BRIDGEPORT, Pennsylvania, AUG. 19, 2004
.- Both women and
men suffer when they decide to abort a child, says a social
worker who deals in post-abortive counseling.
Kevin Burke, who directs Rachel's Vineyard Ministries with
his wife, Theresa, shared with ZENIT how men grieve the loss of
their child, and how their healing helps post-abortive women
mend their wounds, too.
Q: Why did Rachel's Vineyard Ministries decide to start
reaching out to men, in addition to its service to women?
Burke: It began when we had the first few men attended our
weekend retreats with women. We saw how effective the retreat
was for women, so we were curious to see how the process would
work with men involved.
The results were very encouraging and exciting. The men
entered deeply into the healing process, grieved as intensely
for their children as the women in the group and received
similar benefits from the experience.
An unexpected benefit for the women in these groups was that
the presence of men grieving deeply for their children added
another level of healing. Many women experience their abortion
in isolation and often after being used, manipulated and
abandoned by a man.
To see a man repentant and openly grieving his child,
acknowledging his failures and loss, and embracing the mercy and
forgiveness of Christ -- this is an added blessing and healing
element of the retreat for all participants.
There is a gradual but steady increase in the number of men
attending the over 300 Rachel's Vineyard retreats held across
the United States and internationally. We now have a
men's section on our Web
site with e-mail support from men who experienced healing of
their involvement with an abortion and want to reach out to
Q: What issues do men who have been involved with an abortion
typically face during post-abortion healing?
Burke: Men struggle with many of the symptoms of complicated
grief as women do.
In an L.A. Times survey of 3,600 men, 66% reported guilt and
anxiety after their involvement with an abortion; other research
indicates that men do indeed struggle with feelings of guilt,
depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and anger after an
Perhaps men are better equipped to stuff these feelings, or
compartmentalize their grief, but this has its emotional and
Like women, unless they connect their pain and their symptoms
to the complicated grief around the abortion wound, they are
destined to continue to act out that pain in their lives --
often with destructive consequences for their spousal, family
and work relationships. Many men are in deep but often quiet
pain about their involvement in an abortion decision.
It is important to look at their role as men in the abortion
decision. For those who communicated ambivalence, manipulated or
pressured for abortion, or in other ways abandoned the mother
and child during this time of vulnerability and fear, a major
issue is their failure as men to fulfill a fundamental aspect of
their vocation -- the protection and care of mother and child.
When the reality of their actions is clear, when it breaks
through their workaholism, pornography addiction, extramarital
affairs, depression, alcohol abuse and other ways they stuff
down the pain, it is a very painful moment -- but it is the
beginning of healing and reconciliation.
They come to the full realization of what was lost and they
face the deep grief of losing their precious child. This is when
they need the support of other persons who understand their
pain, and the reconciliation and healing of the Church.
Particularly important is a healing process like Rachel's
Vineyard that will allow them to enter deeply but safely into
that grief and open their hearts to receive God's healing, and
with faith embrace the unborn child that, as the Pope says in "Evangelium
Vitae," now is "living in the Lord."
For those men who fight for the life of their child,
encourage the mother to have the baby and offer real emotional
and financial support, abortion can be particularly devastating.
The sense of powerlessness can lead to anger, depression and
other elements of complicated grief.
In these cases the Rachel's Vineyard retreat process gives
voice to this pain and provides the opportunity for forgiveness,
reconciliation and peace that these men so desperately need.
Q: What conflicts often arise between a man and a woman
before and after they have been involved in an abortion?
Burke: Most relationships end at some point after the
abortion. Some continue with dysfunctional dynamics between the
couple that can serve as an unconscious way to self-punish and
even in a certain sense as a memorial of the aborted child.
There is another factor that is widely underreported, but is
extremely important. Many young couples abort in their
engagement period or early marital life, feeling they are not
emotionally or financially ready to have a child. This puts a
dagger into the heart of the relationship -- abortion, though
touted as an autonomous issue of choice, takes place within the
context of their deepest emotional and physical intimacy.
Abortion is very much a relational wound.
When death is introduced into that place of their deepest
intimacy, its effects seep into and corrupt their trust, sexual
intimacy and communication. Often the marital problems a couple
faces are not tied into secret and complicated grief from an
abortion decision. But it is a factor in marital dysfunction and
We know this from the stories of those who come forward for
healing; many of these can be found in a
book my wife,
Theresa, wrote, "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of
For those who are able to attend a Rachel's Vineyard retreat
together, the marriage can be saved and the original design of
God for that marriage restored with an increase in communication
and emotional and physical intimacy.
It is beautiful to see couples journey together on the
Rachel's Vineyard retreat; we are seeing more and more of them
attend. At other times, one person seeks healing first, and the
good effects eventually lead the other spouse to participate in
some way in future healing opportunities.
Q: What help do you offer a man who had nothing to do with an
abortion, but is in a relationship with a woman who had an
abortion before they met?
Burke: This is very important because many men can be
confused by their wife's growing depression or dissatisfaction
in their marriage.
They do not connect their spouse's behavior -- which can feel
like rejection of them physically and emotionally -- with
post-abortion grief, and marriages end without any opportunity
to find healing of both the abortion and the marriage.
We strongly encourage men in these cases to accompany their
wives on the Rachel's Vineyard weekend. The effects are so
amazing. Having her spouse support her during this time of
anguish, and in their encounter with the Lord Jesus, the joy of
reconciliation and re-connection with the child through the
retreat process and the sacraments is very healing in the
Men are invited to spiritually adopt their wife's child
during the memorial service. This is a very moving and healing
Also, men should read "Forbidden Grief" to help them better
understand their wife's pain.
Q: How can men -- husbands, boyfriends, brothers, fathers,
grandfathers -- understand and help women to heal from an
Burke: Don't minimize the pain they have experienced --
support them in their need to find healing and reconciliation.
And don't be threatened by this healing; it will be a great
blessing to your marriage and children.
If you encouraged your daughter or wife to abort, her grief
and pain can feel threatening to you, given your involvement in
the abortion decision. It is so important to not further
exacerbate her symptoms and pain by blocking or sabotaging her
attempts to find healing.
You may need counsel and support to do this -- contact us or
another healing resource to assist you.
Accompany them -- if they are willing -- on their Rachel's
Vineyard retreat weekend or participate with them in whatever
healing process they are involved in. Grandparents, fathers and
husbands do beautifully on the retreat and are an important part
of the healing of family relationships that can be damaged by
abortion. Be patient, loving, supportive and kind.
Men can refer post-abortive women to our Web site so they can
e-mail other women and couples who will understand their pain.
Also, women can call our hot line at (877) HOPE-4-ME or (610)
About a third of the 300 Rachel's Vineyard retreats offered
this year are hosted by Respect Life/Project Rachel or Pro-Life
offices; they will have counselors to assist you and other
support as well. Others are sponsored by parish, pro-life or
independent ministries and a growing number are offered in an
interdenominational format and setting. Be assured that all our
sites welcome persons of all denominations.
In a larger context as men, they must take responsibility and
repent of the ways they have failed women.
Any time they are sexually intimate with a woman outside of
the security and safety of the marital covenant, any time they
say to their fiancé or spouse, "We might not be ready for this
baby -- maybe we should think about abortion" or "It's your
decision, I'll support whatever you do," they place her and any
child conceived at grave risk.
As fathers of aborted children, like the courageous women who
pioneered abortion healing, they must come forward and face
their grief, their loss and embrace the mercy and healing that
awaits a repentant and wounded heart.
Then they can be free to be the men that the Lord calls them
to be: to protect, defend and empower those the Lord entrusts to
their care; to give their life for them, as Christ gave his life
for us all.
Innovative Media, Inc.
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