Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
Get your rosary off my ovaries! It’s my body! Tell your Church to worry about their own problems—they’ve got enough of them.
Pro-lifers have heard this and more. Do you ignore them? Do you educate them on the Church or about the sacredness of life? Perhaps the most powerful response is to take the opportunity to reach the angry person in front of you.
Abortion is a subject of the heart, not one for philosophy or morality according to Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel and the Executive Director of the National office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In her years of experience, even before she was involved in post-abortive ministries, she learned to just listen. It was listening that led her to begin a ministry to help woman (and men) heal from abortion.
Listening Opens Hearts
In high school and then later in the secular world while working in the apartment management industry, Thorn heard stories of pain. She wanted to help heal that pain and understood from listening, that most abortions happen out of fear and ignorance. Regret comes later. Denial and anger may also come to hide from the pain. Inside an angry person is often a heart that is afraid to grieve.
“The people that come at you so angry or come at a priest full of anger, are hurting inside,” Thorn said. Instead of lecturing or lashing back, she suggests asking: “Would you mind telling me why you feel so angry?”
According to Thorn, a person will feel that someone cares if they are willing to listen. “Then say, ‘Thank you, now I understand,’ and say no more,” she said. “The person feels you listened and didn’t argue. You made a connection with them.”
Thorn suggested laying a comforting hand on a shoulder or arm for even 20 seconds to make the connection even stronger. “It can open up their heart that someone cared enough to ask,” Thorn said. “Understanding their story takes nothing away from our effectiveness.”
Stories of Conversion
In her years of pro-life work since the 1970s, Thorn said she’s never known anyone that was argued into the movement but she knows a lot of people that were loved into it. She used the example of the notorious abortionist Bernard Nathanson who helped legalize abortion then later became one of the great leaders in the pro-life movement. Through the example of courage and love shown by pro-lifers, he eventually went from atheism to converting to the Catholic Church. In December of 1996 he was baptized, received Holy Communion and was confirmed by Cardinal John O’Connor in a private Mass in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
My friend, pro-life artist and author Nellie Edwards, shared a story with me about praying outside an abortion facility in the state of Washington. “We were part of a Catholics United for Life group,” she explained. “A lady came up to us shrieking expletives and berating us for intruding on the rights of others.”
In the middle of her tirade, Edwards, sensing the women’s woundedness, felt inspired to gently ask, “Have you had an abortion yourself?”
A look of total anguish came over the woman’s face. Immediately, from the center of her being, she began to sob. “Then she recounted her story of how she had been coerced by the father and a best friend who did not want to hear about it later,” Edwards said. “It was clear she had stuffed it away and needed to legitimize it.”
Before the women left, everyone gave her a hug. “She then asked us for literature and said she would ever after be on the right side of life,” Edwards said. “I cry every time I think about it because it was amazing to see how God’s grace leaped into her heart and mind. It shows how important it is to pray and to love, never disparaging anyone. Even when people left from the abortion facility, we would tell them that we were there because we loved and cared about them.”