Those of us who fight for the sanctity of life know that the most extreme pro-abortion rhetoric often includes “shouting” about one’s abortion, where women who have had abortions proudly and publicly proclaim this fact. Abortion advocates tend to ignore the truth that women who have had abortions often suffer deep wounds. These wounds can be physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual. Caught between voices that condemn their actions and voices that dismiss their trauma, post-abortive women may not have anyone to help them process their pain, regret, and grief.
Jackie Bonk’s organization Project Rachel works to provide hope to women and men who have gone through an abortion. By helping them recognize their parenthood and grieve their loss, Project Rachel guides post-abortive parents towards reconciliation with themselves, their families, their child, and God. Jackie Bonk joins NC Family to discuss Project Rachel’s work on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
A life has come to an unnatural end for a woman who has had an abortion, says Bonk, “but the difference is that she participated in the death of this child and she is not given permission to grieve. […] The culture says nothing was lost that was important.”
“I believe there are two twin truths about the sanctity of life,” continues Bonk, “and that is that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception to the end of natural death. But the second truth is that God’s mercy is the heart of the Gospel.”
The men and women who contact Project Rachel “know they’re hurting and know that they’ve made a mistake, even if they’re not willing to admit it at the time. But they also need to know that they’re not a mistake. That their identity is not what they have done.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Jackie Bonk speak more about Project Rachel’s work to provide hope and healing after abortion.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Despite the fact that pro-abortion advocates at times talk as if they’re proud of their actions or even celebrate the taking of a preborn baby’s life, we know that many women suffer immensely after not choosing life for their unborn child. Those side effects might be physical, emotional, psychological, and often spiritual.
Today’s guest has dedicated herself to helping women and men seek forgiveness and healing, sometimes many years after an abortion. Jackie Bonk is Director of Project Rachel in Eastern North Carolina.
Jackie Bonk, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
JACKIE BONK: Thanks Traci, I’m really happy to be here.
TRACI GRIGGS: All right, well start off by telling us about Project Rachel. What’s its mission and why is it unique?
JACKIE BONK: Project Rachel offers post-abortion healing and reconciliation to those who are wounded by abortion. The woman or man is invited to recognize and grieve their loss, which likely has not happened to this point. The post-abortive woman, who is a parent, who is a mother, and the post-abortive man who is a father who has lost a child, but they don’t see themselves as parents. And so we help them recognize their parenthood and encourage them to grieve their loss, to move through the stages of grief and to reconciliation with herself/himself, the child, her family, and God.
TRACI GRIGGS: From what I understand, there are often long-term effects of abortion and that women and men don’t necessarily find that they are having difficulty until years later. In our culture today, some people suggest these difficulties are either fabricated or overblown, but how do you know that these long-term effects are real?
JACKIE BONK: From experience primarily because I’ve been involved in this for almost 25 years now, and some research too. There’s certainly data out there on long-term effects of abortion, on the physiological, the spiritual and the psychological. The wounds I think in general from abortions are complex and quite deep and they reached more than one aspect of the person. So I would say that the emptiness resulting from the loss of innocent life is vast, and a woman who is experiencing some psychological consequences is going to display shame or regret or unreconciled grief. She may have experienced depression or anxiety, and there’s a term for this, “post-abortion syndrome,” eating disorders, substance abuse, those are just some of the possibilities because every person is different. Some of the biological consequences that are pretty well known now is that the procedure of abortion increases a risk of pre-term birth in subsequent pregnancy. So that’s a concern as well as perhaps hemorrhaging or infections from the procedure. And some women have experienced infertility.
And then on the spiritual side, the woman may have seen herself as a basically good person before the abortion, and a good relationship with her God. But after, then she starts to look in the mirror and she sees an evildoer, and if she has faith, is this a problem with their morals? And now she becomes distanced from God and maybe seeing herself as one that’s committed what is an unforgivable sin. So those are some of the long-term effects of abortion, and we don’t see these sometimes until 10, 20, 30, 40 years later. Some of them do show up earlier on, but many of them not until later in life.
TRACI GRIGGS: Are there certain events in a person’s life that you’re finding cause them to begin to see, or have some of these difficulties?
JACKIE BONK: Yes, childbirth is one. That’s a real complicated one because when she becomes pregnant again and this time the child is wanted, she has to deal with that complexity of the past abortion. Or may just push it back further and result in psychological problems. And other trauma events in life sometimes, like the loss of a family member; maybe it was her own mother that took her to the abortion facility, and she dies, so there’s something that’s unreconciled there.
TRACI GRIGGS: So we often think of difficulties with abortion or post-abortion as being a woman’s problem. But men are affected too, right?
JACKIE BONK: Yeah, they are. They’re affected in some ways that are similar, in some ways that are different. I mean, the man who is a father—and if he recognizes his parenthood and he recognizes that this child is real—he needs to grieve, he needs to grieve his loss like the woman does. But at the same time, men and women are different. There are questions that we ask the man such as, “Does your current wife”—if he has one—“know about this situation that you had in the past and how would that affect the marriage?” And in both cases I would say men and women, they know when they contact us—even if they’re not willing to admit it at the time—they know they’re hurting and they know that they’ve made a mistake. But they also need to know that they’re not a mistake. That their identity is not what they have done.
TRACI GRIGGS: Some pro-abortion advocates actually go as far as to say that religion actually creates some of these difficulties that women and men have after an abortion because we make people feel guilty, or whatever. How do you respond to that?
JACKIE BONK: My response, again from experience, because many of our women and men are not practicing Christians, or practicing any kind of faith. Probably 20 percent over the years are either agnostic or atheist, but they know that there’s something terribly wrong with a violation of their moral compass. Especially if there was a violation, a rape, incest, and this happens too, but religion is tied to a moral compass. We all have good in us, and I think that’s the conflict that they have, that they know that they’ve experienced something that’s a loss. They can all recognize that whether they’re a practicing Christian or believe in God at all, they all know that something has been lost.
TRACI GRIGGS: So this rhetoric that we often hear that basically people should just get over it, that abortion is not that big a deal, that actually stifles people from seeking the help that they need to get on with their lives.
JACKIE BONK: It is, and it’s so sad to hear some women have gone to counseling or have listened to the advice of friends that say, “This wasn’t your problem, you did the best you could, move on.” And that is never a helpful thing to say to someone: “You did the best you could, move on.” They may have done the best they could. It’s likely they did the best they could, but moving on is denying the reality of that child, their connection to the child as a parent. And when they realize there’s a loss, and then we move into the grieving process, they have the opportunity to grieve the loss. But that has to be understood first because when you experience a loss, even if it’s natural—say a miscarriage for example—there’s some similarities there. A life has come to an unnatural end, and there’s suffering for a woman who’s had a miscarriage. It’s come to an unnatural end for a woman that has had an abortion, but the difference is that she participated in the death of this child and she is not given permission to grieve. No one shows up with a casserole at her home. The culture says nothing was lost that was important. But in her heart, in her being, she knows that there’s a loss; there’s that symbiotic relationship that has been attempted to be severed by this situation.
TRACI GRIGGS: You’ve mentioned at the beginning that you help people come to grips with the fact that they were, or already were parents. Talk a little bit more about that because that could be baffling maybe to someone who hasn’t gone through a pregnancy or had a miscarriage at some point in their life. That connection that you feel with the baby from the very beginning.
JACKIE BONK: So there’s a connection, there’s a biological connection to motherhood. And so again, I get from my experience, even though the women are so different in their journeys and coming from different belief systems, they know something was lost. And it’s almost like the first time we meet, even though they’re fearful, it might be in 40 years and they don’t know really where to go, but they’re just in so much pain. And if we mentioned to them they have a loss, there’s almost immediate recognition of, “Yeah, there was a loss,” then, “You might want to grieve that loss.” So that’s another step. And so sometimes it takes a while for them to agree that, “Okay, well I’m willing to go into a support group and learn more about this.” What we know is that she needs compassion, she needs confidentiality, and she needs community support.
TRACI GRIGGS: So tell us what kinds of response you get from people who walk through your program. What are you seeing? Are you seeing some healing happening?
JACKIE BONK: Oh absolutely, we see miraculous transformation. Basically we have a process, it’s kind of a two-step process where they are introduced to the grieving process. We kind of break that out and look at what happened. Is there anger there? Is there shame there? Where are they in terms of the denial process? We worked through that, and then the second part is to meet their child. By meeting their child, that means they named their child, they write a letter to their child, they move to that level of relationship with the child that most of them come to understand is with God, because they’re innocents and they’re their Holy innocents. So that’s kind of where we’re going, and sometimes that takes six months, sometimes that takes six years depending on the woman. And sometimes the women or the men, will begin the process and it just gets to be too much to come out of that denial. But I would say, if they’ve met with us more than once, there’s probably a 50 percent chance they’re going to enter into the program, and then probably 70 percent stay through the program. Once they get to the retreat, most of them stay the whole time, but there’s a deep amount of regret and shame and fear. There’s a lot underneath this, especially if the woman has buried this for 40 years or 30 years.
TRACI GRIGGS: I want to kind of wrap-up by talking about just the cultural view, especially among people who are more conservative and pro-life. Sometimes there’s some hateful rhetoric that can come out on one side. Even maybe mention how pastors, if they’re going to address this during Sanctity of Human Life month, how they need to take into consideration that there are all kinds of people listening to them.
JACKIE BONK: I think recognizing how vulnerable and broken this person is. That she actually shared this information with you as a friend or you as a pastor, that that has put her in a very vulnerable situation. She may not have told anyone. She needs to know that you’re not going to judge her. She needs to know that everything is kept in confidentiality, and she needs compassion. And she likely needs the community that we offer. We offer this private community. Some of the women in the group are companions that have been through the program and they can share their journey. So I think reassuring her that she needs to grieve her loss, reassuring her that there is hope, there is a healing God and that God is merciful. I believe there are two twin truths about the sanctity of life and that is that, “Yes, all human life is sacred from the moment of conception to the end of natural death”. But the second truth is that, “God’s mercy is the heart of the gospel.” And so Rachel in Jeremiah could not heal herself; she had to reach out to the Lord for healing. So I would say have them reach out to Project Rachel. You don’t have to know everything about Project Rachel. Give them our website or a phone number, tell them that you’re familiar with it.
TRACI GRIGGS: Jackie, how would people get in touch with Project Rachel? What’s the best way?
JACKIE BONK: Well, they can contact us on our website which is projectrachelnc.org, or they can contact us by phone, which is (919) 852-1021
TRACI GRIGGS: Well Jackie Bonk, Director of Project Rachel in Eastern North Carolina, thank you so much for sharing with us today on Family Policy Matters.