“A number of times over the years I’ll be someplace, and someone will have introduced me, and all of a sudden this woman will come up to me, and she’ll say, ‘May I give you a hug?’ And she’ll just wrap her arms around me and hold me very tight, and she whispers in my ear, ‘Thank you.’ And I know what the story is: she had an abortion, and Project Rachel restored her.” These are the words of Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel, who passed away unexpectedly on April 20 at the age of 72 (you can watch a tribute to her here). Project Rachel is a healing ministry for those who have suffered the experience of abortion, and at the time of its founding in 1984, there was nothing else like it. Making use of her own professional experience as a certified trauma counselor with a degree in psychology, she made sure that those who were involved in the program, including priests, spiritual directors, and other care givers, were properly trained to help the people who came to them. And it wasn’t just women who sought help from Project Rachel. Boyfriends, husbands, and male family members also came to the ministry for healing from the devastation they experienced from being involved with abortion.
Mary Hallan FioRito, a Catholic attorney and Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who speaks regularly about issues involving women’s leadership in the Church, said about Thorn: “I would describe Vicki as the heart of the pro-life movement.” FioRito said that Thorn’s gift of being able to see Christ in others, and willingness to meet people where they are, enabled her to develop an entirely new way of looking at the question of abortion. FioRito noted that Project Rachel “say[s] to women and men who’ve been involved in abortion, ‘your future is not over because you did this. We’re going to meet you, we’re going to help you, we’re going to help you get healed, and then we will send you out as an agent of healing for others.’”
It was as a teen growing up in a small town in Minnesota that Thorn discovered the need for what would become Project Rachel. She was a junior at an all-girls Catholic high school, and she became friends with a girl who had transferred into the school that year. At some point, the young woman told Thorn that she had become pregnant during the summer between sophomore and junior year, and that her mother had arranged for her to have an abortion. “This was a very, very painful experience for her, and she was an emotional mess,” recounts Thorn. “All I could do was just love her and be present to her, and make sure she was ok.” This encounter was also a life-changing experience for Thorn, who said it made her understand “that abortion was not a non-event, that it left enormous footprints in someone’s life, and enormous pain.” Years later, when she began the ministry, “there were so many people who knew somebody who was wounded, that [Project Rachel] spread like wildfire.” Eventually, she would work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to promote post-abortion healing ministry, and she was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Life in 2017.
It has been almost 50 years since the fateful Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade, and since then there have been over 50 million abortions in this country alone – an unfathomable number. Ministries like Project Rachel, and the Hope and Healing mission of the Sisters of Life, exist to help people heal from the pain of abortion, reminding them that God loves them, that He is merciful, and that healing is possible. You can find more information about these crucial ministries on their respective websites, or by calling Project Rachel at 888-456-4673 or Sisters of Life Hope and Healing at 866-575-0075.