Deb Lieberg, left, diocesan director of Respect Life, stands with Project Rachel founder, Vicki Thorn, Friday, Nov 22, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Rice Lake (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Deb Lieberg, left, diocesan director of Respect Life, stands with Project Rachel founder, Vicki Thorn, Friday, Nov 22, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Rice Lake (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

RICE LAKE — Abortion is about three things, according to Vicki Thorn: a mother, a child, and death.

In 1984, Thorn founded Project Rachel, a post-abortion ministry, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Currently the executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, she has trained thousands to counsel those grieving in the aftermath of abortion.

Thorn was in Rice Lake Nov. 22 for a two-day training hosted by the Diocese of Superior at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Before an audience of 25 counselors, pro-life coordinators, priests and others, she led off with an overview of the cultural norms shaping teens and 20-somethings.

Today’s young men and women were raised without the support of the extended families that once protected children in dysfunctional and broken homes, she said. Largely untouched — starved for physical affection in the era of “stranger danger” — they often turn to sex to feel loved. Much of their communication is computer-driven.

“The more social media they use, the less they are connected to humanity,” she added. “We’re losing this ability to really communicate with people about what’s really going on in our lives.”

Meanwhile, parents are often overprotective of their children, who are not allowed to take risks and gain confidence. This keeps them emotionally immature deep into their 20s and even 30s, according to Thorn.

“We say how resilient they are — they’re not resilient,” she said. “They’re not resilient in general because they are not allowed to face the challenges we were in the past.”

Thorn reviews generational traits in her training sessions because she wants counselors to “understand the wounds of the people we work with.” Teens often act on impulse, she said. Human brains aren’t fully developed until age 25, and drugs, both prescribed and non-prescribed, are also affecting the physiology of their brains.

A post-abortive mother seeking help through Project Rachel might be dealing with an abortion the next day or decades later. Thorn believes microchimerism, the process by which mother and child exchange cells during pregnancy, explains why women have to come to terms with children not present, and why children sometimes have an innate, biological knowledge of a missing sibling.

“Everybody carries their mothers’ cells,” she said.

Men are likewise changed by pregnancy. Sixty to 90 percent of men share symptoms with their women, and their hormone levels change to lessen wandering and grow protective instincts. For about six weeks after the birth of the child, men also have increased levels of the lactation hormone prolactin, which helps them bond with their babies.

“Whether it’s his intent or not, he’s physiologically changed,” added Thorn.
When a woman becomes pregnant, her man perceives it. If the child is aborted, the woman is likely to get pregnant again, and the man is likely to re-impregnate, she said.

“I am convinced part of this is this biological drive to finish what’s started,” Thorn said.

When she’s trying to win hearts and minds in the abortion debate, Thorn advocates for listening to pro-abortion activists and finding the root of their convictions. She encourages clergy to talk about grief, rather than sin, and reach out to parishioners in need.

“Nobody gets argued into the pro-life movement,” she added.

Thorn cautioned against hurrying post-abortive women through healing. Women who call with menstrual irregularities after abortions should be directed to urgent care, she said. Encourage them to eat proteins and fats rather than carbs, which affect blood-sugar levels and could lead to suicidal thoughts, and tell them to exercise and take power naps.

University of Minnesota research found teenagers who had an abortion in the last six months were 10 times more likely to attempt suicide, according to Thorn. Post-abortive mothers can also suffer shame, guilt, trauma, alienation, depression, nightmares and even more acute symptoms.

“She feels cognitively crazy,” said Thorn.

When she’s counseling post-abortive mothers, Thorn is careful to be respectful of timing and not mention the baby. Mostly, she reassures them their grief, however manifested, is normal.

“This is a death,” she said. “It’s a death experience.”

Until her body has completed the pregnancy cycle, the woman will not be able to finish mourning, Thorn explained. Many women still have birthing symptoms around the time of their due date, and counselors can advise them to release a balloon, write a letter or do something concrete to bring closure to the “nonevent.”
When an unexpected pregnancy occurs, parents can help by being accepting and sending a message that, together, the family can cope.

“We have to let people know we’ll walk with them,” she added. “God is not asleep when babies are conceived.”

Men are more than ‘sperm donors’

In the debate over so-called reproductive rights, “Men are painted as sperm donors,” said Project Rachel founder Vicki Thorn. In her experience, “There are men who would’ve laid their life down before a truck to save that baby.”

For that reason, Thorn believes men are critical to ending abortion. She cited Jason Jones, a post-abortive father whose girlfriend was forced by her father to terminate the pregnancy. He is now a pro-life filmmaker and activist on a personal mission to end abortion.

Jones’ projects include “Bella,” a 2006 movie about an unwanted pregnancy that results in adoption, and “Crescendo,” a 2013 short film based on the diaries of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s mother, who also contemplated abortion.

Anita Draper