Millions of U.S. women have had an abortion, and many grapple with grief, shame, guilt, or anger afterwards. How can you help? Post-abortion healing activist Teresa Bonopartis offers expert tips.
Editor’s Note: Theresa Bonopartis is the co-developer with the Sisters of Life of “Entering Canaan — a Sacramental Journey to an Inheritance of Mercy,” a post-abortion ministry resource originally published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read the author’s bio below to learn more about Bonopartis and this ministry of post-abortion healing.
by Theresa Bonopartis
In working in post-abortion healing, we often get calls from family members or friends of those who have experienced abortion. Since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 60 million abortions have taken place in our country. We all know someone who has had an abortion.
These calls usually come in two types:
- Those who know the person they love is suffering and they want to help but don’t know how.
- Those who do not think the abortion is impacting the person and want them to realize what they have done. They cannot believe it would not bother someone.
Let’s try to address both, in the hope that it will help those looking for answers.
Suffering After Abortion
It is difficult to see someone we love suffering from the heart-wrenching pain of abortion. So often those who have participated in abortion have bought into the lie that if they terminate their pregnancy, life will go back to the way it was before they became pregnant. Sadly, they find out too late that this is not true.
Often the person experiencing this pain will feel alone and isolated. It can seem that those closest just don’t care. Once the abortion is over, it appears that there is an expectation to move on with life. After all, this was supposed to solve the “problem” right?
Words like “you have to move on with your life” or “it’s over now, you will have other children” are often said in good faith, but are just not helpful. They leave the person feeling even worse. What often seems like the right thing for family and friends to say does anything but relieve the pain.
The problem is not that they don’t care, but that they have no idea what to say! Most often, they too have bought into the lies of abortion, believing it was the solution or going along with it because they truly thought the person wanted the abortion and wanted to support them in their decision.
Help Her Heal
So, what to do? There is no one answer, but here are some suggestions that may help those you love:
- Yes, it can get tiring and you can feel helpless, but it is so important to be there and allow someone who has had an abortion to process her experience and all the emotions that go along with it. Abortion can leave guilt, shame, grief, and anger at oneself and others. There is a tendency to replay the experience over and over, and torture oneself with “would of, could of, should of” scenarios. It is important to point out that it is easy to see in retrospect, and there is no way to go back. But they can move forward for healing with the right help.
- Research materials from Lumina, a hope and healing after abortion ministry, or educational sites that acknowledge feelings and support healing. Pass the information on to her. There are some great pamphlets and books out there that will validate her feelings, help her to not feel crazy or alone, and aide her on her journey.
- Find some healing ministries, websites or blogs to send. There are some wonderful ministries out there with people waiting to help them through the healing process.
- If someone you know is really depressed or experiencing suicidal ideation, encourage them to seek professional help, but make sure the resource has a knowledge of post-abortion healing.
- Love them unconditionally.
- Take care of yourself and acknowledge your own loss, especially if it was your grandchild, niece or sibling. Consider seeking counsel to help you with your own emotions and loss.
Prayers Offer Hope Amid Denial
Often the devastation of abortion does not set in for months or even years. We have had people come forward whose abortions were more than 60 years ago! It is often another event in life that awakens the sleeping dragon, like becoming pregnant, the birth of another child, illness, having a grandchild, or even realizing the child they aborted may be the only one they will ever have.
You cannot force anyone to look at an abortion. There may be many factors stopping them, and currently, a lot of people available to help them in their denial. One only must look at recent events in which women were proclaiming the joys of abortion (Ireland) or marching to insure its rights at any time, for any reason, no matter what, to know that this is true.
Here are some points to consider when seeking to help someone who is not ready to face their abortion experience:
- Pray. You cannot force someone to look at an abortion experience, and denial can be a good thing if she is not psychologically or spiritually ready to face the truth honestly.
- Look to make sure your motivation is not more about you addressing your own pain in relation to the abortion. While you should never condone the abortion, you should never condemn the woman either. Only God knows her heart and can judge her. This does not mean telling her the abortion was OK. It never is, but it could mean saying things like “I am sorry you felt like you had to make that choice.”
- In truth, you do not know what’s in her heart or how she is when she is alone. She may be struggling deeply with her thoughts but puts on a front to make it seem like she is OK.
- Many women are terrified to look at their abortions and so rationalize and justify it to make it OK when deep inside they know it was not. It is important for her to know she can come to you when she is ready by not condemning her with your words, while at the same time never condoning the abortion.
- Literature that explains the dynamics of abortion and offers hope of healing may also be helpful to leave for her. Send it without much of a discussion or send it anonymously. We once had a woman who received materials in the mail, kept them for years, then took them out one day and called us. To this day she has no idea who sent them to her. At first, she was angry, but she kept them anyway. When the time was right for her she remembered them and reached out for healing.
The Right Time for Healing
Stepping forward for healing is frightening. The self-loathing that often comes from an abortion is a terrifying thing to face. The most important thing you can do is pray for the person to become willing to step out for healing, trusting God is working because he knows what they need better than you. Then as before, take care of yourself and your own loss.
Abortion devastates many people. But, as hopeless as it may seem at times, he is there, always waiting to embrace us all with his mercy!
In addition to the women’s ministry, mentioned in the editor’s note, Bonopartis also developed with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal specialized days for men, siblings of aborted babies, and those who aborted as a result of an adverse diagnosis. Having experienced abortion herself, her journey of healing has inspired many works across the country and the world, including “An Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance and Intercession,“ a prayer service she developed with the Family Life Office of New York, which has been televised by EWTN and conducted by many diocese across the country. Theresa’s articles on healing can be found in many publications including Mind & Spirit, Aleteia, Catholic Online, Catholic Exchange, The Federalist, and National Catholic Register. Theresa also authored a book of meditations, “A Journey to Healing Through Divine Mercy,” to assist those suffering from abortion on their healing journey published by Marian Press.In June 2002, Theresa was the recipient of the John Cardinal O’Connor Award for her work with those who are post abortive. She currently serves on the advisory board of Be Not Afraid, a ministry for those who have received an adverse pregnancy diagnosis. Her great devotion to Divine Mercy, which was instrumental in her own healing journey, and Our Lady of Czestochowa, patroness of all her work, is the inspiration for all she does. Bonopartis currently blogs at www.reclaimingourchildren.typepad.com.