Vicki Thorn, foundress of Project Rachel and executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation & Healing, believes that women who have been reconciled to God after having abortions are the hope for a future culture of life.
Thorn travels internationally to speak on the aftermath of abortion. With her organization's 17th anniversary approaching, the mother of six spoke with Register correspondent Father Matthew Gamber, a Jesuit, about the organization. Part I of this interview appeared in the Sept. 16-22 issue.
Pope John Paul II says that women who have had abortions will change the face of the abortion situation. Has that been the case?
These women are the cornerstones of the culture of life. Everything in their life changes when they are healed. They have been forgiven of what they believe to be the unforgivable sin.
They continue to be very serious about their faith development and prayer after healing. They are quietly behind the scenes changing many things in terms of the way they parent their children and live their marriages. They call other women to healing and reach out to pregnant women.
It is my belief that post-abortion healing is changing the heart of our nation.
When our heart is healed and has been restored through the grace of God's healing, an end to the culture of death becomes real.
I could spend hours sharing the gifts of these women. And let me remind you that while we've been talking about women, it isn't just women. The fact is that there are at least as many fathers who have also lost children to abortion. We must also be about restoring fathers’ hearts.
What are the wounds of abortion and what are the best ways to heal them? What role do the sacraments have in post-abortion recovery?
The basic wound is a spiritual wound. It is a wound of a mother who has lost a child in a traumatic and unnatural fashion. She holds herself responsible for this action.
The questions a woman asks herself are: Can God forgive me? Can my baby forgive me? Can I forgive myself?
Women who come for help recognize that this is a spiritual wound and so often want to begin with a priest. The sacrament of reconciliation is key to putting her heart at rest.
Women carry this wound for so long. We often get calls in our office, after something runs on EWTN about Project Rachel, from very old women. Women who are in their 80s and 90s.
I think we get caught up in thinking that abortion started with Roe v. Wade. Abortions have always happened. Now we just know about them. There were many women who had abortions during World War I, World War II and the Depression.
Right after I started the ministry, a woman I had known for years volunteered to do some work to help me. She was already retired. When I went by to pick up the materials, she very tenuously told me how she had had an abortion when she was 19.
Another woman called and needed to go to confession but was enfeebled. She couldn't get to church without someone taking her, and she didn't want to have to explain why she needed to go. We found a Project Rachel priest to go to her home. She just couldn't believe that a priest would be willing to come to her.
Abortion is said to affect not just the woman and the child, but all of their family members. Is this true, and what are the effects?
Abortion breaks the trust bond between woman and man. To have an abortion is to reject the deepest gift of sexual intimacy — the child. Men and women just don't trust each other after an abortion.
An unhealed abortion may well impact how a mother bonds to her future children. Women talk about being overly protective and, at the same time, keeping their children at arm's length emotionally.
Sometimes a man and a woman, both of whom have an abortion loss, may connect; and when both begin dealing with their loss issues, sometimes years later, they strike out at each other — symbolically striking out at [their former] partner who failed them in the previous abortion.
Children in families where there has been an abortion may develop full-fledged survivor syndrome, just like when a sibling dies from a car accident or cancer.
Do you have any examples of “successful” recoveries? Do all women recover who undertake Project Rachel? Any failures?
I don't know of any failures. I know that sometimes women get stuck for awhile.
What I have learned is that, if a woman says yes to God and begins the healing journey, God faithfully leads her through it at her pace.
I am always so touched by the “God appointments.” One day I was on a plane and someone wanted to trade seats. Well, by the time we took off, I had a new seat-mate. I don't normally blurt out what I do, because it can scare the dickens out of someone. But this woman, after ordering vodka at 10 a.m., struck up a conversation, and eventually what I did came out.
I told her that I helped women heal after an abortion. Her eyes filled with tears and she said, “Oh, that is very important work that you do. I had my abortion 17 years ago.”
We spent an hour and a half talking about her abortion. And the double irony, is that she was going to spend a weekend of vacation with her best friend who had had four abortions! And I knew that she was going to tell her friend all about our talk.
Who is the best person to help a post-abortive woman? Priest, sister, counselor?
Every person can play a role in her healing. God is the one doing the healing, and so he can use anyone or everyone.
It is my experience that women often want to start with a priest. They know this is a huge spiritual wound, and they want to take care of that.
The biggest problem is that they are afraid. They know the Church has been an outspoken prophetic voice on the wrongness of abortion. They believe they have committed the unforgivable sin, and those two things combine to make them certain that the Church does not want them back. That is why it is so crucial that we all get the word out about post-abortion healing.
What has been the response of priests to Project Rachel?
Priests love this ministry. There are priests who are still priests today because of this work.
I have had priests say to me: “I love Project Rachel. This is what I was ordained to do.” They truly see the power of the sacraments to restore the broken- hearted.
What impact has founding a ministry and working with it for 17 years had on your own marriage and motherhood of 6 children?
I could never have done this without my husband. In the early days of dreaming about doing this, he encouraged me. When I get discouraged, he keeps encouraging me.
It is interesting to see that as the kids have grown — they are ages 13 to 24 — that at one time or another, each of them has written a paper on something that has to do with either the wounds of abortion or the healing.
I know that at one time there was a discussion among my daughters about who would take over my work. It was interesting to see that they'd thought about it and were worried about it. Honestly, I don't expect them to. This is my work. God calls each of us to our unique ministry.
I think my children have learned to dare to dream, that dreams can come true and that, when God is in charge, all things are possible. Never in my fondest dreams, did I ever imagine that I would be doing what I am doing today. For a small town girl from Minnesota, this is all pretty awe-inspiring.
Jesuit Father Michael Gamber writes from Spokane, Washington.