Hope and Healing: Project Rachel Provides Post-Abortive Support to Women and Men
by Katie Sciba
She was 19 years old when she found out she was pregnant. Afraid of disappointing her parents, Sarah* and her boyfriend decided to abort their child. “We were in quick and then the baby was gone,” she said, “and it was something I never talked about.”
Sarah and her boyfriend later married and had two more children. “I realized I had done something wrong. I took my first baby away.” The reality brought a heavy burden to her heart and relationships. “Having an abortion is not a crime, but I imprisoned myself without bars,” she said. Sarah went on explaining how realizing the gravity of her abortion made her heart harden.
She separated herself from friends and her merciful Father.
I was functioning and doing all the right things; raising a Catholic family, working. I became very busy and didn’t have time to feel the shame and guilt;” but life was like a flatline, Sarah said. She felt no highs or lows. “I just existed.”
Sarah’s experience of pregnancy, abortion and pain stayed buried for 22 years. “I had never told anyone. I never discussed it with my husband,” she admitted.
Sarah knew about Project Rachel, a ministry for those suffering after abortion. Those involved with Project Rachel extend compassion to mothers, fathers and any one else affected, without judgment. A relative of Sarah’s worked with the ministry, but it wasn’t until after his passing that she felt compelled to attend a support group. Sarah immediately felt the peace of being received and understood. “I felt a hundred-pound weight lifted from my shoulders. It was God saying, ‘I’ve been waiting 22 years for you.’”
Kara Ross is the associate director of Respect Life Ministries for the archdiocese and has seen the powerful impact Project Rachel has had on post-abortive women. “The ladies can look back on their whole life and see where God was taking care of them. Nothing a women does makes her undeserving of God’s love, and these women show each other that so well,” said Ross. Project Rachel is a peer-to-peer ministry, meaning other post-abortive women who have experienced the aftermath of abortion offer help and support.
Often left unconsidered by society are the post-abortive dads who struggle differently than post-abortive moms. “It’s a different loss,” Ross offered. “They feel they had little control or maybe they didn’t know it happened. They come from a place of powerlessness and feel they lost the chance to be a dad for selfish reasons.” These men often seek the counsel of the Project Rachel priests. “They need to hear they can still be good men.”
Project Rachel in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has 30 priests involved who come to retreats and the ministry’s days of reflection. “They tell the men and women who come, ‘You are welcome, you are wanted and forgiven.’” The clergy who help with Project Rachel received special training from licensed counselors to help handle the trauma of abortion. “They are human and honest,” Ross said. “Every single one has been an instrument of mercy and love to these people hurting.”
Ultimately, Project Rachel is a means for suffering souls to be restored in love. “Their stories include a scar and God shows them how to live with the pain,” Ross said. She described the suffering as a chance for transformation, allowing everyone affected by abortion to become better people.
Such is and was the case with Sarah. In addition to attending a Project Rachel support group, Sarah went on one of the ministry’s bi-annual retreats. “I went in broken on Friday and came out loved on Sunday,” she said, smiling. “The Project Rachel women loved me until I could love myself.” Sarah was able to move forward in her life, embracing her past, and asking forgiveness from family and God. After years of silence, she and her husband were able to process together their experiences from decades ago.
Spreading Love and Mercy
The love and mercy continued to flow through Sarah’s emotional scar. Because of her healing, she was able to reach out to a young woman who was planning to have an abortion. The young mother chose life for her child and Sarah was able to meet and hold the newborn girl who was saved. “I saw my little girl when I held her and I thought, ‘I didn’t save your life, but we saved hers.’”
When speaking with both Ross and Sarah, I asked them what they want readers to know and understand. “Please pray that more mothers would be open to Project Rachel,” Ross began. “Pray for the mothers and fathers affected by abortion. We’re in a culture of such deep, hidden hurts. Sharing your story of abortion in Project Rachel can bring intense healing.”
Sarah replied, “I want them to understand that having an abortion isn’t solving a problem. No one told me that I would have bigger problems when I walked out the door. No one told me it was a baby.”
She added, “I want people to know that they’re still loved by God. It’s so important to know that you can reconcile and accept forgiveness.” Sarah also mentioned speaking mercifully about post-abortive parents. “There’s so much judgment. Calling post-abortive mothers murderers doesn’t call them to return to God,” she said. “If you know someone who is post-abortive, be present and listen. Love them and help them to get healing.”
Call 513-784-0531 for the Project Rachel hotline or email [email protected] for help.
*name changed to protect identity