By Kevin Burke, LSW
In her book Forbidden Grief, Rachel’s Vineyard founder Theresa Burke, Ph.D., writes about an internship she had years ago when preparing for her graduate degree in psychology.
As a second-year graduate student, Dr. Burke led a weekly support group at an area treatment program for women suffering from anorexia and bulimia.
The meeting became volatile and contentious one night when, unexpectedly, the topic of abortion came up. One of the participants shared about some very painful relationship issues she was dealing with related to a past abortion with her previous partner.
As it turned out, six of the eight participants also had abortions in their history, and shared a variety of complex emotional and behavioral responses. This led Dr. Burke to begin exploring the connections.
One woman explained the relationship of her abortion to the eating disorder symptoms she suffered:
“I am never hungry when I binge — I eat because I am full. Full of anger, hurt, sadness, and loneliness. I throw up because that is the way I empty myself of those feelings.”
Dr. Burke decided to bring the experience to her next meeting with the clinical supervisor for the internship, a practicing psychiatrist. She shared with him that when the abortion issue was introduced in the group it created some powerful and complicated emotions for a majority of the participants. Dr. Burke suggested it would be a good idea to explore the issue further, making it clear she was approaching the issue from a clinical perspective not with any political or moral agenda.
The psychiatrist was adamant that she was forbidden to process the issue further, that abortion had nothing to do with their strong emotions or any of their eating disorder symptoms. He abruptly closed the conversation by suggesting that some of the participants may just need medication adjustment.
This propelled Dr. Burke to develop one of the first therapeutic support groups for abortion loss. As she came to see the importance of a Christian scriptural and spiritual component to the healing process, she developed the integrated emotional and spiritual healing program of Rachel’s Vineyard.
The reaction of the psychiatrist to Dr. Burke’s suggestion that the experience of abortion can be an emotionally challenging and even traumatic experience for some women was threatening to his pro-abortion ideology. This supervisor represents the cadres of medical and mental health professionals, educators, politicians, and others who, in their ignorance and denial, silence women and men’s voices, leaving them to suffer in confusion and isolation.
“There is no social norm for dealing with an abortion,” Dr. Burke said. “There are no Hallmark cards for friends who have had an abortion, declaring either sympathy or congratulations. We don’t send flowers. We don’t have any ceremonies…We have no social customs or rules of etiquette governing acknowledgment of an abortion. Instead, we all try to ignore it.”
A coalition of national abortion healing programs across the U.S. is trying to change that, with April having been designated Abortion Recovery Awareness Month.
“When society trivializes abortion,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, “people suffering from it will cry out by their actions, ‘I’m not OK! I’m in tremendous pain! Can anyone help me?”
The good news is that with awareness, education, and resources for recovery, those suffering painful, and at times debilitating symptoms after abortion loss can find healing and peace.
If you or someone you know is suffering after an abortion, go to AbortionForgiveness.com to find a healing program near you.
You also can find a great collection of healing resources, research information, and programming at this special webpage.
We look forward to the collective efforts of abortion healing ministries across the nation throughout the month of April to reach countless women and men with the understanding of abortion’s wounds and the hope of healing.
Editor’s note: Kevin Burke, LSW, is a pastoral associate of Priests for Life and co-founder, with his wife, Dr. Theresa Burke, of Rachel’s Vineyard. An expert on men and abortion loss, he is the author of Tears of the Fisherman and co-author of Rivers of Blood/Oceans of Mercy.