BRIDGEPORT—During the course of a month, Maureen Ciardiello can get as many as 10 calls from women seeking help because they had an abortion. Sometimes the callers are family members or friends. But always they are suffering from guilt, depression and anxiety, some for many years.
Ciardiello, who is coordinator of the Respect Life Ministry and Project Rachel, says, “The secular world tries to dehumanize the reaction to an abortion, but the women know innately something is wrong and their lives have changed forever, and they can’t go back to that feeling of being normal. Having an abortion does something psychologically. The women may develop risky behaviors or turn to drugs and alcohol, and there is a mental health aspect to it that includes anxiety and depression.”
Project Rachel is the U.S. Catholic Church’s ministry to those who have been involved in abortion. It provides a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide “a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion.”
“Despite the fact that abortion is touted as a right and choice, there are those who have experienced an abortion who will tell you they were forever changed,” Ciardiello says. “Life was never the same after the experience, and too often, they are told what they are feeling is not true, so they internalize the regret, pain, guilt and shame because they don’t think they have anywhere to turn.”
On June 12, Project Rachel is hosting an Entering Canaan Day of Prayer & Healing with Father Ignatius Shin, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Another retreat day is scheduled for September 25. “Our retreats are a safe place, and there is no judging,” Ciardiello says.
The Entering Canaan healing model has several components:
- Beginning the Journey: Days of Prayer & Healing, the message of hope for those hurting.
- Fighting the Battles: Monthly Gatherings (groups) addressing specific post abortion issues.
- Hope & Healing Weekends: delving more deeply into the wounds of shame, grief, anxiety, self-hatred, anger and other post abortion manifestations.
- Special Gatherings: Advent, Mother’s Day, and other times that may be particularly painful for those who have lost a child through abortion.
- Mercy Retreats: Yearly renewal retreats to aid in continued growth and healing emotionally and spiritually.
The healing process is important, Ciardiello said, because of the emotional and spiritual after-effects of an abortion, not just for the woman but for family members and friends.
Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, there have been an estimated 62 million abortions in the United States, and Ciardiello says, “Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion, and many of them are not going to church because they feel abortion is a barrier to them…. It also affects men and siblings and has an impact on our society at large. Most of the women who take part in the program are Catholic and it is based on the sacraments. As Catholics, we need greater awareness of the importance of this ministry in our diocese so that we can help women. There is guilt and shame associated with abortion, and they need a place to process all that.”
In addition to the retreats and healing services, Project Rachel also refers women and men involved in an abortion to mental health counselors. She urges counselors who are empathetic and understand the emotional and spiritual effects of an abortion to contact her if they would be willing to have a referral.
“They often suffer from anxiety, depression and guilt,” she says. “You can even think of it as post-traumatic stress disorder because certain triggers—a sound, a smell, a song—bring them back to that place in time when they had the abortion, and there are painful memories. Meanwhile, society is telling these women they should celebrate their abortions.”
Many women, she says, are coerced into having an abortion by either a parent who drives her to the facility, or a boyfriend or spouse, so that the woman doesn’t feel she has any other choice.
“Sometimes people judge, and I think a lot of the women feel that way themselves,” she says. “They never thought they would do anything like this, but coercion plays a big part in abortion. There is emotional pressure, and they feel like they don’t have another choice. They, themselves, often think, ‘I don’t know how I even did this.’”
But there is hope and healing, she says, urging anyone involved with an abortion who is seeking help to contact her.
(For further information, contact Project Rachel Ministry at 203.416.1619 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)