It was 1977, just a few years after Roe v. Wade struck down the nation’s abortion laws, when then-40-year-old Tommie Romano discovered she was pregnant. She was married, the mother of three sons, and her relationship with her husband was struggling. Because of her age, and the fact she had been taking a medication she feared would harm the unborn child (before she realized she was pregnant), she feared the child would be born with a severe handicap. Her husband pressured her to have an abortion.
“I was weak. It had just become legal,” she told Our Sunday Visitor.
She didn’t want to have the abortion, but she agreed, hoping it would save her marriage. She came to deeply regret her decision, believing she had consented to the death of what would have been her only daughter. She and her husband divorced anyway.
Romano is one of many women nationwide who, in a period of ignorance or under great pressure, consented to abortion and came to regret it, and have since devoted themselves to the pro-life cause.
Needing to forgive herself
Romano was raised Catholic and believed abortion was wrong, but for years thought little about it. After her divorce, she joined a prayer group, and was introduced to Joe Scheidler, the founder of the Pro-Life Action League (www.prolifeaction.org/), which engages in peaceful demonstrations to end abortion and encourages such activities as sidewalk counseling in front of abortion clinics.
Scheidler was looking for an assistant, and Romano needed a job, so she went to work for him. Although she had never told anyone before, Romano felt she needed to tell Scheidler about her abortion before coming to work for him. Scheidler was distressed to hear the news, but came to accept her on staff.
Through her exposure to League materials, such as “Silent Scream,” a movie featuring pro-life activist Dr. Bernard Nathanson that depicts an actual abortion, she began to realize the gravity of her abortion decision. She also went back to the Church. While on retreat she went to confession. When the priest asked her to tell her sins, she could only say, “Abortion.”
She said: “I got to the point where I felt God had forgiven me, and my baby had forgiven me. The toughest part was forgiving myself.”
Romano works today as a real estate agent in Skokie, Ill. She regularly volunteers for the pro-life cause and serves as coordinator for Speak Out Illinois (http://www.speakoutillinois.org/), a coalition of 30 pro-life groups. Scheidler’s wife, Ann, helps Romano coordinate Speak Out.
Romano also relates her abortion experience to various groups, not only to encourage women not to have abortions but to tell women who have had abortions that they can heal from the experience. She said, “I assure women that once they come to acknowledge what they did was wrong, God will forgive them and there can be healing.”
Sadness, emptiness inside
Cristina Martinez of Norwalk, Conn., had an abortion nearly 20 years ago. Originally from Paraguay, she was 20 and living with her parents in a small town in the South American country. She was single, and when she discovered she was pregnant, her boyfriend suggested abortion. Thinking it was merely a way to become “unpregnant,” she agreed.
“I was naïve. I thought it was a blob of cells, not a baby,” she told OSV.
She tried to keep her abortion secret, and was particularly afraid her parents would find out. Her sisters were living in the United States, so she decided to move there, fearing gossip in her small community would reveal her secret.
It was nearly a decade later, at age 28, that her guilt for having an abortion emerged. “I was sad, depressed and suffered from bulimia,” she said. “I didn’t know what was wrong.”
She experienced her deepest sadness and emptiness at home, so she took frequent trips as a way to distract herself. But when she returned home, the sadness returned. She said, “I had everything, so I kept asking myself, why do I feel so bad?”
Martinez grew up in a Catholic family, so she decided to go back to church. She also went on retreat after retreat, seeking peace. On one particular retreat in New York City, she overheard someone else mention she had had an abortion. She said, “I realized what my problem was — the abortion.”
She went to confession repeatedly and confessed the same sin of abortion. One priest finally told her that God had forgiven her, and that she needed to forgive herself.
She sought healing through the Rachel’s Vineyard ministry of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., (http://www.rachelsvineyardbpt.com/), on a retreat in 2005. She was so impressed with her experience with the ministry that she volunteered to found Rachel’s Vineyard Spanish-language ministry for the diocese. She has coordinated the ministry since 2007, and has helped dozens of women recover from the abortion experience.
Assisting Martinez in her ministry is her husband, Freddy. He, too, had to recover from an abortion experience: Before he met Cristina, he fathered a child with a girlfriend who had the child aborted. With her husband at her side, Martinez advertises Rachel’s Vineyard in the diocese’s parishes after Masses. They deliver a longer version of their presentation to various prayer groups in the diocese.
The couple have a 4-year-old daughter, but Cristina Martinez has never forgotten the child she lost. She might see a young person, for example, and wonder, what would my child have looked like at that age? What color would his hair be? What would his face look like?
She said: “When I talk to women about abortion, I tell them not to do it. Not only do you kill the child, but a part of you dies inside.”
Kathleen Eaton of Dana Point, Calif., is founder and CEO of Birth Choice Health Clinics, a faith-based, pro-life organization that provides free medical services and education to pregnant women and their families. The five clinics in Southern California have led thousands of abortion-minded women to choose life.
Eaton, too, had an abortion in 1981, and came to deeply regret it.
“I was told it was a blob of tissue, and believed that once I had the abortion life would go back to normal,” she said.
Birth Choice’s role is to tell women in a supportive, loving way that they have options, and to provide resources to help them choose life. Her mission in life, she explained, is “to compete for the lives of women and their children — both born and preborn.”
Eaton was an inactive Catholic who married at age 19, and had a son. She enjoyed financial success in her career; by age 28, she had already bought her third house.
“I was wrapped up in my job and making money. I was on a fast track to a lucrative promotion,” she told OSV.
Exposing the darkness
But her marriage struggled, and she separated from her husband. While separated, she became pregnant by another man. She thought abortion her only choice: “I couldn’t bear the thought of telling my parents I was pregnant by another man.”
She sought help from two organizations with which her Birth Choice clinics now are in competition — Planned Parenthood and Family Planning Associates (FPA). She took her pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood and had her abortion at FPA. Her only education was a quick presentation on what the abortion entailed, with no counseling about the option of keeping her child.
She scheduled her abortion one morning at a clinic located near her work site. She was planning to return to work that afternoon. The father of the child drove her to the clinic, but that was the last time she ever saw him. She has vivid memories of the clinic, despite her visit having taken place nearly 30 years ago. She remembers a big room with dirty mattresses where women were taken to recover after they had their abortions. Many of the women there were crying. She remembers exiting the facility, sitting in the parking lot and beginning to cry herself.
Her recovery included going to confession and taking part in a naming ceremony for her aborted child. Believing she had a boy, she named him Tobias, or Toby. Years later, she named Toby’s House (tobyshouse.org) in his memory. The home provides women in crisis pregnancy situations temporary housing while they have their babies.
Eaton steadily increased her dedication to the pro-life cause. Her new mission: “To uncover the darkness of the abortion industry.”
She took over direction of a Birthright Pregnancy Resource Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., and renamed it Birth Choice (http://birthchoice.com/. Now widowed and with grown children, Eaton devotes herself full time to her apostolate, frequently speaking to churches and organizations about the work of Birth Choice.
“It’s my job to go out and be a voice for the unborn,” she told OSV. “Before every time I speak, I say a simple prayer, ‘Thy loving will be done, Lord.’”
Jim Graves writes from California.
Help, Hope After Abortion (sidebar)
Bethesda Healing Ministry: bethesdahealing.org
Lumina Referral Network: postabortionhelp.org
National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing: http://www.noparh.org/
Project Rachel: hopeafterabortion.com
Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries: http://www.rachelsvineyard.org/
Reclaiming Fatherhood: http://www.rachelsvineyard.org/
Prayer for Healing
Source of all mercy and love,
out of love for us you sent your Son,
and willed that blood and water
flow from his side to cleanse us of sin
and restore lost innocence.
Hear the cry of each woman who mourns
the loss of her child to abortion.
Forgive her sin, restore her to your grace,
and still the terror of her heart
with a peace beyond all understanding.
Through the intercession
of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of all tenderness and our Mother,
strengthen her faith in you.
Give her the consolation to believe
that her child is now living in the Lord.
We ask this through Christ our Lord,
who conquered sin and death,
and who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Source: Project Rachel
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