Year of Mercy -- The Project Rachel Ministry: Peace begins here

By Peggy Moraczewski
Correspondent 

Editor’s note: Comments from a post-abortive woman appear in this article. She takes us on her journey from grief to joy through God’s mercy. For purposes of privacy, she will be known as Anna.
“I was born three months after Roe vs. Wade was legislated, so my whole life, abortion has been legal.” - Anna, post-abortive mother
Popular culture has convinced women that abortion is easy, helpful, provides relief and has no repercussions. Concealed is the grief over the death of a child, the fear and isolation, the burden of guilt and the spiritual wound that only God’s mercy can heal. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis challenges us to become vessels of God’s mercy.
The Diocese of Austin’s Project Rachel Ministry offers help to anyone grieving the loss of a child due to abortion and guides them to healing their broken relationship with God. 
“We all have that natural desire to be in relationship with God; he made us that way,” said Mary Helen Russell, pastoral care coordinator of the diocesan Pro-Life Activities Office.  
Anna’s Journey
More than two decades ago, Anna said, I was “street smart, but naive,” when I became pregnant at age 17. Her family physician recommended Planned Parenthood and, due to a tenuous relationship with her parents, and a troubled young boyfriend, Anna faced this life-and-death decision alone. The few friends she confided in were “unsympathetic and viewed abortion as the quick-fix for her problem,” she said.
Planned Parenthood confirmed Anna was 11 weeks pregnant, and when she asked the question of a confused teenager, “...is it (the abortion) going to hurt my baby?” a staff member responded, “It’s just tissue.” Her abortion was scheduled within a day or two of her initial appointment.
Emotionally recalling the day of the abortion, Anna said, there were other women (patients) present and, “you literally were led in kind of like cattle ... you go here, you go there, etc.” Anna had health insurance, so she was given a general anesthetic for her abortion; most women receive only a local anesthetic and a twilight drug, so they hear the entire procedure. 
Anna remembers telling the anesthesiologist she had changed her mind about the abortion, and their response: “Everyone says that. Don’t worry, sweetie, everyone thinks that they change their mind at the last minute. You’re going to be fine.”
She awoke in a room with about 15 beds and women issuing instructions about getting dressed and exiting through a rear door. As far as Planned Parenthood was concerned, she was finished. Anna recalls intense sadness, not elation or relief. Rather, she felt stunned. Day one her grief began. 
“I had the realization ... even though maybe I couldn’t verbalize it in this way, that what had just happened was no small thing. This was a big deal,” she said.

Project Rachel
The next two decades of Anna’s life were a merry-go-round of poor decisions, from drug and alcohol abuse to bad relationships. Attempting to describe it, she said, “...it’s just a grief that stays locked up all those years ... that drives everything else.” Current terminology describes symptoms of post-abortive stress as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as it relates to abortion.
Russell said, “Post-abortive women hear ... you’re not supposed to have any grief, so they cannot mourn ... That is insult upon trauma ... We want them to know, as a church, that we know this is happening, we understand, and that there is help available.”
Anna spoke about the profound spiritual healing she experienced through Project Rachel and the moment that caught her completely off guard ... the moment she felt “reconciled with God.” She knows the healing is ongoing because her life has changed and is now completely in the hands of God.
While healing does not happen overnight, it can begin with a phone call or e-mail to Project Rachel. “We know that it’s the Holy Spirit who has prompted people to even call the ministry for help. We offer different types of services depending upon an individual’s needs and provide ongoing support as well,” Russell said. A key element to promote healing is trust.
The Project Rachel Ministry provides a trustworthy environment, a safe place to heal through individual and group counseling, healing retreats and the support of a prayer team. It is a ministry of the Catholic Church that offers mercy and hope to anyone affected by abortion, including boyfriends, husbands, grandparents, etc. The goal is to offer reconciliation to men and women –– reconciliation with God and with their lost child. Russell encourages fathers-to-be to speak up when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and insists they are the most influential person to a young woman making this monumental decision.  
Power of prayer
Helping a mother who is facing an unplanned pregnancy choose life for her child is really about valuing the family as the building block of society, the foundation that God intended for society. “Secular society is saying the family is not important, but we know that it is, so we offer the opposite message, and we have truth on our side. God has willed that child to be born and he has a plan for that child’s life ... that’s what we believe. That’s our faith,” Russell said. 
Through prayer, every Catholic can help break the destructive cycle of abortion. Recently, a Planned Parenthood in Austin validated the success of consecutive prayer campaigns when they erected a tall brick wall in front of the clinic, so their clients could not see people praying outside. “They know it (prayer) is working and we know it’s working,” Russell said. 
Catholics can also help the healing process simply by being welcoming. Anna grew up Catholic, but did not feel she could participate in the church after her abortion. 
“It changed my whole perception of the church when I met a priest who was so welcoming, so beautiful to me, and he didn’t even know me. It was just so relieving ... to know that I could actually walk hand-in-hand with the church again. He helped me to dare to approach the sacraments again,” she said. 
For those who suffer 
Anna’s message to post-abortive women: “If you’ve been considering calling Project Rachel, just don’t wait ... pick up the phone ... take the first step. If you chicken-out, just keep trying. Just keep trying because it is there and it’s life changing.”
Project Rachel partners with other pro-life organizations across the diocese. Together, they work to see, in those who suffer, the face of Christ. Through its volunteers, the ministry aims to be the hands and feet of Christ, bringing love, compassion and mercy to all.
Tragically, abortion has been a legal medical procedure for more than 40 years. The ministry team frequently hears that abortion was a decision made before all options were explored, or even explained, to the parents-to-be. Statistically, couples who abort do not stay together, whether they are a teenage couple or a married couple. Abortion crosses all socio-economic lines.
How to help 
Many volunteer opportunities are available with the Project Rachel Ministry. Volunteers can become a member of the prayer support team, answer the help line, pray “out on the sidewalk,” etc. Russell describes their volunteers as those who are willing to show up and say, “I’m here, Lord. What do you want me to do?”
To volunteer or to begin your own journey toward peace and reconciliation, call or leave a message on the We Care Help Line, answered daily by trained volunteers at (877) We Care2 or (877) 932-2732. To begin corresponding anonymously, e-mail project-rachel@austindiocese.org, or contact the Project Rachel Ministry Team directly through Mary Helen Russell at (512) 949-2488.