An Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Finally Home for Christmas – She Reveals that Many of Her Fellow Prisoners Shared About a Traumatic Abortion Loss In their Past
By Kevin Burke, LSW
Mary Wagner is a human rights activist from Canada. This Christmas Mary will celebrate the birth of Christ with friends and family. But for most of the last decade, Mary Wagner has often celebrated the birth of Christ in prison.
Mary enters abortion centers, peacefully prays, and shares a rose and information about other options with each woman in the waiting room. She refuses to obey Ontario’s “bubble law” that requires protestors to maintain a specified distance from abortion facilities.
It has been a great sacrifice for Mary to be in prison during the Holiday season. Yet while challenging, Wagner shares of the joy she experienced. “Every time I have been in custody over Christmas, I had a sense of joy in that the first Christmas was so poor…Jesus was born in unpleasant circumstances…”
Wagner responds to those who criticize her actions telling her she can stay out of prison, and avoid arrest, by respecting the bubble law. Mary says that if she obeys this unjust law, then “the children scheduled to be killed will have no one to stand up for them.”
Many of the Female Inmates Suffer From Abortion Loss
Wagner reports that 85 percent of the women she interacted with in prison have at least one abortion in their past. She says that many were teenagers at the time, pressured by a boyfriend or family member to abort and felt they had no other option. They expressed sadness and regret about their decision.
Mary encountered a fellow prisoner who was pregnant at age 15 and forced to have an abortion by her mother. The girl broke ties with her family, fell into substance abuse, and now at age 29 was still dealing with the aftereffects.
Obviously not all women or men who have abortions end up in prison. Yet, it seems that a high percentage of female and male inmates have abortions in their past.
Is there a relationship between the experience of traumatic abortion loss and incarceration?
In my book Tears of the Fisherman, I explore the topic of abortion loss and recovery for men. In a chapter on a prison ministry program at two Florida maximum security facilities, we learn that close to 90 percent of the inmates were involved in at least one previous abortion.
For some of these men, there was a direct link from their role in the child’s death, and later criminal behavior. For the majority of the men it was a painful and shame-filled event from their past and an important part of the journey that led them to criminal behavior and prison.
For the inmates I interviewed, and from what we have learned from the hundreds of men who have been through the prison’s Rachel’s Vineyard program, abortion loss connected in a toxic way with earlier father loss/abuse/abandonment and other life trauma. This left the men vulnerable to acting out their rage and grief in self-destructive and criminal ways.
This may hold true with the female inmates as well. Many likely have histories of abuse, family dysfunction, and other life trauma. The feelings and memories of the past, triggered in a powerful way by abortion related trauma, can be overwhelming.
Women and men can try to escape, and act out their painful emotions and memories by engaging in self destructive behaviors, relationships, and addictions. This can lead some women and men into criminal behavior and incarceration.
The Good News
Attending an abortion recovery program in prison helps women and men heal the deep emotional and spiritual wounds that abortion imprints on the heart and soul.
But this experience has other positive benefits.
Inmates intimately encounter the God who became man, healed our wounds, forgives our sins, and loves us with an unconditional love, despite our dark and shameful past.
Hearts are now open to the grace that can open the door to healing of family wounds, and other life trauma. They learn to grieve their losses, and share painful emotions in a healthy way.
[The following is a Christmas song I wrote and perform with producer Henry Gennaria, and a brief video I made to share the great mystery of the incarnation. It reveals the intimate bond between Mary and Jesus that began in the womb and was forged through great wonder and joy…yet also with great suffering. It reveals the radical love of God for each one of us…especially those in most need of His mercy.]