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NRL News
Page 15
Fall 2011
Volume 38
Issue 8

The Healing Vision Conference Returns Stronger than Ever

By Susan Wills

On October 7 two mainstream movies debuted in theaters in which the painful aftermath of abortion figures prominently in the plot—The Way (starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez) and The Ides of March (with George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, and an all-star cast). One woman finds healing after years of remorse and emotional pain; the other, tragically, chooses to escape her intense trauma by committing suicide. The topic of abortion is no longer taboo in Hollywood. The fact that the emotional and psychological consequences of abortion can be treated accurately speaks volumes about how widespread and universal the experience has become.

This development is also a credit to people such as Vicki Thorn and the researchers, academics, and therapists who presented at the Healing Vision Conference in Milwaukee October 26–29. Mrs. Thorn—founder of the diocesan post-abortion ministry of the Catholic Church, Project Rachel Ministry, and of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing (NOPARH)—began hosting the Healing Vision Conference in the late 1980s as an annual forum for education, therapeutic best practices, and networking. Mrs. Thorn’s crowded schedule of talks and training internationally and two recent first-of-their-kind conferences on men and abortion put Healing Vision on hiatus for the past decade.

The general feeling among speakers and attendees at the four-day event was of being at a great and long-overdue family reunion. Certainly in the early days of the Healing Vision Conference, researchers, academics, and mental health professionals struggled to be taken seriously by their peers. They fought to get the truth about abortion’s often devastating impact on women into the media and public consciousness. They were ridiculed, and their studies were picked to shreds by pro-choice intelligentsia on grounds that were usually frivolous, but sometimes fair.

For example, early research on abortion aftermath was necessarily descriptive and involved small sample sizes and self-selected groups—the troubled women who presented themselves for help. The extent of mental health problems in the aftermath of abortion could not yet be quantified. What’s more, therapists were still grappling with understanding the spectrum of symptoms and how to resolve them and help women find peace again.

What a difference a decade makes! It’s small comfort to know you’re right when you are armed only with a (growing) collection of personal stories presenting common reactions and symptoms and studies analyzing them.

But today, top U.S. researchers in the field—among them Priscilla Coleman, Catherine Coyle, Anne Speckhard, Vincent Rue, and David Reardon—have published dozens of large high-quality studies, both original research and literature reviews, demonstrating the mental health impact of abortion on the lives and relationships of women.

At the conference, Drs. Coleman, Coyle, and Speckhard presented the state of the literature, which is now exceptionally strong. In fact, the data makes leaders of the American Psychological Association, who vigorously deny any post-abortion problems, look like ideologues.

Patricia Casey, MD, and Anne Speckhard, PhD, spoke of the consistency and universality of post-abortion reactions among women in various nations and cultures. They demonstrated that the adverse consequences are not produced by “anti-abortion protesters” in the United States, nor are they the product of “Catholic guilt,” but are a universal and deep-seated reaction to the loss of a child in a brutal way, and whose death was either sought by, or forced upon, the mother.

If one thread ran through the presentations of academics, researchers, professional therapists, and those who directed diocesan ministry, it was this: even for non-religious women, the first and greatest need was to know and fully trust that they were forgiven by God. After that, they needed to overcome the obstacle of self-forgiveness, and only then could they forgive others involved and find peace.

Today, the research on the aftermath of abortion for fathers of an aborted child is roughly where the research stood on women about 8 to 10 years ago. Individual men are coming forward in increasing numbers for counseling. Therapists are now on solid ground describing categories of reactions to the death of children by abortion based on a variety of factors.

The strategies men may use to cope with their pain and loss, and the therapies they respond to, differ significantly from those of women. But already there are a number of excellent studies and books on men and abortion by therapists—Vincent Rue, PhD; Greg Hasek, LMFT; Tom Golden, LCSW; and Catherine Coyle, PhD (who developed a forgiveness model of therapy for men)—and by men, like William Zimmerman, who’ve personally experienced the loss of a child in abortion.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City-Kansas delivered a keynote address filled with examples of his decades of counseling and comforting parents who have lost children, including those who have been aborted, as a Project Rachel-trained priest.

The conference was a tremendous service to those involved in therapy and ministry. NOPARH will be making DVDs and CDs of talks available to the public in the coming weeks. Watch for details on