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Church's Programs Offer Healing After Abortion for Women and Men
Jennifer Brinker
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Friday, February 4, 2011
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Members of the group "Silent No More" participate in the March for Life in Washington Jan. 24
ST. LOUIS (CNS)—Maria Thompson was a teenager when she became pregnant. The 18-year-old was living in Mexico City. The father, 11 years older than her, didn't want anything to do with the baby.

Her parents, as she recalled, "would not tolerate any deviation." So when they found out she was pregnant, "I had no place to go."

The year was 1973. Abortion was legal in Mexico, and the father of her child sent her to have an abortion. At that time, abortions were performed in the home of the doctor, Thompson recalled.

For the first several months after the abortion, Thompson said it was "very difficult for me to see a baby." She supported a woman's choice to have an abortion, noting "it was the thing to do."

It wasn't until later that she realized "it was nothing but to cover the pain and anguish" of her own abortion. She also considered suicide.

Years later, Thompson married and had a child. She later became pregnant again, but lost that child through a miscarriage, an experience she said was sent to her by God.

"The child I lost in a miscarriage was the same age of the aborted child," she recalled in an interview with The Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese. "That's when life really became worse for me. I realized what had been bothering me."

Thompson, who had strayed from her Catholic upbringing, returned to the church. She sought forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation and attended a retreat through Project Rachel, the church's ministry to those who have experienced an abortion.

Today, the member of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant helps organize the semi-annual 40 Days for Life campaign, an effort which calls on people of all faith backgrounds to pray and fast for an end to abortion. Among their duties, participants take turns keeping a prayer vigil outside of the local Planned Parenthood abortion facility during the 40 days of the campaign.

Thompson said she is willing to share her story with the world, because "it means the difference between a woman being lost forever and a child being saved."

The Catholic Church has seen firsthand the grief that women can face after they have had an abortion. More than two decades ago, Project Rachel, through founder Victoria Thorn of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, was established as a way to reach out to those who have been through an abortion experience. While the ministry is open to anyone, it is set within a framework that relies on the teachings of the church.

Today, the ministry is thriving in 140 Catholic dioceses in the United States as well as in other countries.

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the ministry began offering counseling more than 25 years ago, and a monthly spiritual support group, called "In His Name," for post-abortive women started in 2004.

The following year, a day retreat was introduced, and in 2009, a weekend retreat was initiated as a follow-up effort for continued healing. Both retreats are modeled after the Entering Canaan retreats created by the Sisters of Life in New York.

Funding for the efforts are provided by the Respect Life Apostolate and the Archbishop Joseph Naumann Endowment Fund, which was established in 2004 as a way to support the archdiocese's post-abortion ministry. The programs are administered through the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate.

Marisol Pfaff, who helped get the ministry off the ground in the archdiocese and helps coordinate the current efforts, said at the time that "each person, no matter what they have done, is to be cherished and loved as a unique reflection of God's love."

Pfaff, who had two abortions in the late 1970s, explained: "Our main goal is to bring post-abortive women to the full acknowledgement of Christ's love for (them), regardless of what (their) sins are. Christ died for us because of that love he had for each and every one of us, regardless of what our sins are."

She stressed that women who attend the support group, as well as the retreats, are assured confidentiality.

"Even though some of the women are speaking out about their abortions, some of them are still within their own private healing," she said.

Earlier this year, the archdiocese introduced a post-abortion outreach for men. Called Project Joseph, the ministry, similar to Project Rachel, offers free, confidential counseling, spiritual direction and a retreat component for men.

The effort is coordinated through the Respect Life Apostolate with the help of permanent deacons and other lay men volunteers in the archdiocese.

Beth Lauver, director of the archdiocese's Respect Life Apostolate, said that the purpose of having a separate post-abortion ministry for men is to show the reality that men, too, can feel grief after someone significant in their lives has been through an abortion.

"The introduction of Project Joseph will hopefully help to more formally bring to light and ease the pain of the fathers of aborted children," said Lauver. "It's certainly a very different kind of grief from what mothers experience, simply because it doesn't involve the physical procedure. The loss is still just as deep and painful, though."

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