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
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,
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