All deserve forgiveness

January 15, 2013

HOUSTON — When pregnant women get an abortion, there are two victims who suffer the consequences — the baby and the mother.

It is a horrifying act of desperation and once the act is completed, many women are left confused, regretful and grief-stricken.

Through Project Rachel, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has tirelessly worked for more than 20 years to help those women find peace, as well as reconnect with God.

"What we do in the Archdiocese is outreach for reconciliation and healing for women who have had an abortion," said Dr. Marcella Colbert, director of the Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which provides the pastoral care outreach Project Rachel to women who have had abortions.

"Women are aware of the fact that there is something very wrong about having an abortion and because they don't have support, many have it anyway," Colbert said. "Afterwards, they are full of grief, sorrow and guilt over what they've done. We see them after it is over. We bring them back to God."
A vast majority of women, up to 60 percent, would not have had an abortion if there been an alternative or if they hadn't been coerced into it, according to Colbert. In those cases, it is primarily the father of the unborn child and the mother of the pregnant woman who helped to sway a decision towards abortion.

"In working with these women, almost everyone I've ever spoken to said that if only the man and my mother had stood by me, I would never have had this abortion," Colbert said.

Sadly, abortion is a reality. More than one million abortions are performed in this country each year. The issue became such an emotional and spiritual topic that it eventually landed at the steps of the United States Supreme Court, where the Roe v. Wade decision was made. The 1973 landmark decision, which gives women the right to have abortions, celebrates its 40th anniversary on Jan. 22.

The Catholic Church, however, takes a staunch pro-life stance on the matter and has historically rallied for the protection of unborn children. In December, the Church launched a national campaign for religious freedom, the family and life, and the strengthening of all of these things. 

The Church has even publicly denounced a legal rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, also known as the HHS Bill.

Under the rule, employers — including Catholic ones — must provide their employees with health plans that cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as birth control pills, "the morning-after" pill and sterilization beginning Aug. 1.

Church and Church-affiliated secondary schools are exempt, but organizations and businesses with religious affiliations must comply. That includes universities, hospitals and even soup kitchens.

"The HHS bill is where the government is telling the Catholic Church to change its religious beliefs and the Church cannot stand for that," Colbert said.
"What's happening is that the government is telling us to provide for those substances although we are profoundly opposed to them and if we don't do it, there will be a penalty of severe fines," she added. "And the time for this coming is right around the corner."

In hopes of putting the spotlight on the importance of human life — especially that of an unborn child — the annual Respect Life Mass is set for 5 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 1111 St. Joseph Pkwy., in Houston, and the National March for Life on Jan. 25 in Washington, D.C., is expected to bring pro-lifers together for the cause.

Still, abortion continues to penetrate the fabric of life, impacting women of all social and economic backgrounds, religions and ages. Colbert estimates that just in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston alone, more than 40 percent of women have had abortions. 

"I don't talk about how many women we have helped and I don't keep any notes on this because it's a sacrament and completely confidential," Colbert said. "But I can say that Project Rachel has helped every kind of woman you can imagine."

Project Rachel helps by offering these women a chance to reconnect with the Church through meetings with priests, counseling, retreats, emotional support and even confessions.

"This isn't a quick fix," Colbert said. "It's an ongoing process of conversion for the women who come to meet God," she added. "Project Rachel provides a gateway back to the Church when they have been estranged. Abortion cuts you off from the Church and women know that. This is a way to seek God's forgiveness and it is a great relief when they do."

To get the word out about Project Rachel, advertisement and notices are posted at parishes so people can pick up cards and call. For many women, help might come years after the actual abortion. As a result, woman may spiral downwards into a world of darkness, sometimes turning to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain of their earlier actions.

"Women may be coerced into having abortions, but the minute they are off of the operating table, she herself is conflicted about what has happened," Colbert said. "That's one of the reasons why many women never spoke of their abortions for a long time. They felt guilty and so ashamed and so horrified."

Yet through the Catholic Church, women who are suffering the spiritual and emotional aftermath of abortion may be able to finally find peace.

"Unlike those who advocate for abortion, the Church is here to advocate for life and pick up the pieces of those who obtained abortions and put them back on track with God," said Father Paul Felix, pastor at Shrine of the True Cross Church in Dickinson, Texas.

Father Felix has worked with Project Rachel for many years and recently started offering spiritual retreats to its participants.

"This is one out of many ways in which the Church is affirming the love and mercy of reconciliation and redemption leading to fulfillment," Father Felix said. "The power of God can help these women overcome the trauma they've suffered and the grace of God can bring about a profound renewal and way of life."