Healing the Shockwaves of Abortion

The Impact of Abortion on Poor Communities: Bridging the Gap Between Pro-Life and Social Justice Christians

By Kevin Burke, LSW



Kelly Rosati is the vice president of Community Outreach at Focus on the Family:

… it often seems as if pro-life and pro-justice Christians come from two different planets…They lean in different political directions, and each thinks the other should prioritize the issues differently…they have little interest in working together—and in fact, they can often seem “at odds” with one another. (Christianity Today)

Public Religion Research Institute’s 2012 American Values Survey, revealed the division between those who identify as social justice and right to life Catholics:

“Social justice Catholics” (60%): believe…the Catholic Church should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life.

“Right to life Catholics” (31%): believe that the Catholic Church should focus more on abortion and the right to life in its statements about public policy, even if means focusing less on issues like social justice and the obligation to help the poor.”

If social justice Christians of all denominations could see the dynamic connection that exists between abortion and the challenges faced by those suffering poverty and oppression, maybe it would help bridge the gap between Social Justice Christians and Right to Life Christians. They may come to see that pro life advocacy, abortion prevention, and healing after abortion are essential in communities ravaged by violence, family breakdown and social and economic injustice.

There are two populations served in abortion healing programs like Rachel’s Vineyard that can help us better understand this relationship of abortion and poverty:

  1. Minority female victims of sexual abuse and other trauma
  2. The Male Prison Population

Sexual Abuse, Traumatic Re-Enactment and Abortion

In Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, Dr Theresa Burke reveals that while abortion may initially appear to solve the problem of an unplanned pregnancy, the unfolding consequences of the procedure can be devastating for women with a previous history of sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

Dr Burke shares in Forbidden Grief that the invasive and painful experience of the abortion procedure serves to re-enact the physical and emotional violation of previous sexual abuse and other trauma. After the abortion these women may experience a powerful resurgence of symptoms; addictions, impulsive acting out in relationships, episodes of rage, anxiety, depression, self-injury, nightmares and difficulty sleeping.

The Shockwaves of Abortion have especially devastated the African American family in the United States.[1] Since 1973, 13 million African American pregnancies have been ended by abortion. If we look at the rate of sexual abuse among Africa Americans, we find a group of women that is especially vulnerable to post abortion complications. Statistics reveal that 1 in 4 or 3.3 million African American women have been sexually abused.[2]

It is indeed challenging to face the scope and complexity of the problems facing poor families. But abortion creates emotional, spiritual and physical wounds and vulnerabilities that only exacerbate a woman’s pre existing trauma.

Women are left more vulnerable to ongoing exploitation, dysfunction and abuse in their relationships. We know that this instability and dysfunction in relationships leads to breakdown in family life, leaving women and their children vulnerable to predatory relatives, partners and friends.

The cycle continues; more abuse, more trauma, more abortions, more death.

Abortion prevention and abortion healing – if possible after the initial abortion – is essential to help break dysfunctional patterns in the lives of the poor (including repeat abortions, which make up half of all procedures.) The emotional and spiritual recovery process in abortion healing programs helps to significantly reduce destructive symptoms and behaviors and provide a foundation to build a healthier relationship with God, spouses/partners and living children.

Abortion Healing and Prison Ministry – Reclaiming Lost Fatherhood

The Diocese of Palm Beach has a vibrant prison ministry at the maximum security facilities in that area. Under the leadership of Catholic Charities and Donna Gardner, they began ministering to men with abortion loss in the prison population using a support group version of Rachel’s Vineyard along with exercises from the Healing a Father’s Heart bible study.

Initially, there was some understandable skepticism by prison ministry staff of the need for such a program given the very serious issues with which these men were already struggling. What they quickly learned is that close to 90% of the inmates were part of abortion decisions in the past, and it did impact their lives in powerful ways.

The healing journey of the inmates has revealed something very important about the interaction of abortion with childhood loss. This has relevance to men outside the prison walls in our poorest communities who have been hurt by abusive or absent fathers, and those families where children were emotionally wounded when their parents divorced.

Here’s some of what these men have taught us:

– The abortion healing journey provides a unique opportunity for those men who have unresolved rage and hurt from fathers who were absent and/or abusive. Many inmates had fathers that failed to treasure them as sons and serve as good models of manhood/fatherhood. You can think of this rejection as a type of emotional abortion.

– A solid post abortion healing program allows the participant to progress through the steps of emotional and spiritual recovery so they can repent of their role in the child’s death and also are able to restore their fatherly relationship with the aborted child or children.

– They invite the Holy Spirit into the dark wounds of their own fathers’ loss, abuse, or neglect. As they address their abortion wounds men learn on a deep and intimate level how to grieve, within a process immersed in God’s Word, sacrament, and the Holy Spirit.

– The post-abortion recovery experience empowers them to let go of the rage and unhealthy behaviors that were their only way of coping with their pain in the past. They are restored and strengthened as men and fathers.

The Foundation of All Human Rights

The great mystery of our salvation in Christ Jesus begins at the Annunciation and the incarnation of the Word of God within the blessed womb of Mary. How can the dignity and protection of the unborn child not be a priority for all Christians?

It is tragic when we fail to see the fundamental relationship of abortion to the serious problems that impact all of our families, but especially the vulnerable, the poor, and the minorities who have especially high abortion rates in their communities.

For the Christians to emphasize the foundational primacy of the right to life of the unborn in no way diminishes the value of ministry to the poor, sick, elderly, and disabled. A society that protects its most vulnerable members and treasures the dignity of unborn children will be even more effective in building a just and compassionate church and society.

[1] According to the Census Bureau, the rate of abortions in 2006 among black women was 50 per 1,000, compared with 14 for white women and 22 for “other” women. In New York City, 6 out of every 10 unborn African Americans are aborted.