The Professional Ethics of Activism

Theresa and Kevin Burke
Founders of Rachel's Vineyard

There is a common perception that people who are dedicated to the work of post abortion healing should not be involved in pro-life activism.

Activism is defined in the Dictionary as:

1) The use of direct, sometimes confrontational action, in opposition to, or support of a cause.

2) A policy of taking direct action to achieve a political or social goal

For the purpose of clarity, lets now define "Pro-Life" activism. This form of direct action includes legal efforts to reduce and end abortion, representing women hurt by the procedure, voter registration and support of candidates who will further pro-life goals, providing education on fetal development and the abortion procedure itself, work in pregnancy care centers, and prayerful witness at abortion facilities.

It is important initially that we analyze the thinking/feelings behind those that feel these two efforts are incompatible. What are the underlying assumptions?

    1. Pro-life activism will blind you to the pain of the post abortive person.
    2. Activism would compromise the neutrality with clients and negatively affect their healing efforts.
    3. Even if they want to help, their activism would lead them to be insensitive to the deeper issues of the post abortive person, and preclude them from being effective healers.
    4. They would be judgmental and condemning of the individual who has been involved with abortion.
    5. They could cause harm to the post-aborted person.

Kevin Burke is a Licensed Social Worker who also serves as the Co-Director of Rachel’s Vineyard, a rapidly growing international post abortion Training and Healing Ministry. He says the following about the above assumptions:

"In my profession of social work, the assumptions would be opposite. A person who has worked in the trenches with a population that has been denied a voice for their pain would be encouraged by my profession to look at other ways to advocate for this population. It would be considered quite natural that we would take our vast experience in journeying with persons through their experience of pain and injustice and bring that to light in any context that could empower persons and prevent suffering. We would lobby our legislatures, encourage legal efforts, educate about the problem, work to inform the public about this issue, encourage individuals when they are willing to speak out about their pain/experience, media efforts etc. etc. To say that the work of healing is incompatible with activist efforts to effect change seems to me as a social worker absurd and misinformed. Certainly different strategies and sensitivities are necessary for various efforts. Some persons are called by their gifts and vocation to be only healers, and others only activists. However there is certainly a broad area where persons can effectively be engaged in a variety of venues to effect change and where their various efforts are complementary and are mutually empowering."

This excerpt from the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics supports Kevin’s comments:

Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice. (NASW Code of Ethics)

In my own profession as a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Nationally Certified Psychologist, the ethics are similar.

The Code of Ethics for the profession of Psychologists has one particular section that outlines our professional Responsibilities to Respect for Client’s Right’s and Dignity. This section the ethical code states:

Master’s Psychologists shall be committed to increasing knowledge of human behavior, understanding of their own and others sociocultural orientation, and to the relief of human suffering."

It is a gross misunderstanding of the helping profession to assume that those involved in the work of healing should not be involved in pro-life work which seeks to relieve human suffering and death. As a professional, I have an ethical responsibility to educate others regarding the harm that I have witnessed which has been inflicted by abortion.

The American Psychological Association describes our social responsibility:

Psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live. They apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare. Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering. When undertaking research, they strive to advance human welfare and the science of psychology. Psychologists try to avoid misuse of their work. Psychologists comply with the law and encourage the development of law and social policy that serve the interests of their patients and clients and the public. They are encouraged to contribute a portion of their professional time for little or no personal advantage.

The reality of coerced abortions and domestic violence is grave abuse of human rights and dignity. Professionals who learn the sad unspoken secrets of women who felt they had no choice but abortion, need to advocate for those being victimized and traumatized by this procedure. It is, in fact, members of the pro-life community who are leading the way in legislative initiatives, treatment, education and research.

It may also be instructive to offer a little history on our own ministry: The first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat was held in a Maternity Home outside Philadelphia supported by the Pro-Life Coalition of Delaware County. For several years American Life League, another pro-life organization, sponsored us. Currently, we are partnering with Priests for Life/Gospel of Life Ministries as they help us to build a structure for continued global expansion. None of the healing work being done for women, men, couples, grandparents and siblings of aborted children, or for the abortion providers who have labored in Rachel’s Vineyard would have been possible without the faith-filled efforts and support of the pro-life movement. In less than a decade, the Rachel’s Vineyard program has spread to Ireland, England, Spain, Canada, Portugal, Russia, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, South America and throughout the United States of America. This program was nurtured within the pro-life movement. The grass roots structure that fostered its growth was rooted in the work and efforts of pro-lifers who believe that human life is sacred and could easily comprehend how abortion would break a mother’s heart. Numerous Diocesese and Respect Life Outreach programs are currently using the model.

It is the collective mash unit of pro-life volunteers and church ministries who provide the funding, the resources, and the hospitality for the work of many different healing ministries. It is the professionals, who are bound by the ethics of their professions in codes of social responsibility. It is the clergy of many different denominations who are acting as representatives of God to assist in spiritual peace and the process of forgiveness. And it is the many post aborted women and men who have experienced healing, and now want to help others find the peace and reconciliation they have discovered in their own lives.

Working together, we can indeed, change the world. We must work to provide access and awareness of high quality programs for post abortion healing. We must also act to provide non-violent alternatives to those facing an unplanned pregnancy, choices that do not invade a woman’s physical and psychological integrity. And as activists, we must persistently reveal the truth about abortion and seek to modify the laws which perpetrate the abuse of women and destroy the dignity and rights of the human person. All of us involved in this critical work can be confident and proud to be pro-life – without apology.

Theresa Burke, Ph.D. is the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries and the author of Forbidden Grief – The Unspoken Pain of Abortion.

Priests for Life
PO Box 236695 • Cocoa, FL 32923
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