The founder of the largest post-abortion ministry in the world expressed her disbelief that the ramifications of a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy continue to be overlooked.
“I was surprised that this problem was so unrecognized and that mental health and medical professionals could be so adamantly rejecting of the fact that abortion could shatter a woman’s heart,” said Dr. Theresa Burke, who initiated Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry of Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Ministries.
Burke will present workshops on abortion trauma on Nov. 21 in Sioux City and Nov. 22 in Fort Dodge. Her visit is sponsored by the Catholic Women of the Diocese of Sioux City.
There is no doubt women experience trauma after an abortion, Burke emphasized, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways.
“Unresolved grief after abortion can create emotional, spiritual and physical havoc in the lives of women and men,” she said. “On the one hand, women want to bury abortion-related feelings, while they have a desperate hunger to find an outlet for the pain, to find reconciliation, understanding, peace and healing.”
This creates a real dilemma for friends and family when a woman wants to talk to someone about her abortion experience, Burke pointed out.
“The issue is so painful; there is a marked sensitivity to the subject,” she said. “Many women and men ‘don’t want to go there.’ Sometimes parents, boyfriends, husbands, counselors and friends are usually part of the decision to abort, often encouraging or even forcing the abortion. They, too, will be reluctant to reach out to the suffering individual because of their own unresolved feelings. They will minimize their pain, tell them, ‘It’s time to move on,’ and ‘You made the right decision,’ and ‘You can have another baby someday when the time is right.’”
However, Burke noted, such well-intended diversions do not change the fact that abortion is a death experience.
“A woman has suffered the loss of her child,” she said. “It is the demise of human potential, relationship, responsibility, maternal attachment, connectedness and innocence. Such a loss is rarely experienced without conflict and ambivalence. It would be simple-minded to think that getting over it could be free from complication.”
Burke described those complications as powerful feelings of abandonment, anger, powerlessness, ambivalence, shame and loss.
“Since pregnancy termination is often a carefully-guarded secret, these painful feelings are usually buried away, where they may eventually cause other problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” she said.
Certainly some women may feel fine after an abortion, perhaps even relieved, Burke acknowledged.
“Yet over time, other life events or losses can become the catalyst for opening up buried thoughts and feelings in the future such as the birth of a ‘wanted child,’ a struggle with infertility, even the death of a pet or a parent,” she said.
Burke’s seminar will provide examples of how repressed and disenfranchised grief can surface many years later and create debilitating situations.
“Repercussions from what may be experienced as a life-changing, traumatic event can include eating disorders, relationship difficulties or other damaging behaviors, such as substance abuse, chronic or acute depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”
Burke will also discuss the growth of Rachel’s Vineyard at her seminars.
“Currently our ministry has grown to over 60 countries and is available in 30 languages,” she said. “I never dreamed that would have happened when I penned a program that was initially met with a lot of hostility in church circles. We have also been blessed by over 100,000 volunteers who passionately offer their gifts in this ministry around the world.”
As a nationally certified psychologist, Rachel’s Vineyard and working in the trenches of trauma was never what Burke planned to do with her life.
“But I have been surprised how God can take an interest or curiosity or even some pretty painful experiences and turn it into a life’s vocation,” she said. “Truly, I have been surprised by how God finds a way to heal the people that he loves with so much tenderness and compassion and lifts up and empowers people all over the world to help.”