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Project Rachel founder urges pro-life advocates to be merciful

Among young people today, there is passion and a willingness to work to advance the cause of life, says the founder of Project Rachel, a national, Catholic-based ministry that counsels women recovering from the trauma of abortion.

These are young people who understand that "God never takes a nap" when a child is conceived, regardless of the circumstances, Vicki Thorn told an audience of about 300 Sept. 23 in the keynote speech of a three-day, pro-life conference in Omaha sponsored by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), the Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities and other ministries.

A specialist in the psychological aftermath of abortion, Thorn has decades of experience working with young people – including those striving to prevent abortion, those contemplating having the procedure themselves and those in anguish afterward.

Thorn launched Project Rachel in 1984, after a teenage friend, who’d given up a baby for adoption and had an abortion, confided her pain, saying she could live with the first act but not the second.

"Many of these women," Thorn told the audience, "are spiritually aborted themselves." They have "a hole in their heart" despite their veneer of self-confidence.

Many of those who most loudly defend the practice of abortion have been wounded and are defensive, she said.

"Don’t argue with the angry people," she said. Instead, "love them in." Ask them why they feel so strongly, listen, and thank them. "You will learn something every time you do that."

Thorn delivered the speech at the bishops’ pro-life banquet and awards dinner, which was part of the Sept. 22-24 "Made in His Image: Human Dignity in a Secular World" conference at Creighton University.

Other topics at the conference included the ethics of transgender issues, moral problems surrounding reproductive technologies, the role of faith in psychotherapy and the biology behind St. John Paul II’s theology of the body.

The array of topics covered under the conference’s "human dignity" theme broadened the event beyond the longstanding concern of abortion, said Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC, which represents the bishops’ public policy interests.

In her keynote speech, Thorn said after the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, U.S. bishops were looking for ways to respond in some concrete fashion to the needs of women who had an abortion.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee asked Thorn to start the ministry, named after the biblical figure Rachel, who wept for lost children. It encourages priests, nuns, mental health professionals and others to work as a team, helping women and men impacted by abortion, as well as their parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. Now, Project Rachel programs are in about 150 U.S. dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Years of talking with women before and after abortions has taught Thorn much about their mental plight, she said. Women leaning toward having an abortion "are in fear mode" and need help reasoning through the alternatives, she said.

Many of them are "peer-driven" to seek an end to their pregnancies, do not trust intimacy, and have suffered from stress, isolation and abuse in their own childhoods, she said. Abortion, then, is "the wounds of the mother being visited into the next generation."

"We are such a broken society," and abortion is the result, she said.

"We have to be the lovers of the world," Thorn said, urging the audience to live a pro-life message, not just speak it. She recommended, for example, establishing church ministries for young mothers and mothers-to-be, and communicating to daughters that an unplanned pregnancy might be difficult, but not a tragedy. She also urged prayers for those who have suffered through an abortion, both women and men.

"Healed people never support abortion again," she said.

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