By Kevin Burke, LSW
A young pregnant mother and her husband arrive for an appointment with their OB-GYN physician. She is in 22 weeks into her pregnancy and has just had a series of ultra-sound and other test confirming that her preborn baby girl will be born a hunchback, dwarf, blind and lame.
The physician outlined their options, but emphasized the health challenges in such a way as to increase the couple’s anxiety as he steered them toward “termination of the pregnancy.”
Their baby girl, now 23 weeks old, was killed by lethal injection to the heart. The father reassured his grieving wife that it was the compassionate, and necessary thing to do. But privately, in the solitary thoughts and feelings of his father’s heart, he was shaken by the experience of silently, passively witnessing the death of his preborn daughter.
This child was not actually conceived in our enlightened, post Roe V Wade world. The child survived. But she experienced another kind of emotional and physical abortion. And her life was a powerful witness to these words of St Paul; “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Cor 3-19)
April 13th is the feast day of St. Margaret of Castello. She was born in the 13th century to a wealthy family, and when they saw that she was hunchback, dwarf, blind and lame, they were ashamed of her and kept her hidden from view. Eventually, to make sure nobody saw her condition, the family kept her enclosed in a prison-like cell. One day they took her to a Franciscan Shrine, but then abandoned her there.
If Margaret was conceived today, and her parents had access to ultrasound and other tests that would confirm her disabilities, they would have surely aborted the tiny child in the womb. Even if they were somewhat open to the pregnancy, medical professionals, friends and family would have likely encouraged abortion as the most compassionate solution.
Despite her physical challenges, Margaret was serene, charitable, cheerful and courageous. Thanks to the kindness of her mother’s servant, and the fatherly love and spiritual formation of a kind priest, Margaret found strength in prayer, in daily Mass, and in Holy Communion.
Her faith deepened, and eventually Margaret became a sister of the order of St. Dominic. St. Margaret of Castello was beatified on Oct. 19, 1609 and canonized on April 24, 2021.
Fetal Disability Abortions – The Compassionate Solution?
Every year in the United States, approximately 133,000 pregnant mothers will undergo routine pre-natal tests and receive what is called “poor pre-natal diagnosis,” or PPD. This means that their infant is afflicted with a chromosomal abnormality or a serious defect in a vital organ. The most difficult and complicated grief that we witness on Rachel’s Vineyard Weekends for healing after abortion, involve couples that aborted a child for this reason.
These parents suffer from a particularly complex form of grief and guilt years after the experience.  They hunger desperately for healing and peace, but struggle to come to terms with their responsibility in the death of their child and the need for repentance, reconciliation and healing. They feel strongly that their situation is “different” from others who abort.
Without a healing process for this complicated grief, this pain will surely impact marital intimacy, communication and trust and the relationship of parents with their living children.
It is only when these mothers and fathers come to a clearer and honest understanding of their abortion loss that they can begin to repent, grieve and heal.
The healing process can never be forced. We must be patient, especially in the early stages of healing as the wound is very raw. There can initially be great defensiveness. It’s important to acknowledge their pain and loss, the confusing nature of the decisions and challenges that their fertility treatment/testing and medical care presented to them.
Susan attended a Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend Retreat after aborting a child diagnosed with a condition that would lead to her daughter’s death shortly after birth. She expressed a desire to leave the retreat Saturday morning. Susan shared: “I don’t fit in with these other women and men who aborted for “selfish” reasons. I had no choice. The choice I made was in the best interests of my child.”
One of the priests serving on our retreat team spoke with her after breakfast on Saturday encouraging her to stay though the afternoon and then if she still felt the same way, she could leave. Because of her trust in this priest, and the help of the Holy Spirit she decided to stay.
A major breakthrough occurred for Susan following the Living Scripture Exercise of the Woman Healed of a Hemorrhage offered on Saturday afternoon. In this exercise, the participants have an opportunity to touch a cloth representing the cloak of Christ.
Susan approached the cloak that flowed from the base of a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament, and prayed, “Lord, please help me not to be so perfect, to want everything in my life to be perfect, even my child.” She broke down in tears and continued on the weekend receiving an incredible amount of healing and peace.
At the memorial service Susan read a letter to her child apologizing for not having the courage to go through with the child’s birth and imminent death. This is an excerpt from that letter:
Our Dearest Marie,
Mommy and daddy really miss you. Your brother, Vincent, asks about you all the time…. Your sister, Veronica, would have loved to have a little sister like you because you and she would have been best friends…You are our little angel, our most beautiful child.
Thank you for forgiving us. You are forever our child and we are so blessed to be your parents.
Mommy and daddy
 One 2004 study (published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology) concludes that abortion due to “fetal malformation” is a “traumatic event” that “entails the risk of severe and complicated grieving.”