By Kevin Burke, LSW and Theresa Burke, Ph.D
In a recent blog article we looked at the division between social justice and prolife Christians. Let’s explore how we can heal those divisions and become natural allies in sharing the love of God with families facing social and economic challenges.
Social justice Christians may be surprised to learn the dynamic connection that exists between abortion and the challenges faced by those suffering poverty and oppression.
There are two populations served in abortion healing programs like Rachel’s Vineyard that can help us understand this connection:
- Minority female victims of sexual abuse and other trauma
- The Male Prison Population
Sexual Abuse, Traumatic Re-Enactment and Abortion
In her book Forbidden Grief, Rachel’s Vineyard founder Dr Theresa Burke reveals that abortion may initially appear to solve the problem of an unplanned pregnancy. However, the unfolding consequences of the procedure can be devastating for women with a previous history of abuse.
Dr Burke shares in Forbidden Grief that the invasive and painful abortion procedure may re-enact the experience of previous sexual abuse and other trauma. After the abortion these women may experience a powerful resurgence of symptoms: a sense of powerlessness and fear; substance abuse, impulsive acting out in relationships; episodes of rage, anxiety, depression; self-injury, nightmares and difficulty sleeping.
The Shockwaves of Abortion have especially devastated the African American family in the United States. Since 1973, 13 million African American pregnancies have been ended by abortion. If we look at the rate of sexual abuse among African Americans, we find a group of women that is especially vulnerable to complications after abortion. Statistics reveal that 1 in 4 or 3.3 million African American women have been sexually abused.
It is indeed challenging to face the scope and complexity of the problems facing poor families. But abortion creates emotional, spiritual and physical wounds that can connect in powerful ways with previous abuse.
Women are left vulnerable to ongoing exploitation and abuse in their relationships. We know that this instability in relationships leads to breakdown in family life, leaving women and their children vulnerable to predatory relatives, partners and friends.
The cycle continues; more abuse, more trauma, more abortions, more death. Abortion healing is essential to help break destructive patterns in the lives of the poor. (Keep in mind repeat abortions make up to half of all procedures.)
Those in social justice ministry who are working with families to provide essential services such as job training, legal counsel, and medical and mental health services can help their clients connect with abortion recovery programs. The emotional and spiritual recovery process can help reduce painful symptoms and provide a foundation to build healthier relationships.
Abortion Healing and Prison Ministry – Reclaiming Lost Fatherhood
The Diocese of Palm Beach has a vibrant prison ministry at the maximum security facilities in the area. Under the leadership of Catholic Charities and Donna Gardner, they began ministering to men with abortion loss in the prison population using a support group version of Rachel’s Vineyard along with exercises from the Healing a Father’s Heart bible study.
Initially, there was some skepticism among prison ministry staff of the need for such a program given the very serious issues with which these men were already struggling. What they learned is that close to 90% of the inmates were part of abortion decisions in the past, and it did impact their lives in significant ways.
The healing journey of the inmates has revealed something very important about the interaction of abortion with childhood loss. This has relevance to men outside the prison walls in our poorest communities who have been hurt by abusive or absent fathers, and those families where children were emotionally wounded when their parents divorced.
Here’s some of what these men have taught us:
– The abortion healing journey provides a unique opportunity for those men who have unresolved rage and hurt from fathers who were absent and/or abusive. Many inmates had fathers that failed to treasure them as sons and serve as good models of manhood/fatherhood. You can think of this rejection as a type of emotional abortion.
– An abortion healing program allows the participant to progress through the steps of emotional and spiritual recovery so they can repent of their role in the child’s death as they restore their fatherly relationship with the aborted child or children.
– As they address their abortion wounds men learn on a deep and intimate level how to grieve, within an emotional and spiritual healing process. They invite the light of the Holy Spirit into the darkness of their own father loss, abuse, or neglect.
– The abortion recovery experience empowers them to let go of the rage and unhealthy behaviors that were the only way of coping with their pain in the past. They are restored and strengthened as men and fathers.
The Foundation of All Human Rights
It is tragic when we fail to see the fundamental relationship of abortion to the serious problems that impact all of our families, particularly minority communities with higher abortion rates.
For Christians to emphasize the foundational primacy of the right to life of the unborn in no way diminishes the value of social justice ministry. A society that protects its most vulnerable members and treasures the dignity of unborn children will be even more effective in building a just and compassionate church and society.
 According to the Census Bureau, the rate of abortions in 2006 among black women was 50 per 1,000, compared with 14 for white women and 22 for “other” women. In New York City, 6 out of every 10 unborn African Americans pregnancies end in abortion.
 Robin D. Stone. No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse. Harmony (March 8, 2005)