Tony Gosgnach
The Interim

They’ve called from as early as three days afterwards to as long as 60 years later, with an average time span of 20-25 years. They could be fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and even doctors and nurses. They can suffer from feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, panic and pressure, both before and afterwards.

If early results of the Project Rachel initiative in Hamilton are any indication, it’s clear that the negative effects of abortion can be felt by anyone at any time.

Project Rachel (named after the person in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah) is a healing outreach, founded by the Catholic church, to those who have been involved in abortion. It operates as a network of professional counsellors and priests, who are trained to provide one-on-one spiritual and psychological care for those negatively impacted.

Founded in Milwaukee, Wis. in 1984, it has spread to 140 Catholic dioceses in the U.S. – and, of course, to Canada, where a Hamilton chapter officially got underway in May of this year. The Hamilton initiative is currently being run out of the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton’s Office of Family Ministry, which is overseen by Teresa Hartnett, who gained valuable experience for the post by serving for 16 years as executive director of the Hamilton branch of the crisis pregnancy agency Birthright.

Hartnett told The Interim the impetus for a Hamilton chapter of Project Rachel was provided by a course she took in which the focus was on looking at ways of bringing the Catholic faith out into the community. Sixteen years earlier, she was first introduced to Project Rachel while at a Birthright conference in Montreal.

“I knew then that we needed this in the (Hamilton) community, because we had already had a number of calls to Birthright and didn’t have any place to send (people affected by abortion),” she said. “Other counsellors had been telling them that their distress was being caused by other problems, not abortion, and that once those problems were taken care of, everything would be fine. But women said they weren’t fine.”

Her instructor in the course suggested Hartnett visit the Diocese of Hamilton’s Office of Family Ministry to see what support it could offer for the launch of Project Rachel in the city. Coincidentally, by July 1 of this year, Hartnett was named to head up the office and her desires to get Project Rachel going dovetailed with her new job.

“Basically, since then, I have been overseeing the project and do the bulk of the work,” she said. “We have a small working group of five (including a priest). We’ve trained counsellors, approached priests and so on. The bishop is supportive, because he knows this is necessary.”

Hamilton’s Project Rachel has volunteer phone intake workers, who do not do in-depth counselling themselves, but make initial contact with those seeking help. If they desire it, clients can then be referred to people with professional counselling backgrounds for more in-depth work.

“We leave it up to the client whether she wants to talk to a pastor or counsellor,” said Hartnett. “We have both. We hope by next spring to branch out and have pastors from other denominations trained. At that point, we’ll also open up the volunteer phone intake worker positions to other denominations.”

Even with a paucity of publicity (save for announcements in church bulletins), about 80 calls have already been received in the short time Hamilton’s Project Rachel has been open. Of those calls, 18 people have been referred for further counselling.

“We are getting into phone books as they come out and are looking at advertising in a variety of different newspapers in the diocese,” said Hartnett.

She added that although her chapter of Project Rachel is based in Hamilton, people in other areas are welcome to call if they need assistance. (Project Rachel chapters also exist in other parts of Canada, so check for community resources in your area for a chapter nearest you.)

“I can recount a million stories,” said Hartnett of the calls she has received so far. “Most (women) say that as the years go on, they feel worse, not better. All of them (had abortions) because they felt they had to protect their families from the difficulties (another child) might pose or because someone else wanted them to have an abortion. It wasn’t because they wanted it themselves. They all struggled with the decision.”

Although it has been slow in coming, those outside the pro-life community are also acknowledging the negative effects of abortion. “I rarely hear from anyone anymore – public health officials or whoever – who say there’s no problem. But I used to,” said Hartnett. “They now say we need to help these people. In some regards, we now have an easier time getting people to refer to us. They understand there are issues. It’s a baby first step.”