Listening and restoring their humanity is the key in the Catholic Church ministering to women and couples who have experienced abortions.
Addressing 24 priests and two deacons at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Highgate, Abortion Grief Counselling Association national director Julie Cook said on January 30 that compassion and empathy must form the basis of pastoral care for women who have suffered abortions.
She said women and men who have experienced abortion “often run away from the Church, but they should be running to the Church”, where compassion and forgiveness is found.
Ms Cook urged a “community-focused” approach to caring for the suffering women and men who have experienced abortion, stressing that anyone judging them for either getting pregnant outside of marriage or for having the abortion “only adds to the punishment they are already giving themselves”.
“Some Catholics confuse compassion with condoning abortion,” she said, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Redemptorist Fr Hugh Thomas, present at the talk, noted that the fall in church attendances has coincided with the rise of the use of the Pill since its introduction in 1960 and subsequent rise in abortions and related problems.
While familiar with the content of Mrs Cook’s presentation, Fr Thomas said the issue is an extremely tough subject to even broach with parishioners, and requires careful consideration.
Redemptorist Fr Joe Carroll also said that even if women (or the men involved) have been forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, forgiving oneself is another proposition entirely.
“Every Sacrament works (to heal people in a practical way), except when insuperable obstacles are at work,” he said.
Fr Carroll said that though he has “encountered this kind of thing all the time”, he admitted that he often has not considered that “the reason someone is falling to pieces” is because of an abortion”. Ms Cook said “it’s what nobody wants to talk about”.
She said women who are contemplating or have had abortions have been “dehumanised” in a way, be it by an unsupportive spouse, family or healthcare provider, or a troubled upbringing.
Whether they realise it or not, women need to “extract the wound” of their abortion, which involves validating the pregnancy and creating an environment where the woman can appropriately apportion the blame to others like doctors, boyfriend, etc without taking responsibility away from the woman herself.
She said that in their moment of compassion, the priest, Religious or layperson will be but a “dot on their path to healing”, but they will remember that person down the track.
By empowering women, affirming their humanity and committing them to God’s care, Ms Cook said “there is nothing more pro-life”, as these women will then stop other abortions by their own friends or family members.
Ms Cook also said that death often challenges these victims to “look into their own spiritual framework”, adding that many women who call helpline counselors often make reference to God either punishing or forgiving them during their over-the-phone counseling sessions.
“These people (women and the men involved as well) are hardest on themselves, especially the women, so it is good to talk about the factors in their lives that led to the abortion,” Ms Cook said.
In this way, she said, the Church as a parish community and individuals are “throwing them a lifeline” – whether those reasons be fear of having children, fears of loss of friendship and confidence.
She laid particular blame for the abortion epidemic – up to 90,000 are performed annually in Australia – on the healthcare industry, saying that “if the healthcare industry was against abortion, there would be no abortion”.
In doing so, she dismissed pro-choice claims of an explosion of “unsafe backyard abortions” if “safe” abortion is not legal and readily available.
“Being deceived and manipulated is part of the trauma of women considering or who have had abortions, as healthcare workers’ common ‘trump card’ is ‘there’s something wrong with the baby’ whenever women fight the abortion,” she said.