Rachel’s Vineyard—Healing & Hope for Women

On Wednesday, February 27, several members of the PLAL staff attended a workshop presented by the Joliet (IL) Diocese Respect Life office and featuring Theresa Burke, founder of Rachel’s Vineyard.

Rachel’s Vineyard is a retreat program for women suffering from the effects of an abortion. It is an intensive weekend in which a woman is invited to experience the healing touch of Jesus through reading and reenacting the Gospels in which Jesus heals an individual.

Harrassing Phone Calls Lead to Ministry Founding

Mrs. Burke began her presentation with some background on what led her to establish Rachel’s Vineyard. While working on her doctorate in psychology, she was leading a therapy session for women suffering from eating disorders. During the discussion one woman reported that her ex-husband was leaving messages on her answering machine, calling her a “murderer” because she had had an abortion. Immediately a second woman became angry about the husband and announced that it was a woman’s right to have an abortion. A third woman launched into obscenities and a fourth bolted from the room in tears. Mrs. Burke went to her supervisor to ask what she could do for these women who were clearly suffering ill effects from an abortion experience. The supervisor told her not to touch the subject, that abortion is a woman’s private domain and that a counselor or psychotherapist has no business delving into that area.

Mrs. Burke at that moment decided that it would be her mission to minister to women who were clearly hurting from their abortion experience. After much research, and interviews with post abortive women, she designed the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat program.

Surprising Post-Abortion Syndrome Statistics

Among the symptoms of post abortion syndrome, Mrs. Burke listed several disturbing statistics. For instance, 46% of all abortions are repeats. There is a 10% increase in premature births among women who have had abortions. In a research study on 173,279 women’s medical records form California HMO records, 154% were more likely to die from suicide and 82% were more likely to die from accidents, indicating that they were more likely to engage in risky behavior than women who did not have abortions.

Typically, Mrs. Burke said, post-abortive women will experience a period of numbness following the abortion. But subsequently she is prone to flashbacks, panic attacks, avoidance behavior, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hypernesia, amnesia, nightmares and eating disorders.

In the course of Mrs. Burke’s presentation she voiced her concern about the fragile emotional condition of the post abortive woman and stated that she was opposed to the use of graphic abortion pictures in demonstrations or in counseling. Joe Scheidler and Julie McCreevy both approached her at the lunch break to give her information on the value of using the pictures. In the afternoon session, Mrs. Burke invited Scheidler to come to the podium and explain why he and others believe it is necessary to show graphic pictures of aborted babies. A significant number of people in the audience applauded at his conclusion.

Post-Abortive Woman Shares Her Story

Mrs. Burke had invited a post-abortive woman to share her own story with the group. It was a very moving description of how she felt after the abortion and how the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat had brought her relief from the feelings of guilt and worthlessness she had harbored. After her presentation, she told Joe Scheidler that she believed it was absolutely necessary to show the pictures of aborted babies. She said she was sure that she would not have had an abortion if she had seen one of those pictures prior to choosing abortion.

Theresa Burke’s book Forbidden Grief will be published by the Elliot Institute and is to be released in Spring, 2002. Her website is RachelsVineyard.org.

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