Claire and Stuart McCullogh today gave an inspiring talk to clergy gathered for the conference of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life. Taking it in turns, they spoke about the origin of their work, their way of counselling women who have decided that they must have an abortion, about the reasons women want to have an abortion, and about what priests ought to be doing.
It was very helpful to hear from two people who are on the "front line" of pro-life work about what is actually going on when women seek abortion. They report that nearly all of their clients know that they are carrying a human life and that abortion will kill that life. They believe that abortion is wrong. Then there is the big "BUT". For various reasons, women feel that they simply cannot continue with this pregnancy now and that they must therefore, regrettably, go through with the abortion. The mission of the Good Counsel is to "mediate the mission of motherhood", to revive in the women that they see, that sense that they are called to be a mother. They have a quite remarkable success rate in their work.
One of the implications of their experience is that "proving" that the fetus is human is not the most important thing. Women know this but feel that in their case they have to make this choice. It is much more important to prevent the cause of abortion at its root, namely sex with no intention of having children.
The "reason" for abortion in most cases is "contraceptive failure". The majority of the women they see are using contraception, have assumed that it works, and that they will never have a child. It doesn't always work and the failure rate is cumulative so a great many partners who are contracepting will sooner or later be faced with an "unplanned pregnancy".
They also see a worrying and growing minority of younger women who are not using contraception but just have never linked having sex with having children. Most of their friends are having sex; they are not pregnant; therefore sex has nothing to do with children. This is a result of the "sex education" of our society, to confuse young women with the anti-life, contraceptive mentality message to the extent that they are not entirely clear about the facts of life. They do not realise that if you have sex, a likely result in a fertile young couple is that you will conceive a baby.
Therefore they encouraged the priests not to limit themselves to speaking about the evils of abortion, but to tackle the root cause which is sex before marriage and the use of contraception. Without tackling these issues, preaching about abortion will be limited in its effects.
In addressing post-abortion trauma, they pointed out that the very frequent assertion of the father of the child "I will support you whatever you decide" is in fact a form of subtle pressure to have an abortion. It equates to saying that it is the woman's decision, she will be responsible for it, and by implication, he will not be responsible for the consequences of her decision. This is a major contributing factor to women feeling that they have no effective choice but to end the life of their child.
A contributing factor to post-abortion trauma is silence from the Church. The common reluctance to preach on the matter because there are some women in the Church who have had abortions and it will hurt them is misguided and harmful. There is a crying need to acknowledge the grief of abortion - silence pushes this grief underground and prevents forgiveness and reconciliation.
Since, sadly, the rate of abortion among Catholic women is about the same as the rate in the general population, there is no question that there will be many women in our parishes who have had abortions. They need the grace of the sacrament of penance, the understanding of the Church and the clear and unambiguous commitment of their priests to preaching compassionately against this evil - and indeed the reaffirmation of the virtue of chastity for their own children.
One poignant story illustrated this well. A mother and a daughter had both had abortions. Their relationship suffered greatly as a result of their grief and trauma. They participated in a post-abortion retreat and became ardent advocates of the pro-life cause. Their relationship, though still difficult, improved. They asked their priest to post some pro-life information on the noticeboard. He talked to them kindly but folded up the poster and said "I can't put that up: there are some women in the parish who have had abortions."
I have only captured a few points of this excellent session. I hope to post some more of the very good advice we received today.
UPDATE: Fr John Boyle has posted a report as well and picked up on some other excellent points that were made.