The Professional Ethics of Activism
By Theresa and Kevin Burke
There is a common perception that people who are dedicated to the work of
post abortion healing should not be involved in pro-life activism.
Activism is defined in the Dictionary as:
1) The use of direct, sometimes confrontational action, in opposition to, or
support of a cause.
2) A policy of taking direct action to achieve a political or social goal
For the purpose of clarity, lets now define "Pro-Life" activism. This
form of direct action includes legal efforts to reduce and end abortion,
representing women hurt by the procedure, voter registration and support of
candidates who will further pro-life goals, providing education on fetal
development and the abortion procedure itself, work in pregnancy care centers,
and prayerful witness at abortion facilities.
It is important initially that we analyze the thinking/feelings behind those
that feel these two efforts are incompatible. What are the underlying
- Pro-life activism will blind you to the pain of the post abortive person.
- Activism would compromise the neutrality with clients and negatively affect
their healing efforts.
- Even if they want to help, their activism would lead them to be insensitive
to the deeper issues of the post abortive person, and preclude them from being
- They would be judgmental and condemning of the individual who has been
involved with abortion.
- They could cause harm to the post-aborted person.
Kevin Burke is a Licensed Social Worker who also serves as the Co-Director of
Rachel’s Vineyard, a rapidly growing international post abortion Training and
Healing Ministry. He says the following about the above assumptions:
"In my profession of social work, the assumptions would be opposite. A
person who has worked in the trenches with a population that has been denied
a voice for their pain would be encouraged by my profession to look at other
ways to advocate for this population. It would be considered quite natural
that we would take our vast experience in journeying with persons through
their experience of pain and injustice and bring that to light in any
context that could empower persons and prevent suffering. We would lobby our
legislatures, encourage legal efforts, educate about the problem, work to
inform the public about this issue, encourage individuals when they are
willing to speak out about their pain/experience, media efforts etc. etc. To
say that the work of healing is incompatible with activist efforts to effect
change seems to me as a social worker absurd and misinformed. Certainly
different strategies and sensitivities are necessary for various efforts.
Some persons are called by their gifts and vocation to be only healers, and
others only activists. However there is certainly a broad area where persons
can effectively be engaged in a variety of venues to effect change and where
their various efforts are complementary and are mutually empowering."
This excerpt from the National Association of Social Workers Code of
Ethics supports Kevin’s comments:
Social workers should engage in social and political action that
seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources,
employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic
human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the
impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in
policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic
human needs and promote social justice. (NASW Code of Ethics)
In my own profession as a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Nationally
Certified Psychologist, the ethics are similar.
The Code of Ethics for the profession of Psychologists has one particular
section that outlines our professional Responsibilities to Respect for Client’s
Right’s and Dignity. This section the ethical code states:
Master’s Psychologists shall be committed to increasing knowledge of human
behavior, understanding of their own and others sociocultural orientation, and
to the relief of human suffering."
It is a gross misunderstanding of the helping profession to assume that those
involved in the work of healing should not be involved in pro-life work which
seeks to relieve human suffering and death. As a professional, I have an
ethical responsibility to educate others regarding the harm that I have
witnessed which has been inflicted by abortion.
The American Psychological Association describes our social
Psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities
to the community and the society in which they work and live. They apply and
make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human
welfare. Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of
human suffering. When undertaking research, they strive to advance human welfare
and the science of psychology. Psychologists try to avoid misuse of their work.
Psychologists comply with the law and encourage the development of law and
social policy that serve the interests of their patients and clients and the
public. They are encouraged to contribute a portion of their professional time
for little or no personal advantage.
The reality of coerced abortions and domestic violence is grave abuse of
human rights and dignity. Professionals who learn the sad unspoken secrets of
women who felt they had no choice but abortion, need to advocate for those being
victimized and traumatized by this procedure. It is, in fact, members of the
pro-life community who are leading the way in legislative initiatives,
treatment, education and research.
It may also be instructive to offer a little history on our own ministry: The
first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat was held in a Maternity Home outside
Philadelphia supported by the Pro-Life Coalition of Delaware County. For several
years American Life League, another pro-life organization, sponsored us.
Currently, we are partnering with Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Ministries as
they help us to build a structure for continued global expansion. None of the
healing work being done for women, men, couples, grandparents and siblings of
aborted children, or for the abortion providers who have labored in Rachel’s
Vineyard would have been possible without the faith-filled efforts and support
of the pro-life movement. In less than a decade, the Rachel’s Vineyard program
has spread to Ireland, England, Spain, Canada, Portugal, Russia, Africa, New
Zealand, Australia, South America and throughout the United States of America.
This program was nurtured within the pro-life movement. The grass roots
structure that fostered its growth was rooted in the work and efforts of
pro-lifers who believe that human life is sacred and could easily comprehend how
abortion would break a mother’s heart. Numerous Diocesese and Respect Life
Outreach programs are currently using the model.
It is the collective mash unit of pro-life volunteers and church ministries
who provide the funding, the resources, and the hospitality for the work of many
different healing ministries. It is the professionals, who are bound by the
ethics of their professions in codes of social responsibility. It is the clergy
of many different denominations who are acting as representatives of God to
assist in spiritual peace and the process of forgiveness. And it is the many
post aborted women and men who have experienced healing, and now want to help
others find the peace and reconciliation they have discovered in their own
Working together, we can indeed, change the world. We must work to provide
access and awareness of high quality programs for post abortion healing. We must
also act to provide non-violent alternatives to those facing an unplanned
pregnancy, choices that do not invade a woman’s physical and psychological
integrity. And as activists, we must persistently reveal the truth about
abortion and seek to modify the laws which perpetrate the abuse of women and
destroy the dignity and rights of the human person. All of us involved in this
critical work can be confident and proud to be pro-life – without apology.
Theresa Burke, Ph.D. is the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries
and the author of Forbidden Grief – The Unspoken Pain of Abortion.