Archdiocese to Offer Help in Overcoming Post-Abortion Guilt

Times Religion Writer

Disputing the U.S. surgeon general’s view that conclusive evidence is lacking for post-abortion syndrome, Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony announced the formation Wednesday of a Los Angeles archdiocese project to counsel women, especially Catholics, said to be suffering emotional stress after an abortion.

Mahony estimated that as many as 45,000 Catholics are among the 113,000 women reported to have abortions each year within the Los Angeles archdiocese, which covers Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“I have women come to me who have had abortions 10, 15 years ago who say something is very wrong,” the archbishop added. “Guilt is the seed, because they know they have taken a life,” he said, referring to the Catholic tenet that human life begins at conception.

“We’ve been amazed at the number of Hispanic women, most of whom are Catholic,” who have had abortions, Mahony said in response to a question at his news conference. “Many never have heard or been told that it is against church teaching.”


Mahony took issue with U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who said on Jan. 9 that “Scientific studies do not provide conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women.” In declining to write a long-awaited study, Koop told President Reagan that almost 250 studies “do not support the premise that abortion does or does not cause or contribute to psychological problems.”

By contrast, Mahony contended that research shows that 90% of women experience moderate to severe emotional stress after abortion.

Mahony indicated that the knowledge that the church prohibits abortion can cause anguish for Catholic women who voluntarily end their pregnancies. “For Catholics, the pain of abortion is intensified by a sense of alienation from God and church, and the majority of Catholic women who have had abortions do not return either to the sacraments or to the church,” he said.

Seeks Reconciliation

Project Rachel, patterned after programs in other Catholic dioceses, seeks to reconcile remorseful women with the church after “reviving and refashioning their vision of right and wrong,” he said.

Frequently, around the Jan. 23 anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling permitting abortions, Catholic and conservative Protestant leaders issue renewed statements of condemnation and often take part in anti-abortion rallies.

Mahony said in an interview that this year he was limiting his “focus” to a special Mass Sunday night at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Pasadena where 100 priests, sisters, deacons, counselors and lay people will be commissioned as Project Rachel volunteers.

He has expressed “prayerful support” for a Southern California Pastors’ Rescue rally to be held Saturday evening at St. Pancratius Catholic Church in Lakewood, he said. But it is “not something that I or any of the other bishops (in Los Angeles) will be involved in,” he said.

Demonstration Planned

Father Al Howard, a rally spokesman and director of a Long Beach home for unwed mothers, said the group on Feb. 12 will conduct the first large demonstration in Southern California attempting to block the entrance to one or more abortion clinics.

The pastors’ group is unaffiliated with the nationwide Operation Rescue in which thousands of protesters were arrested during 1988 for blocking abortion clinic entrances, Howard said. About 650 Operation Rescue demonstrators were arrested Jan. 14 in New York City, and the next day Cardinal John O’Connor likened the protest to the nonviolent civil rights movement of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The emphasis in the Los Angeles archdiocese program is on “a loving, forgiving church,” a brochure says. Although it does not play down the moral gravity of abortion, Roman Catholic canon law, revised four years ago, does not regard those who have participated in abortion as excommunicated.