When we hear of vicarious trauma, we often think of first responders, the brave men and women who serve as firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police officers.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of offering counseling and support for these public servants after repeated exposure to accidents, violence, injury, loss of life, and other tragedy.
With that in mind, imagine if you came to understand that you were directly responsible for the death of close to 60 million people?
Would you be also vulnerable to vicarious trauma?
Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, died Feb. 18 at the age of 69. In 1973 her lawyers challenged Texas's law preventing her from aborting her baby and opening the floodgates for abortion on demand in the United States. Ironically, Norma herself never ended up having an abortion.
After the court ruling, Norma worked for a time in the abortion industry, and was often shocked by what she saw:
“I worked in several abortion facilities over the years… the most distressing room in the facility was the “parts room”. Aborted babies were stored here. There were dead babies and baby parts stacked like cordwood… little tiny hands and feet visible through the jars, frozen in blood.”
As the years passed Norma came to regret her role in the legalization of abortion.
“Back in 1973 I was a very confused 21 year old and facing an unplanned pregnancy… my case, which legalized abortion on demand, was the biggest mistake of my life," she says.
Even if you support the Roe v. Wade decision, imagine the burden Norma carried as she moved over time to embrace a pro-life perspective on abortion.
After her exposure to the shocking reality of what “choice” does to the fetus, Norma no longer saw the unborn child as a “potential life” or a “clump of cells.” She came to consider each of those nearly 60 million abortions as the death of a unique member of the human family.
Imagine the horror and trauma of feeling directly responsible for the death of millions of unborn children.
The Shockwaves of Trauma
Without counsel and support those who experience emotional trauma suffer painful and at times debilitating symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, with triggers and flash backs to the traumatic event. They may act out that pain in relationships and try to numb their feelings and find some relief and escape from their pain through impulsive behaviors and addictions.
Norma struggled before, and more intensely after Roe v. Wade, with depression, anxiety and addiction. Yet she would find great peace and consolation from the most unlikely of places — an abortion recovery group.
Finding Peace in the Vineyard
In the mid-1990s, Norma began a process of religious conversion that eventually led to her baptism by Rev. Flip Benham in 1995 and her reception into the Catholic Church by Fr. Frank Pavone in 1998.
As part of her recovery from the traumatic association with Roe v. Wade, she attended a group treatment program of emotional and spiritual healing for those who are hurting after abortion called Rachel’s Vineyard.
(Note: Kevin is the co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, which is now a ministry of Priests for Life. Janet accompanied Norma on the retreat.)
As Norma gathered with these women she found a safe place to share her own unique pain and suffering. She discovered others like herself, who experienced abuse in their childhood, and struggled with addiction. Norma learned that previous abuse made women vulnerable to dysfunctional and abusive relationships.
She came to see that their stories echoed her own experience as plaintiff Roe: a desperate woman with past abuse, struggling with a third pregnancy and exploited by the pro-abortion attorneys promoting the legalization of abortion.
Norma saw that not all women feel empowered by their abortion decision. Many are hurting after abortion, especially those with past abuse and trauma, and were victims exploited by the abortion industry at a vulnerable time.
Norma listened closely as women shared that they were told by counselors and abortion business staff that abortion was the only the possible option given their histories and circumstances. Yet the participation in their unborn child’s death only intensified their pre-abortion symptoms and led to more addiction, emotional pain, and repeat abortion procedures.
As Norma watched the women move from fear, anger, and pain to peace and new life in the Lord, she began to see that there was hope for healing those wounded by abortion. This was a great consolation and helped ease the burden of guilt and anguish she carried in her heart and soul.
After recovery, Norma became part of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, a group that provides a network for education and sharing testimonies about the Shockwaves of abortion loss and healing. Norma found a public place of support where she could share the deep regret for her role in Roe v. Wade, how this hurt her, and the good news of God’s mercy and healing.
As the pro-life movement and the Church continue their efforts to promote that mercy and healing, the passing of Norma, and the remembrance of her story, certainly give to all those in pain and despair a new reason to hope.
Janet Morana is the Executive Director of Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
Kevin Burke is a Pastoral Associate of Priests for Life and co-founder of Rachel's Vineyard.
To find out more about Norma's story, see www.priestsforlife.org/Norma.