There’s a lot of pain out there. Women and men. Regret and sorrow. But if you’ve participated in an abortion in one way or another, you can heal. There is mercy.
That’s the message of Christianity, and it’s for everyone, even the mom who went through with an abortion. Even a baby’s father who pressured a woman to get one because he didn’t know how to or want to acknowledge that he was, in fact, a father.
Theresa Bonopartis is director of Lumina/Hope & Healing After Abortion, a post-abortion ministry in New York, a project of Good Counsel Homes. At the end of Respect Life Month, she talks about her work, exposing the pain to daylight, so that others may seek God’s healing love.
How did you find yourself at Lumina?
David Reardon from the Elliot Institute got a grant to begin a post-abortion outreach in New York because of the rate of abortions here. He asked Chris Bell from Good Counsel Homes to take on the ministry. I had known them both for years, I am post-abortive myself and had been doing post-abortion work, so they approached me to run it.
Is it possible to not regret an abortion?
I think it goes against our very nature as women and all that God intended. Sure, there are women who say they do not regret it, but I think that is a denial, a rationalization. I have had women as old as 93 call [(877) 586-4621) about abortions they had in their 20s. Sooner or later, it catches up to you. It may be when you have other children, or it may come up as a result of some other issue, like a failing relationship or, perhaps when you know your life is going to end. Sooner or later, it is before you.
The other aspect is: Would you really want to be able to kill your child and not have it bother you? I always say I am glad it bothered me. Once, I was interviewed, and the journalist asked me if my faith made me feel guilty. I told her, “No — seeing my dead son made me feel guilty.” I was forced to abort by my dad. I was a teenager and, like many teens, had hidden my pregnancy for months, so I had a saline abortion. In a saline [abortion], you go into labor and give birth; in my case, to a dead baby boy. In some ways, as horrific as it was, seeing him was also a blessing, because I always knew the truth of what had happened: an innocent life was taken. I remember when it was over thinking: How in the world can this be allowed? I just could not understand it.
Sometimes having a child is traumatic.
Sure, there are circumstances where having a child is very difficult, but no matter how hard it is, it is never as hard as knowing you participated in taking the life of your own child. We are supposed to be protectors.
Why do you have a pregnancy-after-abortion brochure?
Women who have had abortions oftentimes are tormented in subsequent pregnancies. They often see it as payback time — fear God will get back at them for aborting. They are not able to see that his desire is to heal them, not punish them. One of the women from our ministry who recently had a child was afraid during her entire pregnancy that her baby would die or, surely, something would be wrong.
She suffered panic attacks and was not able to enjoy her pregnancy because of those fears. That is not uncommon for post-abortive women. We have the brochure to try to alleviate those fears in women, to let them know God does not work that way — that he is merciful.
A marriage counselor told you to forget about your abortion. Is that a frequent problem?
Unfortunately, yes. It has gotten much better than it was. At least now there are professional counselors out there who do acknowledge post-abortion stress, but there are still so many who continue to deny the experiences of those of us who had abortions. It is terrible because it keeps the person isolated and alone thinking she is crazy for (having) her feelings. Imagine not having those feelings validated, as if taking the life of your child and having an issue because of it is unacceptable, when, in reality, it makes all the sense in the world. It is just not a normal thing to do.
What is “social abortion”?
Women often feel socially aborted before they ever set foot into a clinic. That is so true. We speak about China, but, in a much more subtle way, there is tons of coercion here. Parents who pressure a child, a husband, boyfriend, pressures at work, unvoiced pressures, colleges that have abortion available but no day care, making girls feel like they have no choice if they want their education. I know I was socially aborted.
I was kicked out of my home with no job, no money, and no place to go. ... In many ways, I was aborted by all those I thought loved me until I gave in to their pressure to abort. Of course, I ultimately made the decision and hold responsibility, but I am not an isolated case. Many women are coerced in many different ways. Most times it is not a “free choice,” even though she may be led to believe it is through manipulation and silent pressure. I often say to people who question how anyone can abort, “Be grateful you don’t know how.”
Why is Our Lady of Czestochowa so important to you and your work?
I never knew who she was until I began this work, then, all of a sudden, she was everywhere. One time, I was even given a novena to her for my penance in confession. Of course, it spiked my curiosity, and I began to read about her. I was already doing post-abortive work. The more I read, the more I felt like it was no coincidence that she had come into my life. In prayer, I felt as though she was telling me she wanted to be patroness of my post-abortive work.
If you know the icon, she has a scar on her cheek. The painting is said to have been done by St. Luke. St. Helena gave it to her son, Constantine the Great, who then erected a church at Constantinople dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary. There, it became very famous, and many graces and miracles were received by all who prayed before it. It was in the reign of Casmir the Great that the icon made its way to Poland and was placed in the Castle of Belz, which was attacked by Tartars. The bow of a tartar warrior entered the chapel and struck the throat of the virgin, a mark that to this day remains. Many attempts were made to restore the icon, but no matter what was done or how various artists covered the scars, they would reappear again. It was obvious Our Lady was making a statement, and it was then that I realized the significance of the icon in my life. Many attempts were made to cover the scars, but they just reappeared. To me, it made such sense. It was like the post-abortive woman. Society denies
her “scars,” but no matter how hard she tries to cover them, they continue to reappear; hence, she is our patroness.
Why is Divine Mercy so important?
What is there if there is not Mercy himself? Divine Mercy was so instrumental in my personal healing, which was a very profound experience. It is only in the light of his mercy that I believe we can look honestly at our abortion experience and begin to heal. If we do not know his unconditional love and forgiveness, how can we honestly look at such a horrific thing? It is only in relationship with him, knowledge of his mercy and love for us, that we have the courage to look. I often say to those we serve: Healing is not about us and what we did; it is about him and what he did. He died on the cross for our sins. He paid back the debt; that is where our healing is. It is so easy to get caught up in focusing on ourselves and a million reasons why we are unforgivable or what we deserve. Do we deserve his mercy? No — but that is what makes it all the more precious; it is freely given. Nothing we can do can make up for our abortions, but the beautiful thing is: We do not have to make up for them because he already has.
What does it mean to “Enter Canaan,” which is all over Lumina’s website?
This was another revelation through prayer. The name of the ministry also came to me before the Blessed Sacrament. At first, I could not figure it out, but then, when I read the story of the Israelites traveling to the Promised Land, it made such sense. The road to post-abortion healing is difficult, and, surely, we face many emotional and spiritual battles, but like with them, God promises to be with us on the journey until we reach the promised land of healing. “I will always be with you. I will never abandon you. Be determined and confident. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5,6, 9b). The neatest part of all of this was when I realized they got to the Promised Land in the book of Joshua, which is the name I gave to my aborted son. God is so good. It was such a confirmation.
How important are the post-abortion retreats?
I think they are critical: time with others who have experienced the same things you are going through; to be able to have feelings validated and to share with one another, especially to share things that help in healing. But, of course, also the time before the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity for the sacraments.
Is religion the only way to heal?
Of course there can be healing on a psychological level. You can learn about the dynamics of abortion and how it has impacted you, but I do not believe you can be healed to your core unless you go to the only true healer: Mercy himself.
How can we speak with more love about abortion? Why should we?
I think there are so many wonderful people in the pro-life movement, but, sometimes, there is a lot of judgment. There is more than one way to abort someone. Countless numbers of people have left the Church because they felt judged, even though the Church has really been offering God’s mercy before anyone else. Still, in many places, we hear about the wrong of abortion all the time, which is okay; but we do not hear about God’s forgiveness and mercy with it all the time. People forget that God loves those separated from him because of abortion as much as he loves the babies. We are all his children, and none of us deserve heaven. There but for the grace of God we are all capable of any sin. Of course, that does not excuse abortion, but to those afraid to make known his mercy because they believe that people will then think it is okay to have an abortion, I would say: No one can know more than us how terrible it is. Just because you may not see the suffering, because someone is in denial, etc., does not mean it is not there.
It is wonderful that self-sacrificing people are out there trying to prevent abortion, but we all also need to realize most women do not want abortion and often feel like they could not save their own babies.
Any babies that are saved are saved by an opening of the heart to the grace of God that then gives courage and changes minds.
In the end, abortion ends in the same place as healing begins: the cross of Christ crucified. He is the only one who heals, and he is the only one who can end abortion.
Tell me about the “Hope Memorial,” which is an artist’s portrayal of Jesus handing a baby to a mother. How does such an image help a woman, a culture?
I love that so much. Years ago, I began a group with some post-abortive moms called “Reclaiming Our Children.” I have always felt that it was God’s desire for us to be reunited to our children — to reclaim them. Obviously impossible in a human sense in this world, but, surely, spiritually it does happen. They are not abstract children; they are ours. He was my son; she was someone else’s daughter. I have always loved that memorial so much because, for me, that is exactly what is happening: He is giving us the chance to reclaim our children by actually handing them to us in his mercy and compassion.
The statue makes clear that the children are not abstract — they belong to a family God created. It is where they belong in his design.