The following comes from a November 18 Angelus article by Clara Fox:

The depression, nightmares and withdrawal from family were just some of the symptoms that made Claudia realize the abortion had damaged her in ways she could not have predicted.

A 22-year-old trying to finish her college coursework, Claudia [full name withheld for privacy reasons] had made the decision to end a pregnancy. She acknowledges that the decision was a result of giving in to pressure — both from people she knew and from secular society.

Claudia says she fell for something that someone else wanted even though it meant being untrue to herself. “I felt very forced to make this decision that I did not want to do. And in our society, they want to say that women get this choice. And, in reality, it’s not their choice.”

Claudia wasn’t able to shake the experience. Raised a Roman Catholic, she found it more difficult to be close to her faith. She wanted to quit school. She stopped eating and lost 30 pounds. “I didn’t want to get up in the morning,” she says. “There was no way of denying what this was.”

When Claudia told her secular friends — who approved of her decision to end the pregnancy — she found their answers anything but helpful.

They would disregard her feelings and encourage her to just shake it off. They would say, “It’s not that big of a deal,” “You’ll be OK,” and “Everything happens for a reason.”

But their responses didn’t match with what Claudia was feeling. “I was grieving my loss and the loss of my child, and that’s [the answer] I got.”

But when Claudia turned to her church, she says she found people who understood her pain. “I definitely felt the support from different priests and different religious leaders. They were very compassionate to me.”

Claudia found forgiveness from God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but, although she knew that God had forgiven her, she says it was difficult to forgive herself. “After I had gotten that type of healing from God, I had to get it from myself. For me, forgiving myself has been a little harder.”

She drew strength from her faith and her family to find this healing. She says it took a lot of reflection, but she began to feel worthy of love and to again believe in her own dignity. She joined Rachel’s Vineyard, a retreat for post-abortive woman, and wrote letters to herself and to her child. “I memorialized the part of me that I lost that day,” she says.

During the second day of the three-day retreat at Rachel’s Vineyard, Claudia made a promise. “I made a promise to God and to my child that I was going to take the pain and experience and use it for the good.”

Through Rachel’s Vineyard, Claudia was introduced to Merciful Companions, an initiative of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that assists men and women who have experienced an abortion.

The organization launched on Nov. 9 following almost a year of preparing program materials and recruiting volunteers. The archdiocese felt there was a lack of a local comprehensive post-abortion healing program — a serious need for a city where the abortion rates are above the national average. In Los Angeles, more than 1 in 3 women will have experienced an abortion in their lifetime.

Even in Catholic parishes in the Los Angeles area, those rates remain the same, says Kathleen Buckley Domingo, associate director for the archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace.

“We know that there are millions of women and potentially hundreds of thousands of Catholic women who have experienced abortion in their past and many of them are probably wounded and are looking for some kind of healing and don’t know where to find it.” Domingo adds. “And they often have never had anyone propose to them that there is the potential for being healed.”

Domingo stresses that the program’s volunteers are looking to help and are not there to judge. The volunteers, she says, have experienced a similar loss or pain and are tapping into that experience to better assist a person in finding peace.

Domingo says volunteers are stronger from having dealt with their own personal pain. They volunteer because they can say, “I have gone through a healing process and have emerged on the other side an even stronger person than I ever could have been before.”