Life Insight

A Publication of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
Vol. 11, No. 2 March 2000

In this issue...

Healing Happens

The U S. bishops' Jubilee outreach program to women and men suffering in the aftermath of abortion began February 7 in the greater metropolitan area of Baltimore, Washington and northern Virginia.

For nearly a year, the three diocesan offices of Project Rachel--the Church's ministry of reconciliation and healing for those wounded by abortion--prepared for this outreach by greatly increasing their capacity to help. Many more priests were trained in post-abortion counseling. Additional lay professional counselors were recruited. Diocesan offices upgraded their phone systems to handle increased calls and trained more staff to answer referral lines.

The outreach consisted of four 60-second radio ads broadcast on 10 stations, eight billboards placed along major commuter corridors and three messages displayed on placards in over half of local buses and Metro trains. Posters and brochures entitled "How to Talk to a Friend Who's Had an Abortion" were distributed to Catholic churches in the area. An 800 number was established to route callers automatically to the office nearest them. The Archdiocese of Washington and Our Sunday Visitor Foundation arranged for the distribution of Hope and Healing, a newspaper supplement available from the Elliot Institute, as an insert in the Sunday February 27 edition of The Washington Post.

This effort was only the beginning of a Jubilee outreach program to be carried out in individual dioceses and states throughout the U.S. this year and into 2001. A comprehensive and attractive website provides information about the Jubilee program, abortion's aftermath, the Project Rachel ministry and the location of its more than 150 diocesan offices:

The four radio ads (two of which are available in Spanish) were particularly effective in conveying the pressures women face in deciding to abort and the emotional, psychological and spiritual grief they experience following an abortion. In each ad, three women tell their stories, their phrases interwoven to create a profoundly moving effect. The radio ads ring with sincerity because the text is taken directly from women's own words about their abortion experience. These words provide a "comfort level," giving women the courage to call for help. Many callers remark that the ads described their situation and their pain exactly.

The Results

The results of the outreach in Baltimore-DC-northern Virginia are very encouraging. Numbers are incomplete, but the local Project Rachel offices report a much greater than anticipated response. Arlington, a relatively small diocese with an effective outreach before the campaign (mainly through parish bulletin inserts and ads in the diocesan paper), helped an average of 10 people per month before the outreach. Since then it has arranged for help for 110 people in less than 8 weeks. In that period, 603 phone calls were received.
Before the outreach program, the Archdiocese of Baltimore averaged about 18 inquiries a month and made 14 referrals to priests or lay counselors. They estimate a 10-fold increase in callers and clients since February 7.

The Archdiocese of Washington averaged 8 referrals for post-abortion counseling and 30 inquiries a month last year (or about 15 referrals every 8 weeks). In less than 8 weeks since the outreach began, the D.C. office of Project Rachel handled 450 inquiries and made referrals for 346 new women and men. (Referrals are made to 52 priests trained in post-abortion counseling, and lay counselors and ministers of other faiths who are similarly trained.) This represents a 23-fold increase in people being helped. These figures don't include women and men who, realizing that forgiveness is available through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, went directly to a priest for confession.

Not only has the program reached hundreds of Catholic women and men who were unaware such help was available, but it has extended the grace of God across religious and racial communities. The Baltimore-Washington area is both racially and religiously diverse. The Project Rachel ministry has been virtually unknown outside the Catholic and pro-life communities. And pro-abortion groups sometimes claim that post-abortion problems are simply the result of "Catholic guilt."

The public outreach brought calls from Hindus, Muslims, atheists and Protestants, in addition to Catholics. The community is home to many African Americans, only a small percentage of whom are Catholic, so few sought help previously from Project Rachel. Since February 7, however, African American women make up about 25% of the clients in Baltimore, nearly 33% of those in Arlington and about 50% of those in Washington. Referral to counselors and ministers of other faiths are offered. At the same time, when those seeking help learn that priests to whom they would be referred are specially trained in post-abortion counseling, even those who are not Catholic are usually pleased to talk to them. The program is thus bringing healing not only to individuals but also among our sometimes splintered faith and racial communities.

Truly, this is a fitting outreach for this Jubilee Year of grace and forgiveness, producing fruits that may last well into the new millennium.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse After Abortion

The new website,, offers extensive research on the psychiatric and social consequences of abortion taken from journals of medicine, psychology and the social sciences. A new study, not mentioned on the site, was just published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. It breaks through the barrier of political correctness which seems to be the editorial policy of many American psychology journals.

Authors David Reardon, Ph.D., founder of the Elliot Institute, and Philip Ney, M.D. of the University of British Columbia, reported findings of a survey they conducted to measure the abuse of drugs and alcohol as a means of relieving stress among women following an abortion.

They found that "women who aborted a first pregnancy were five times more likely to report subsequent substance abuse than women who carried to term and they were four times more likely to report substance abuse compared to those who suffered a natural loss of their first pregnancy (i.e., due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or stillbirth)" (Emphasis added). Their findings support prior cited studies showing such a link.

The authors caution that the risk of drug and alcohol abuse actually may be much greater than revealed in survey responses for several reasons. Previous studies have shown that surveys seeking information about past abortions have a poor response rate and, even among those willing to participate, have a high "concealment" rate. Only 14.6% of the 1,526 pregnancies reported in the survey were reported as aborted, substantially below the estimated national rate of 25%. And "demographic comparisons of women who conceal past abortions or who refuse to participate in post-abortion research suggest that they are more likely to match the profile of participants who report greater post-abortion distress." The final survey question asked respondents if they found answering the survey questions "emotionally difficult or disturbing." Those who admitted having aborted their first pregnancy and those who reported substance abuse were far more likely to answer yes to this question.

The authors estimate that one can expect at least 150,000 American women yearly at risk for substance abuse, as a means of coping with abortion-related stress. Disclosure of this risk should be part of informed consent for women considering abortion, and physicians and therapists treating patients with a history of either substance abuse or abortion should be prepared to address both problems with the patient.

Women Worlds Apart

Life and death. Being and nothingness. Sublime and ridiculous. ... It's tough finding words to convey the contrast between two gatherings that took place March 23-25 in Washington, D.C.

Women Affirming Life, Inc. (WALI) and the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities co-sponsored a conference entitled "The Feminine Genius and the Culture of Life," in celebration of WALI's tenth anniversary.

Across town (but measured by its ethos, light years away) the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) held its annual conference of clinic owners/activists.

The WALI Conference featured Catholic women from virtually every walk of life who are making a difference in their communities, professions, even countries, as advocates and exemplars of Catholic pro-life, pro-family feminism. And that's no oxymoron! Two days of inspirational and information-packed talks and "networking" culminated in Eucharistic Celebration at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, presided over by His Eminence, Cardinal Bernard Law. Fittingly, the occasion marked the Solemnity of the Annunciation, celebrating Mary's "yes" to God and to new life.

The PPFA conference began with congressional lobbying and continued with strategizing on how to distract the public's attention from the violent, ugly and painful truth about abortion. PPFA's conference culminated with a banquet celebrating the "right" of women to say "NO!" to God and new life. "Maggies"-- and doesn't the name lend a charming Irish air to Margaret Sanger?--were awarded to folks in the media, entertainment and politics who've been especially helpful in promoting the "right" to terminate the lives of children by abortion. Among Maggie recipients were "Cider House Rules," Teen People magazine, the "Vagina Monologues," and TV shows "West Wing" and "3rd Rock from the Sun."

John Irving, author and screenplay-adaptor of "Cider House Rules," returned the compliment at the Oscars on March 26 by proclaiming that Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) were the "real heroes of the evening." The highest honor of the PPFA gala, the Margaret Sanger 2000 Award, went to Nafis Sadik, population control advocate and executive director of the United Nations Population Fund. It was Sadik who urged the 1994 U.N. Population Conference in Cairo to press for expansion of population control "policies" and abortion worldwide.

The Feminist Pope

For many people the word feminist conjures up an image of women who are militant, radical and the backbone of the strident wing of the pro-abortion camp. Women whose paradigm for success and happiness is essentially that of unenlightened men: a prestigious career with the trappings of money and power plus an exciting, commitment-free sex life. Their attitude toward marriage can be found in the slogan "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." And children? In Planned Parenthood's view, babies are noisy, smelly and expensive, to paraphrase one of their ads.

What, do you think, would the PPFA conferees make of a ballroom full of happy, fulfilled Catholic women professionals, students and homemakers celebrating the gift which Pope John Paul II has called "the feminine genius"? Could they begin to appreciate the truth of an aside he once made with a disarming smile: "I am the feminist pope"?

In encyclicals, apostolic letters, and numerous statements and addresses, and especially in the 1988 apostolic letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris dignitatem), John Paul II has extolled women's dignity and the greatness of their contributions to Church and civilization throughout history.

Some excerpts from his "Letter to Women" prior to the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995) reveal his understanding and appreciation of women:

On mothers: You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it grow and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

On daughters and sisters: Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

On women who work: You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery," to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

On all women: Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.

I know of course that simply saying thank you is not enough. ... Women's dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves, and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. ...

.... How many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; ... the very dignity of their being!

.... There is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic state.

... .A greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the "civilization of love."

.... I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate. ...

.... For in giving themselves to others each day, women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way, the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity, and there is constantly revealed in the variety of vocations that beauty--not merely physical, but above all spiritual--which God bestowed ... in a particular way on women.

John Paul II's words are fulfilled in the lives of the women who participated in the WALI conference. The diversity of topics and speakers gave proof that life-affirming Catholic women are making noteworthy contributions to society and the Church.

The Honorable Janne Matlary, professor of political science and until recently a Cabinet official in the Norwegian government, has been an unspoken advocate of the "new feminism" on the world stage. She described her vision and her efforts fighting for social policies to support families and working mothers so that no woman need sacrifice the best interests of her children when she works outside the home.

Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon, who led the Holy See's Delegation to the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing, recounted the many ways that WALI members have demonstrated "the feminine genius" in the group's ten-year history.

Catholic University President, Rev. David O'Connell, spoke of the many components at a university that work together to help build a culture of life in this setting.

Helen Alvare of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities provided insights on how to communicate the culture of life to a secular society.

Mary Cunningham Agee, founder of The Nurturing Network, led a workshop on "Taking the Crisis Out of a Crisis Pregnancy."

"Extending Care and Compassion at the End of Life" was the topic of a workshop led by psychiatrist and Tufts Medical School professor E. Joanne Angelo, M.D. and Professor Kathleen Caveny of the University of Notre Dame Law School.

Cecilia Royals, who founded the National Institute for Womanhood, discussed the international role of women in protecting the family against pro-abortion and radical feminist groups intent on social engineering.

Boston College Professor Laura Garcia discussed the challenge to integrate prayer and public witness into one's professional life.

Mary Shivanandan, S.T.D., held a leadership training session on "theology of the body study groups" to help Catholics understand the rich teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and human sexuality.

Two lively panels shared their experiences in putting the "feminine genius" to work in the secular culture and in developing pro-life pastoral programs within parishes.

To complete the day, 35 Sisters of Life came all the way from New York to lead participants in chanting vespers. It was beautiful.

The highlight of Saturday morning's gathering was a humorous, anecdote-filled talk by Sr. Briege McKenna, who said she struggled a bit before saying "yes" to God's call to be an instrument of physical and spiritual healing for others. She noted that people today always want to be "in control" of their lives, and hesitate to agree to anything without knowing every last detail of what might be involved in the commitment. With God, we must learn to trust, as Mary did, and say Ayes" unconditionally, unreservedly. Sr. Briege's ministry of praying for others' healing, and her retreat ministry to priests, have taken her all over the world and brought many surprises to her life--always, at least in retrospect, for the best. Her appeal to trust God's will and go boldly forth is excellent advice for any woman hoping to assert the "feminine genius" in her workplace and community.

Life Insight*
is a publication of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
3211 Fourth Street, N.E.Washington, DC 20017-1194
Phone (202) 541-3070; Facsimile (202) 541-3054
Made possible through the generosity of
the Knights of Columbus

*The materials contained within are intended for use by the Catholic dioceses and organizations, and permission is not required for reproduction or use by them. All other uses must be authorized. For reprints, questions, or comments contact Susan E. Wills, at the above address.