Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 20, 2000
Touching the pain of abortion
Project Rachel helps women, men overcome post-abortion trauma
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The Project Rachel program in Calgary hit a milestone Oct. 31, when it received its 100th call.
By the end of 1999, about a year after setting up a toll free number for people seeking healing from post-abortion trauma, Project Rachel had 30 phone calls. This year, that number has doubled, with a couple months still left on the calendar.
"We could handle more," said Sarah Donnelly, coordinator of the Calgary Diocese's Family Resource Centre.
Although Project Rachel is a much-needed program today with an estimated 115,000 abortions taking place each year in Canada, Donnelly is not expecting the phones to ring off the hook anytime soon.
"For people to call with an issue that is so painful . . . takes a tremendous amount of courage."
The phones are not going crazy at the Project Rachel headquarters in Edmonton either. But the program is trying to build a comfort zone with women who had abortions. The Edmonton office has received a dozen phone calls since its inception.
"They're out there," said John MacDonald, director of the Edmonton Archdiocese's Family Enrichment Center, of the women who have had abortions. "As many of them are Catholic as anything else. Many of them have had abortions many years ago and it's still affecting them.
"This is a mission of mercy. This is a mission of love. This is a holistic way of healing."
The program was launched locally in spring 1999 with the help of Catholic Social Services and the Redemptorist Centre for Growth. It is a ministry of reconciliation and healing for women and men with post-abortion experiences and trauma.
The program takes its name from Biblical text where God brings hope to Rachel who mourns for her children.
Since Father Blair Raum's workshop in the spring of 1999, more than 50 people have either attended a workshop or reviewed it through videotapes. Raum heads the program in the Baltimore Archdiocese.
About 80 per cent of the dioceses in the Unites States have an active Project Rachel program. About 30 people are expected at the Nov. 30 workshop. The program geared towards counsellors and clergy is a healing process, not one of condemnation, said MacDonald.
"There is still the attitude that it's the unforgivable sin," said MacDonald, which is why many women may not be so willing to seek help at the parish level. Abortion is not a comfortable topic for many people, whether they've experienced one or not.
"The only rhetoric we've ever heard about it is pro-choice and pro-life. . . . We aren't about that. We stay away from the debate of abortion."
The effects of the program vary, but it helps women who had abortions to build better relations with God and with people around them, said Kathy Smith, office coordinator of Calgary program.
Smith mans the Project Rachel phones twice a week. Hers is the gentle, non-judgmental voice many of the women calling in will hear.
Smith said she talked to one women who found it difficult to share her experiences, but said if she had to, she would do it again. "It's difficult for some women to come to grips with it, but now they feel they've been set free.
"I think I can almost say it's miraculous, in terms of how it changes people's lives."
Forgiveness is at the centre of the program. One woman who had an abortion 12 years ago describes her life before Project Rachel as drifting "in and out of a hellish abyss, marked with depression, suffocating pain, guilt and regret."
In the program's newsletter she wrote that attending the retreat has helped her to "literally place upon God's altar, the heavy burden I had been carrying around for 12 years. . . . I know God forgives me; I know that my child forgives me. Finally, I have peace and I am getting on with what God needs and expects of me."
Another woman who sought help from Project Rachel said the program brought out what she thought was a non-issue, an abortion that happened 30 years ago.
"I had tried to bury my abortion experience so deep in the portholes of my mind. With everything from excessive work, self-denial and self-loathing to plain gritting my teeth, all the time I was feeling myself becoming more of an island. . . .
"Slowly the pain of the past melted away from my being, not with denial, but with expectancy, love and most of all forgiveness."
The program has attracted pastors and counsellors from other denominations, including the Anglican Church, Baptist and evangelicals. MacDonald encourages not only pastoral laypeople, but also clergy to participate in the workshops because it is important for them to recognize the psychology of a woman who went through an abortion and to offer reconciliation and healing.
The workshop is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion. It's not to judge whether a woman should have or shouldn't have had an abortion. It is an avenue for healing. It's an opportunity for mothers to seek reconciliation from themselves, the child they aborted and from God.
"We're not here to tell them it was wrong," MacDonald said. "They already know that if they're coming to you for help. We don't have to revisit it. Our goal is how do we bring healing to this person.
"That's why people are coming out of the woodwork saying I'm in pain. It's a traumatic experience.
"The need is to get people comfortable to come to us."
The program does not offer direct on-the-spot professional counselling, but it provides a first step for women. They are referred to trained counsellors.
The program also offers subsidized counselling rates for those who cannot afford it. It also offers a weekend retreat, Rachel's Vineyard, to deal with the pain. The next retreat will be Dec. 1 to 3 at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert.
Abortion need not be taboo in the church corridors, said MacDonald. "We'd be doing a terrible injustice to Christianity," said MacDonald if all the Church does is preach the pro-life perspective and ignore the healing process.
"We have to go back to bringing our troubles to the feet of God and saying help."
For more information or to register for the upcoming workshop or retreat call 424-4538. The toll-free number for the Calgary program is 1-877-597-3223.