March 8-14, 2009 Issue
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Silent No More was originally intended to provide post-abortive women a forum to speak about their emotional and spiritual pain.
But they didn’t know then that another great silence needed to be broken — the suffering of men who had participated in abortion decisions.
Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life, and Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life, cofounded Silent No More to provide women’s abortion testimonies at the March for Life. “The first year in 2003,” said Morana, “the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we had 30 women give testimony.”
A few months later, Stephen Imbarrato, a seminarian, contacted her about giving his testimony about “lost fatherhood.”
“So, with permission from the seminary, at the 2004 gathering, he was the first man to give testimony,” Morana said. “I remember how powerful his statement was: ‘How small of a man was I that took my girlfriend to an abortion.’ It was the first time a man had publicly apologized to the women, and the reception of his testimony was tremendous.”
Father Stephen Imbarrato, now a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., has founded Project Defending Life.
He said that a year or two before giving his first testimony in front of the Supreme Court he had contacted his former girlfriend. “Through spiritual direction, I realized that I was not only guilty of being part of an abortion back in 1974, but that I was guilty of wounding her,” he said. “I realized I needed to apologize to her — to witness that aspect. It was very humbling to be in front of those women who suffered because of men like me.”
Father Imbarrato’s testimony “opened the floodgates,” said Morana. Prior to his speech, there had been small numbers of men in healing programs, looking for help.
The following year, an evangelical filmmaker named Jonathan Flora went to Washington to promote his film The Distant Thunder, a supernatural courtroom thriller about partial-birth abortion.
“He had heard about Silent No More and was ready to give his testimony,” Morana said. He had been involved in an abortion 30 years ago. “Every gathering since then, there are six to seven men to publicly give their testimony and many men registering on our website.”
Father Imbarrato said there are a variety of experiences for men suffering Post-Abortion Syndrome. “Some men dragged their girlfriends down to the clinic, or, like me, put subtle pressure on the woman and then washed themselves clean of the event,” he explained. “Or men find out about the pregnancy, and they don’t want an abortion, but the woman has it anyway. And there are men who only find out about the pregnancy and abortion after the fact.”
Flora said that men are “wired to be the protectors of families” and that being part of an abortion decision “gets processed in a different way.”
Father Imbarrato said that post-abortive men, like post-abortive women, suffer from an “unwillingness to commit” and a difficulty to get into truly intimate relationships. “But, there is a difference between lost fatherhood and what the women feel, as they bond more closely with the baby,” he said. “Through the grace of God, though, that longing led me to adopt a boy from Colombia as a single person in 1987. He is now married, and I have four grandchildren.”
Lies and Contradictions
Father Imbarrato insisted that abortion hurts those who were responsible, as it did him. “That’s another lie of the pro-abortion movement, that the guilt felt by post-abortive men and women is only a stigma put on them from pro-lifers,” he said. “Neither my girlfriend nor I ever encountered a pro-lifer. The guilt is internal and results from the sin against natural law that is written in our hearts.”
Morana commented, “Abortion is promoted as being no big deal, with no lasting effects. So when women and men have these terrible feelings, they think they are alone and that there is something wrong with them, and they suppress these feelings. Post-abortive women often turn to drugs and promiscuity. Men get into alcohol, gambling and pornography.”
Abortion also has contributed to the breakdown of marriage and the family, she said.
An aspect of the abortion issue that is particular to men is the fact that a man, even a husband, has no legal say in an abortion decision. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Pennsylvania spousal-notification provision.
Father Imbarrato exclaimed, “If the woman chooses to have the baby, the man is financially and morally obligated, but if he wants to be responsible to the woman and his baby, he has no say. This is a huge contradiction that many men are grappling with.”
Healing in God’s Forgiveness
As for the healing process, Father Imbarrato said that expression of grief is an aspect of Post-Abortion Syndrome.
“Of course, confession comes first,” he said. “Then I ask those I counsel, ‘Where is your baby?’ Many equate the pain and suffering they feel to pain and suffering of the baby. I tell them to place these children in the hands of the Lord, for that is where they are. They are the Holy Innocents. I get them to realize there is no suffering in heaven, only forgiveness. Our babies want us to experience eternal salvation, to live our lives so that we get to heaven, and our children are our intercessors.”
He advises them to name their babies and “accept the healing of God.”
Flora shared his experiences with healing. “The process for me began in believing in God’s forgiveness and accepting that. In trying to have children, it was hard to forgive myself. What sustains me is that we will see our children in heaven. They forgive us and intercede with the angels to help us to work to prevent others from this action.”
Flora said he was “amazed” how much his testimony spoke to other men. “So many men are going through the same thing,” he said.
Flora calls other men to healing. “We need to encourage men to seek out someone to talk to about their abortion experiences. They can talk to a buddy, their dad or their wife. They need to get past the barrier, talk about it, and break the silence.”
Morana said men and women can anonymously “register their regret” on the Silent No More website. “Then, when others are speaking out, they can say they speak for so many others,” she said. “There are millions of men and women who are living with these feelings of regret and need healing.”
Speaking out has another purpose, as well: to help women considering abortion to “hear another voice,” Morana said, “the voice of experience that says, ‘Don’t go down that road. It is a dead end.’”
Robin Rohr writes from Willits, California.