By Frank Pavone
Earlier this month, there was a whirlwind of news stories on the comments Pope Francis made about women who have had abortions and his desire that in the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy they be more easily reconciled with the Catholic Church. Now that same pope has come to our shores, with the same heart of mercy toward all who will hear him.
This week, I am attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the original purpose of the pope's U.S. visit. And during the conference, Priests for Life led a special event Wednesday focused on the impact of abortion on the family.
Often when our society focuses on this contentious issue of abortion, it is with a singular focus on the women who undergo the procedure. Many, regardless of their viewpoint on abortion, see this as primarily a private and personal decision of a woman to continue or end her pregnancy. As a result, too often when we look at the moral dimensions of abortion and the guilt associated with it, we tend to focus exclusively on the woman who has the procedure, and fail to take into account the more complex cluster of relationships that affect so many abortion decisions and share in the aftermath of that "choice."
Yet when you spend some time, as I have in my ministry as a Catholic priest, with thousands of women and men who have been involved in abortion decisions and procedures, that complexity comes to light quite clearly.
Abortions are very rarely a private personal decision. In most cases, the father of the child plays a key role (by commission or omission) in the mother's decision to have an abortion or give birth to the child. Grandparents also play an important part in many abortion decisions. They can provide very influential pressure on their daughter to end a pregnancy, sometimes to the point of coercion. A mother can also be encouraged to give birth by a parent's offer of emotional and material support. Friends also play their part in the mother's final decision. These friends will either lead the mother to hope or reinforce her despair.
In my ministry with such families and friends, I have seen that abortion devastates many lives, leaving significant emotional and spiritual confusion and pain. When women and men later decide to parent a child after a previous abortion, the ongoing wound can surface as they gaze upon the ultrasound image of their wanted child. Grandparents, too, can suffer anxiety and depression from their role in the abortion of a grandchild.
Moreover, sometimes living children will later learn of their parent's abortion and have grief for that lost sibling. This can be difficult for those who support abortion rights, and even for the many who are ambivalent on the issue, to fully accept and understand. Yet the suffering is real and does have profound emotional and spiritual consequences for families.
When parents and grandparents have unresolved and complicated grief from past abortions, it can affect their capacity to have healthy intimacy, communication, and trust in their relationships. This inevitably will have an impact on marriage and family life.
That is why I helped initiate a yearlong program called Healing the Shockwaves of Abortion. The goal is to widen our perspective on the impact of abortion and offer education and resources for emotional and spiritual healing. I am pleased that we will have an opportunity to share about the shock waves of abortion and their impact on family life at the World Meeting of Families.
Pope Francis projects to the world in a powerful way the mercy of Jesus and the church for those who are suffering and those who have fallen into sin. This will draw millions to Philadelphia to pray and share the joy of the love and mercy of God.
In the heart and soul of countless families, the need for this mercy is most profoundly experienced in response to the pain of abortion. The whole family has lost a member at the hands of some of its own members.
I hope and pray that the World Meeting of Families and the pope's visit will help us move beyond the divisions in our society that abortion has caused and lead us to reconciliation, healing, and the peace that only God can provide.
Father Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life. firstname.lastname@example.org