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Helping Men Heal From Abortion

Kevin Burke on New Program of Rachel's Vineyard

BRIDGEPORT, Pennsylvania, AUG. 20, 2004 (Zenit) - Both women and men suffer when they decide to abort a child, says a social worker who deals in post-abortive counseling.

Kevin Burke, who directs Rachel's Vineyard Ministries with his wife, Theresa, shared with us how men grieve the loss of their child, and how their healing helps post-abortive women mend their wounds, too.

Q: Why did Rachel's Vineyard Ministries decide to start reaching out to men, in addition to its service to women?

Burke: It began when we had the first few men attended our weekend retreats with women. We saw how effective the retreat was for women, so we were curious to see how the process would work with men involved.

The results were very encouraging and exciting. The men entered deeply into the healing process, grieved as intensely for their children as the women in the group and received similar benefits from the experience.

An unexpected benefit for the women in these groups was that the presence of men grieving deeply for their children added another level of healing. Many women experience their abortion in isolation and often after being used, manipulated and abandoned by a man.

To see a man repentant and openly grieving his child, acknowledging his failures and loss, and embracing the mercy and forgiveness of Christ -- this is an added blessing and healing element of the retreat all participants.

There is a gradual but steady increase in the number of men attending the over 300 Rachel's Vineyard retreats held across the United States and internationally. We now have a men's section on our Web site with e-mail support from men who experienced healing of their involvement with an abortion and want to reach out to other men.

Q: What issues do men who have been involved with an abortion typically face during post-abortion healing?

Burke: Men struggle with many of the symptoms of complicated grief as women do.

In an L.A. Times survey of 3,600 men, 66% reported guilt and anxiety after their involvement with an abortion; other research indicates that men do indeed struggle with feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and anger after an abortion.

Perhaps men are better equipped to stuff these feelings, or compartmentalize their grief, but this has its emotional and relational cost.

Like women, unless they connect their pain and their symptoms to the complicated grief around the abortion wound, they are destined to continue to act out that pain in their lives -- often with destructive consequences for their spousal, family and work relationships. Many men are in deep but often quiet pain about their involvement in an abortion decision.

It is important to look at their role as men in the abortion decision. For those who communicated ambivalence, manipulated or pressured for abortion, or in other ways abandoned the mother and child during this time of vulnerability and fear, a major issue is their failure as men to fulfill a fundamental aspect of their vocation -- the protection and care of mother and child.

When the reality of their actions is clear, when it breaks through their workaholism, pornography addiction, extramarital affairs, depression, alcohol abuse and other ways they stuff down the pain, it is a very painful moment -- but it is the beginning of healing and reconciliation.

They come to the full realization of what was lost and they face the deep grief of losing their precious child. This is when they need the support of other persons who understand their pain, and the reconciliation and healing of the Church.

Particularly important is a healing process like Rachel's Vineyard that will allow them to enter deeply but safely into that grief and open their hearts to receive God's healing, and with faith embrace the unborn child that, as the Pope says in "Evangelium Vitae," now is "living in the Lord."

For those men who fight for the life of their child, encourage the mother to have the baby and offer real emotional and financial support, abortion can be particularly devastating. The sense of powerlessness can lead to anger, depression and other elements of complicated grief.

In these cases the Rachel's Vineyard retreat process gives voice to this pain and provides the opportunity for forgiveness, reconciliation and peace that these men so desperately need.

Q: What conflicts often arise between a man and a woman before and after they have been involved in an abortion?

Burke: Most relationships end at some point after the abortion. Some continue with dysfunctional dynamics between the couple that can serve as an unconscious way to self-punish and even in a certain sense as a memorial of the ...

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