By Kevin Burke, LSW
I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do… (The Confiteor)
Each year in January after the March for Life in Washington D.C., I am blessed to accompany those women and men of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign as they share their testimonies.
I am deeply moved and inspired as they tell their unique and intimate stories of pain, grief and shame from participating in the death of their unborn children. Their public witness also reveals the power of God’s mercy and healing.
But this year was different.
For the first time I felt called to share my own personal experience of abortion and carried a sign that revealed something I have never shared publicly; “I Regret Being an Accomplice to Abortion.”
I was a young man in my early 20’s when a relative I will call Rachel approached me with her secret struggle. Rachel was unmarried and pregnant from a brief relationship that had recently ended.
Rachel trusted me. I was a few years older, was beginning to revert back to my Catholic faith, and was just starting a graduate counseling program.
I had the beginnings of a religious awakening in my college years but within a liberal, social justice framework. This was the time of death squads in Central America, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the complicity of our government in the suffering of the poor and oppressed in that region. I volunteered in prisons and soup kitchens in the Philadelphia area. I met many fine committed Christians.
But there was one glaring omission from the social justice zeal to advocate and serve the poor and oppressed – the innocent unborn child in the womb. My theological formation at this time left me ignorant about abortion, the reality of the procedure, and the impact on those that participated in their death. That is not to in any way excuse my actions. I share it to provide my mindset at the time and the context for my response to Rachel.
After listening to Rachel share her secret, I told her, “I will support you whatever you decide. If you are open to parenting or adoption, I can connect you with counselors who can help you.”
What I failed to do was to encourage her to maintain the pregnancy. I did not to tell her that she would be a great mother – that in reality she already was a mother!
I could have scheduled an appointment with a pregnancy counselor and accompanied her to the meeting to offer my support. I could have emphasized to Rachel that “this child is an unexpected blessing” and “our family will love and welcome this child, and be there to support you.”
But I had absorbed a particular social justice religious perspective that is often silent and/or neutral about abortion, as well as the values of the counseling profession. This reinforced the diabolical propaganda of respecting a women’s inviolable right of “reproductive choice.”
In this context, abortion is a very private and personal decision, and I should not interfere in any way with her decision making process. To be honest, I also feared that she might resent me later if she felt burdened with a child.
Rachel had the abortion, and I was an accomplice in that child’s death.
Years later, when I learned about how abortion hurts women and men, I came to understand and see how that procedure impacted her life. It breaks my heart. I have shared with her my apologies and information on abortion recovery programs. I attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat for my own reconciliation and healing.
I will now be Silent No More about being an accomplice to abortion. I hope that others will reflect on their own role in the abortion decisions of friends and relatives. I pray they will come to a place of understanding and consider attending an abortion recovery program to reconcile with God, grieve those lost children, and pray for their parents.
Grace comes from facing the truth, and over time it often leads us to commit more deeply to advocating for the lives of the unborn and reaching out in love to those who have been hurt by abortion.
“I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”