By Becky Aubut
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Women often feel shame, regret, loss or despair after having an abortion, sometimes feeling that God no longer accepts and loves them, causing them to stay away from the Spiritual help which can assist in healing.
According to Planned Parenthood through its latest data for the calendar year of Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013, and published earlier this year, it performed 327,653 abortions; that averages 898 abortions per day and 37 abortions per hour during those 365 days. According to the website NumberofAbortions. com, since Roe vs. Wade, there have been more than 58 million abortions, with roughly 780,000 having already taken place in the United States this year alone.
Pope Francis has offered a message for these suffering women and others who have been involved in abortions — great joy can be found in Christ’s mercy and love for them. In his announcement calling for the celebration of a Jubilee Year of Mercy from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, he stated, “I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”
In a more recent statement, and as part of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis opened the door for women who have had an abortion — an act considered a grave sin by the Catholic Church — to be absolved if they express contrition and seek forgiveness from a priest. In a “Letter of his holiness Pope Francis according to which an indulgence is granted to the faithful on the occasion of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy,” Pope Francis addressed those women directly:
“One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.
“What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain Reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father Who renews all with His presence.”
“I think it’s a wonderful message to the world that the Church seeks to be the visible face of Jesus in offering forgiveness and mercy and embracing those women who have been involved in procuring an abortion,” said Marian Desrosiers, director of the Pro-Life Apostolate for the Diocese of Fall River. “The pope is showing us that the Church is a place of mercy and compassion for those women, even though he recognizes the seriousness of the sin itself. I think he’s also looking at the terrible effect, not only on the unborn, but also on the women and others who have been involved in some way.”
Desrosiers said the release of the letter may have created some confusion among women since mostly all priests in the United States and Canada, according to her understanding, have been given that power to forgive through the Sacrament of Reconciliation by their bishops.
“They already had those faculties,” she said, “but I think the pope is presenting this opportunity worldwide so I think it does send a message of the love and mercy of Christ to the world. We condemn the sin, not the sinner. I think some women were confused that possibly this wasn’t available years ago, so were they or weren’t they forgiven? I think some of the confusion came in and it did need to be articulated more and allow women to understand.”
September 23 was the launch of the 16th consecutive campaign of the Attleboro 40 Days for Life, with a 9 a.m. Mass scheduled for September 26 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro (www.40daysforlife.com/attleboro).
“With the recent release of the Planned Parenthood videos depicting the sale of fetal body parts, there is a heightened awareness of the significant moral and ethical issues surrounding abortion,” stated a recent email from organizers. “We are praying that this will encourage more individuals to join us in prayer to change the hearts and minds of all who see us stand witness in front of the clinic.”
Though 40 Days for Life is not under the direction of her office, “it is fully supported by the diocese,” said Desrosiers, and she encourages continuous prayer and fasting, even by those who cannot make it to the clinic in person, and for a peaceful vigil at the Four Women Health Services, the abortion clinic in Attleboro.
“We’re really encouraging people to take it a step further as far as the prayer and fasting, and really committing to it,” she said. “We know the recent videos that were released just grieved us even more,” she said of the rash of released videos showing Planned Parenthood discussing procurement and selling fetal organs for a profit.”
Planned Parenthood has countered through the media, stating that they donate the tissue for scientific research and are only reimbursed for their expenses.
“[The videos] show the agony of what is happening to our country,” added Desrosiers, “but also to those women who may have been affected because of their own personal abortion experience. We pray and fast in the hope that the women will have a change of heart, and for the doctors and nurses and medical people who are involved.”
October is Respect Life Month, and the Respect Life Program begins anew each year on Respect Life Sunday, the first Sunday in October. The program is highlighted in Liturgies and marked by special events. The USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities publishes new materials each year to call attention to numerous human life issues, and Desrosiers has made sure parishes and schools have received their Respect Life kits, “Every Life is Worth Living,” ordered by the Pro-Life Apostolate office from the USCCB to be used on Respect Life Sunday and throughout the year.
A Rosary Rally for Life will be held on October 15 for seventh- and eighth-grade students from the New Bedford area Catholic schools to be hosted at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth: “They make a commitment to do a project, choosing a child who is unborn to pray for and that is acknowledged at the rally,” she said.
The weekend following the rally, Desrosiers has committed to three different talks on Pro-Life issues, including talking to students at a Catholic elementary school and to a group on the Cape about physician assisted-suicide — a timely presentation considering the upcoming hearing being led by Representative Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton), who has filed a Death with Dignity bill for this session (the fourth time he’s done so) and backed by 39 lawmakers. Though the bill cannot return to the Massachusetts ballot until 2018 because of the Commonwealth’s rules on the initiative process, it doesn’t prevent lawmakers from discussing it; the hearing is scheduled for October 27.
Desrosiers said though the fall may seem like her busiest time of year, her office works year-round to help promote Pro-Life issues and will continue to stay updated on the latest.
“I think we have to keep focusing on the horror of it all and that our country has moved in this direction,” she said. “We all know that human life begins at the moment of fertilization; science has proven that, there’s really no argument there. The question is, when do we as a society come together and rebuild the Culture of Life, and really embrace that every human life is worth living?”