On a bleak February weekend, I make a return visit to Lisieux and Alençon in company with my friend Theresa, who, living as she does in America, has never managed hitherto to visit the shrine of her patron. After spending five days together running a “Grief to Grace” retreat in London for those suffering from the after-effects of abuse, now seemed like a good opportunity to ask for the saint’s prayers.

Dr Theresa Burke, to give her handle, is an American psychologist and author of the definitive book on post-abortion trauma, Forbidden Grief. It explains how and why abortion leaves significant and lasting physical and/or psychological damage to large numbers of women who chose it, and how this damage is more serious and prolonged because it remains a disenfranchised grief which is not allowed to be expressed.

A woman feels caught between the reactions of those who will condemn her for what she did (perhaps even a voice inside herself) and those who, to manage their own fear and denial of the after-effects, will only support her in her decision to abort, and so will be unsympathetic to any regrets or difficulties.

Theresa’s observation of post-abortive women who came to her eating disorder group, and the difficulties they disclosed, as well as the strong reaction from other post- abortive women to shut them up, caused her to abandon the doctoral thesis on which she was working and start a new one on post-abortion trauma. This research eventually led her to found Rachel’s Vineyard, now a worldwide ministry for healing after abortion.

By coincidence, I discovered over conversation in the Foyer Louis et Zélie Martin (a rather brutally designed but clean and reasonable convent pension near the Carmel in Lisieux), that the French parliament is trying to enact a law that would effectively outlaw the kind of work Theresa does. Anyone who seeks to prevent an abortion by advancing the idea that abortion is in any way harmful or dangerous could be punished with a fine of €30,000 (£25,000) and two years in jail.

If the law says that abortion cannot damage you, then it further disenfranchises the guilt of women who discover after abortion that they are sad and empty, that they can have terrible reactions around the time the baby was due to be born, that their bodies will seek to tell the story in all kinds of unconscious ways by cycles of compulsive or risk-taking behaviour or by self-harm or suicide.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection