April 29-May 5, 2004
By Kristen Fox / SUN Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Theresa Burke Shares Her Experience Helping Women to Heal After Abortions East Syracuse –– Anxiety, depression, regret, anger, hopelessness and loss of self-image are just some of the devastating effects women who have had abortions suffer. Theresa Burke has seen firsthand the pain that abortion causes, but what she is doing through Rachel’s Vineyard, the ministry she founded for women and men dealing with post abortion trauma, is building hope from hurt. Burke shared her experience with about 175 people during Friends for Life, Inc.’s Annual Spring Luncheon on Saturday, April 17 at Barbagallo’s Restaurant. The featured speaker, Burke told those gathered that abortion’s trauma can only be completely healed if one asks for and receives God’s mercy.
“Abortion is a wound to the soul,” she said. “Without asking God for forgiveness women –– and men –– might have relief, but they wouldn’t experience the profound internal transformation that they need to heal completely.” Rachel’s Vineyard offers women and men weekend retreats in a supportive, confidential and non-judgmental environment where they can express, release and reconcile painful post abortion emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing. Crisis pregnancy centers, pastoral care and other ministry outreach programs across the United States use Rachel’s Vineyard’s support group and weekend retreat models.
Dorothy and Tom Scibetta serve as presidents of Friends for Life’s Board of Directors. Dorothy first spoke to Burke several years ago when looking for a counselor for a young woman who had an abortion. “Theresa has devoted her life to helping to heal women who have had abortions,” said Dorothy. “Their experiences show us the pain and suffering that goes on long after abortions.” Burke is the author of several books, the latest From Grief to Grace, and holds degrees in counseling psychology and is a licensed professional counselor. She has lectured and trained professionals on the subject of post abortion trauma and healing.
Her talk at Barbagallo’s focused on post abortion healing and examined some of the stages of post abortion grief work. Her work with post abortion trauma started 18 years ago in graduate school. While counseling a group of young women with eating disorders, Burke discovered that a majority of them had abortions. “The subject of having an abortion was so painful that these women tried to suppress it,” Burke said. “The trauma manifested itself in other ways. They were left to deal with these unresolved feelings of guilt.” Burke also identified a link between abortion and suicide. She cited a study from the University of Minnesota, which concluded teenagers are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide if they have had an abortion in the past six months. Burke explained why many women suffer in silence for a long time after their abortions. “Most are not physiologically at peace with their decisions, but they are frightened to expose this shame and grief for fear that others will judge them or think less of them,” she said. “They do not know where to turn to, so they remain silent.”
During the weekend retreats at Rachel’s Vineyard, women –– and men –– are invited to begin the healing process. “Men suffer also,” said Burke. “For those men who suffered the loss of their child because of an abortion they were unable to stop, they feel a sense of powerlessness.” The retreats give women and men an opportunity to act out their trauma through scripture, art, movies and music. “The exercises help to connect participants to their inner voice, to each other and to the love and compassion of God,” said Burke. There is also an opportunity to reconnect on a spiritual level with the children who have been aborted. “Life is irreplaceable,” Burke said. “But we hope that through the retreats, participants will find meaning in what has happened and allow God to transform the experience into something that gives hope, liberation and peace.” Helping participants to accept forgiveness from themselves and others is a major component of the retreats, said Burke.
“They have trouble thinking they should be forgiven,” she said. “They carry this burden around and stay connected to the guilt and shame. ” The healing process can begin after forgiveness, said Burke. “When this process is complete there is rebirth and resurrection,” she said. “There is new life within their spirits which gives them hope in the future.” Burke said that the pro-life community can help women suffering from post abortion trauma. “We can offer the Lord’s mercy by not seeking to judge or condemn them, but by inviting them to thoughtfully reflect on their experience –– by being the one ear that will listen or the heart that cries with them for the loss,” Burke said.
Following the luncheon, Judy Geyer, executive director of New Hope Family Services, was presented with the Pro-Life Award on behalf of Friends for Life, Inc. New Hope is a Christian ministry which reaches out to those with pregnancy, parenting, adoption, or post-abortion needs. Carol Manglos and her daughter Stephanie performed a touching musical selection, “Who helps the Woman,” written by Holly Delavan.
Friends for Life, Inc. is a non-sectarian, non-partisan, educational organization which works to safeguard the life of every human being. It offers a wide variety of programs aimed at raising community awareness of many life issues. For more information, call (315) 468-6798 or visit their website at www.friendsforlifeinc.org.