there that day -- and I overheard the diocese, there was not a Project Rachel there, but I called the diocese while this was going on and asked for the name of a good confessor. They gave me the name of somebody they considered to be a good confessor. I gave it to the woman who was talking to her on the phone, she said we've called the diocese, here's a referral, and this woman said, "I wouldn't go talk to that priest if he was the last priest in the diocese because that's the priest who dismissed my pain all those years ago." Whoa, excuse me!

Maybe he had a reputation for compassion.

Vicki: Right. He was very gentle and he responded out of compassion, but his response did not match the seriousness of how she perceived it. We're not faulting him, he was doing his best pastorally, but he didn't understand that what she was telling him really needed some very serious attention.

Fr. Blair: She might have heard his response to mean that what she was saying wasn't being taken very seriously.

Vicki: I think that was it. What are the chances of that whole scenario playing itself out that way? I get the name of the guy she's telling us about. And she's seeking more help.

Maybe the priest in the 40s used the intimidation model trying to scare women away from an action that was contemplated, but didn't know that it had already taken place.

* * *

We now have adults living who were born after Roe v. Wade went through. In other words people who would be 22-23 years old today. Do you see anything significant or different that stands out in this generation that grew up never knowing a time when abortion was illegal? Is this generation having abortions or is there a backlash against abortion among them? What are you seeing among this new young generation?

Vicki: I'm seeing both of those things, interestingly enough. I'm seeing that there's some incredibly wonderful leadership growing up among college students, so they'd be the next generation that grew up right after Roe v. Wade. I think they are very articulate pro-life leadership. And they're keenly aware that it's their generation that has been lost. And that's new. It wasn't the same a few years ago. The college students that were leadership people previously were coming out of a different place, more idealistic. With this group today, it's not the idealism, it's that they have been directly affected by this and feel they've got to do something about it. I'm also still seeing them having abortions though. But they are such wounded people.

There is a stereotype that there's a calculated decision and it's not a big deal. But when you talk to these young women what you discover is that this was a horrendous deal and they're very wounded. They tell you stories and your heart breaks. These aren't women just casually having sex and going about their lives with this as a form of birth control. They are in awful circumstances. The women who are still choosing this are finding themselves in terrible, terrible circumstances. Just recently I went through this with a friend of my daughter's who found herself pregnant. My daughter and I both saw it coming like a freight train. She was pregnant. She withdrew from my daughter. My daughter attempted to talk her out of it. I reached out to her. But her mother got in the middle of this and her mother procured the abortion. I mean it was done right away. She was at the clinic and so now we have this 18-year-old who is now carrying this experience of an abortion. Well, she's still numb at this point. She says, "You know I know that was an awful thing but..." You can see there's this distance from it. She's sort of removed six steps from what happened to her, but she knew. She joked when she was pregnant about being with child, so you know at some point this thing's going to hit her--major league. But her story's awful and I don't know that if I were in her shoes I would have had the strength to withstand her mother's pressure. There's also a divorce in the family and she'd just been reconciled with her father. He was going to send her to Europe this summer; she was back to being daddy's little girl after having been rejected by him. What an awful place to be and to face this kind of circumstance. Am I excusing this whole thing? I'm not, I'm just saying from my compassionate point of view this is an awful spot to be in, and that the amount of courage it takes to fly in the face of all this mom pressure, dad pressure and social pressure, is incredible. So I'm seeing these different things. I'm seeing this existential question of "Why did I survive when I know that other people of my generation didn't survive?"

As a spiritual director I see young people who carry incredible wounds because their parents have said in a fit of anger, "I should have aborted you!" We've got levels of woundedness here in terms of awareness of a generation of compatriots who have been wiped out. "Who died in that? Did my potential spouse die in that? Did my best friend die in that? Did my cousin die in that?" So you've got that other level of woundedness through rejection. "God, maybe I should have been aborted. Maybe they thought about that. If they say that to me maybe they thought about aborting me. Well then what? Now what does that mean to my life in terms of rejection?" So I see that this upcoming generation who are products of the abortion generation have some very unique wounds, and I think they will provide some very unique leadership. These young people are keenly aware of the cost that abortion has brought to their lives personally. And it's a different kind of leadership. There's a real passion there that says I've been affected and I need to do something about this.

Lest we leave anyone out, are you getting any calls from elderly men? Like we talked about the elderly women who carried the burden. Do you see much of that?

Fr. Blair: I've had several people that I've seen who were grandfathers of aborted children. When I see them I usually see them with their wives, they come as a couple. I don't think I've seen any older men by themselves. I find them incredibly angry, because it not only means the loss of a grandchild which they were looking forward to spending time with, but if they were very strong Catholics and raised their kids to be Catholics they see this is an attack on everything they stood for as parents. They're incredibly angry about that because it bespeaks to them their worth as parents and what kind of "job" they've done as parents. And that is an overlay of additional anger that they have. Losing the grandchild would be bad enough, but then they see it also as an attack on themselves and their values, so they're very hurt and very angry folks.

Like the woman you mentioned who was in her 70s who had had an abortion 50 years ago, do you see any men who impregnated women long ago and are coming to terms with it?

Vicki: I've seen one and he actually turned up not specifically in a Rachel call but at a talk I had given. It was at a Christian therapists' gathering and I talked about the wounds of abortion and a group had spontaneously come and said, "Can we gather people who'd like to come and talk some more?" I was agreeable to that and it was very interesting because one of these men who would be in his 60s surfaced as an aborted father and talked about the pain that he felt and the awareness that his daughter, Sarah, had been lost in all of this. As I recall he was responsible for this abortion. He was part of the decision and was not opposed in any way. He's the only father I've found all by himself in isolation without his wife being part of that. And that's 10-years worth for me. That's the one group you don't see on their own very often.

Fr. Blair: I find that women will tend to be much more in touch with, and much more honest about, their feelings. So when she hurts, she's very likely to come forward. Men tend to be more compartmentalized in their thinking. They will put it in a box and put a lid on it, and they rationalize. They use defensive rationalization. Intellectualization would perhaps be a better way of putting it. They talk themselves into and out of just about anything. So I have one person, one woman, that I'm seeing now who is in incredible pain and her husband doesn't even know she's coming to see me. She can't tell him. He's the father of the aborted child and for him it's no problem: "Why are you getting yourself all worked up over this? Forget it. Let's move on." That's what he did with it. How long that will last, how long his denial will go on, remains to be seen. She, however, is honest enough to say, "I hurt very badly. I'm going to get some help. He's not going to be any good to me. In fact he would be a hindrance to me." She sneaks out of the house and comes over to see me. And one day, particularly when she has her emotional catharsis and breakthrough and begins to perceive the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of her healing, she's really going to be in pain for him because she's going to wish that for him. And he's miles behind her on the track and may never actually find it. And she's going to feel that very deeply.

Vicki: I oftentimes hear women saying, even younger women who are married to the fathers, "Why doesn't he hurt like I hurt?" The first wish is almost a self-punishment--"I wish he hurt like I hurt." But then there's also this "I'm going through this process; is he ever going to come to this?" And one woman I've been dealing with recently has a lot of anger toward her husband and her mother-in-law because the mother-in-law pushed and the husband went along. And this woman's right in the midst of her healing. She's one of these people who's a fallen away Catholic and the Blessed Mother has led her right on down the primrose path to healing. It's just amazing how Mary's turned up in this whole thing. This woman returned to the rosary. There was a plate in her drawer her grandmother had given her, which started the whole thing. She was an evangelical Christian but she had been Catholic. Just this week her husband was speaking to some pro-life people, because she's done some things in the pro-life movement, and he broke down crying when he said what his wife did, which surprised the heck out of her. And then he shared with her and cried. And she said, "You know, I was able to comfort him." So that wall of anger here suddenly has a chink in it because, who knows, God suddenly brought him to this experience of sadness about the loss of his child at the time when his wife is going through some real cathartic sort of stuff too. So now he's kind of tracking this. I don't know if he's going to track the same way she does, but suddenly he's started his healing. But the difference is that women who happen to marry the men who were fathers of their children have a real problem with that. He doesn't do what she thinks he should do. But the other thing is that when you look at parental grieving you realize that men grieve very differently and they cope with it very differently. So even to be able to say if he's coping with it is a hard call, if you can't ask him. He might be a workaholic because he's coping with this and he's just shut that down. So that men's situation is one that needs a lot of exploration.

The other thing I'd like to say, because I see this as a very significant need, is that there's a need for people to fund some research in this area. Because the potential to do research is here, there are researchers out there who are gathering data and we can't find money anywhere to get the data to finish it, to do the kind of analysis that needs to be done and then to get it published. And that's very frustrating. There are wonderful people out there researching -- top-quality researchers. I'm not talking about people who don't know what they're doing. And we can't get the money for the research, so that is such a frustration because this is a key in this whole abortion issue. To be able to talk about what happens to the other people and to say, "Look here, we know, we know this happens." That's one of the pieces that's missing.

Fr. Blair: I would only add that the challenge to the Church in post-abortive ministry -- which is also the challenge to any individual, mental health professional, clergy, archbishop, volunteer, whatever -- the challenge to all of us is to be open enough to be able to carry a woman's heart, because that's basically what it's about. We have to carry it and reverence it so that it can be healed. It's a great gift, although it's a painful journey. It's a great gift when she shares her heart with you. It's one of the real blessings I think in the ministry. And it's a great gift as you watch God's grace heal that heart and bring it closer to the Sacred Heart, to bring it closer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These are just wonderful spiritual experiences, gained on a painful road to be sure, but very, very inspiring and spiritually uplifting. I sometimes wonder after I've terminated with a post-abortive woman who got more out of that journey. I can assess pretty clearly what she got out of it. I'm not quite sure exactly all that I've gotten out of it, but I know I've been profoundly touched by it.

Vicki: One of the things that I've discovered in doing this ministry is that the priests are very touched by this. God uses this ministry to affirm priesthood and to remind priests what it is they were called for. Because so often in today's society we don't consult Father for anything anymore. He's just kind of a nice figurehead over here but this is a place where Father comes face to face with the love of Jesus as well and the power of the sacraments and what this is all about in terms of ministering to people.

One last thing I want to say to someone who's beginning their healing journey is that I have absolute confidence that if they embark on this journey they will be healed. It is a message of hope that God will touch them, that God will bring them to a new place, and while it looks terribly dark, and terribly frightening, indeed they're in a tunnel and not in a cave. And it's a question of turning a corner to see the light at the end. And while the healing journey is very painful, indeed the outcome of this, this healing experience, this encounter with God, this encounter with their child, will be a life-changing event and it will bring them to a totally new place, a place that's filled with hope and with God's love.