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BY Vicki Thorn
Vicki Thorn specializes in rebuilding lives shattered by abortion.
Foundress of Project Rachel and executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation & Healing, she's an international speaker on the aftermath of abortion. With her organization's 17th birthday approaching, the mother of six spoke with Register correspondent Father Matthew Gamber, a Jesuit, about the organization.
You have said it was a “life-changing” event that led you to eventually start Project Rachel 17 years ago. What was that?
A friend of mine had an abortion in high school. It was a safe abortion performed in a hospital, but still illegal, as it was in the late 1960s. She had already placed a baby for adoption. It turned out that her brother was the father of that baby and her mother quickly arranged the abortion.
Over the years that followed, my friend's life disintegrated—and as we talked, always she said “I can live with the adoption. I can't live with the abortion!” That was one of those life-changing events that you don't recognize at the time.
I never forgot the pain of my friend, and it led me to become a Birthright counselor and to be predisposed to accepting a [right-to-life] job in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
What have you learned about the type of woman that undergoes an abortion—are there common characteristics?
I think that one of the most striking things is that any woman could have an abortion. I've spoken with women whose lives had crashed and burned, and with women who had it all going for them. They were going to be the stars of the family.
One characteristic is that there was almost always no support system.
They felt they faced this alone and didn't really know where to turn. That is when the lie of abortion as an easy and cheap solution becomes the temptation.
John Paul II sent a special message to women who have had abortions in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae. How has that been received? Has it had any impact?
Women who have had abortions can't believe that the Holy Father addressed a special message of hope and healing to them. It has had an enormous effect. There seems to be no historic precedent for that kind of deeply personal message in a papal document. You know, no one seems to know that our Holy Father first described the wounds of abortion in 1960 in his book Love and Responsibility.
Can you briefly take us through the Project Rachel Process that a woman will experience?
A woman would call the local diocesan Project Rachel number and talk to someone who would listen with care and compassion, and help her determine where she would like to begin.
When she meets with the helper, she'll be invited to tell about her abortion. This is often the first time she's ever talked about it. She'll be helped to process any anger she has towards those involved.
She'll be asked if she knows the sex of her child and if she has chosen a name. People often say how could she know the sex—but the truth is that every woman carries within her body cells from every child she has ever conceived—whether born, miscarried or aborted.
She is invited to write a letter to her child and say all her mother's heart needs to say—which always includes “I'm sorry! Please forgive me. Love, Mom or Mommy.” She isn't told what to write. It's just that those words always come up.
She is encouraged to memorialize this child in some way. All the sites in parishes and cemeteries remembering the unborn are wonderful, as she has some place to go to remember.
The priest may offer to say a Mass of Healing for the whole family. Priests are so important to this ministry. For many women, the priest is the first non-hurtful, nonjudgmental man she has encountered. The presence of that gentle priest who really reflects God's love to her goes a long way to heal the hidden wound between women and men.
In closing, she's encouraged to pursue her spiritual growth. Time and again, women have written or spoken to me privately about what a wonderful experience this was for them. Women talk with great appreciation of the priest who walked beside them in the healing. They say that “Father reflected the face of God to me.”