Archdiocese Local Ministries

Project Rachel offers ‘deep-roots’ healing

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

“The young woman called me,” said Jennifer, a survivor of post-abortion trauma who has been through the Project Rachel program.

“I didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it,’” she recalled. “I just told her what happened to me.

“I said, ‘These are the things that happened in my life afterwards, and you deserve to know about them.’”

Seven months later, Jennifer got a phone call.

“You probably won’t remember me,” said a voice Jennifer recognized as the young woman she’d counseled.

The young woman had decided to have her baby, a girl, and place her with an adoptive family.

“I wanted you to know,” she told Jennifer. “This is the best thing that ever happened to me.

“And I want to thank you,  because you just told me and you let me decide.”

This is how God renders sin powerless through mercy and truth — the cornerstones of Project Rachel.

Jennifer’s aborted child, lost to her through a misguided decision years ago, lives on through her story — and is able to help others.

“My child’s life is of value even though it wasn’t spent on this earth,” said Jennifer.

The book used in the Project Rachel program is called “Save One” by Sheila Harper, a post-abortive woman.

“She has found,” said Klausner, “and I have, too, that women often say, ‘I would do anything if I could save one other person from feeling the way I have felt.’

“And so, I give them the commission: Go out and save one other person.”


A word Pope Francis uses often when he talks about forgiveness is “tenerezza.” It is the Italian word for “tenderness.”

Klausner is tenderness personified in her daily interactions with those who are dealing with the aftermath of abortion.

“Abortion is really a bereavement issue, a mourning issue and a guilt issue,” she said. “That’s why we have the program.

“We can give them a comfortable safe place to do that mourning, do that crying. Tell who they’re angry with for what has happened.

“And they know they’re not alone.”

Participants have found that one of the most freeing aspects of post-abortive healing is letting go of the secret.

“There’s an immense shame issue,” explained Klausner. “They fear being judged.”

One woman said concealing the memory of her abortion was like holding a beach ball under water.

“That takes a tremendous amount of energy,” said Klausner.

Jennifer knows. Her abortion took place in 1981, when she was a college student.

“It was 20 years before I got help,” she said. “You get very good at pushing down the issues you don’t want to deal with.

“But you can’t do that forever.”

Grief is not sexist

Michael, a male participant in Project Rachel, kept his secret for 15 years without realizing the impact it was having on his life.

“Before I married,” he said, “I went to confession. I was absolved, and I went on about my life.

“But I never paid much attention to the effect [the abortion] had on me. I guess I wasn’t ready to face it.”

One day, Michael was in confession when he started to cry. The priest asked, “How have you been damaged?”

“At that moment,” said Michael, “I went back in time and landed on that high school experience.”

Michael remembered being “scared to death” and making a knee-jerk decision.

“We were in between classes in the hallway when she came and told me she was pregnant,” he recalled. “And I just immediately said, ‘Get rid of it.’

“And that was it.”

For years, Michael had suppressed the guilt from his impetuous action.

“I’d pushed it away so far,” he said. “I hadn’t connected the dots between the things that made me feel bad about myself and that particular decision.”

Once he recognized his pain, Michael came to Klausner and finally began the process of healing.

And then, he saved one other person when a coworker confided in him that he was considering an abortion.

“My insides went, ‘Don’t!’” said Michael. “But I simply said, ‘You could do that, or you could try something different.’”

Michael shared his story, emphasizing the burden he carried after his abortion experience.

“They ended up keeping their child,” he said.

This missing piece

It’s difficult to predict when the trauma of abortion will surface. Klausner, who has been listening to the stories of damaged hearts for 20 years, can’t predict it.

“We have some women who regret abortion right away,” she said. “Some of them right on the table; some of them down the road.

“I do think having a child afterward and seeing the finished product will bring to their minds the child they didn’t have — the missing piece.”

“The birth of our first child was a huge eye-opener,” Michael agreed. “I didn’t make the connection at that time.

“But four or five years later, the weight of the responsibility of life and children kind of changes your perception.”

Like Michael, when he became a father Glenn began to regret the abortion he’d had in 1957.

But he hid his grief until 1995, when his son, while in the military, committed suicide.

More than five years later, when 9/11 happened, he finally broke down.

“I went to my priest,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘I took something away from the Lord, and the Lord turned around and took something away from me.

“At the time, I was 45 years out from my abortion.”

Even now, Glenn still remembers clearly sitting in a waiting room listening to his young wife’s screams as she endured a dilation and curettage — a procedure that masked abortion before it was legal.

“I had an abortion out of fear of becoming a father before I wanted to,” he said. “During the abortion procedure, I experienced the pain she endured.

“Immediately after the abortion, I felt relief.

“As time went on, I experienced guilt and doubt. And then, I found help and forgiveness through counsel and my Lord and Savior.”

Indeed, Project Rachel helped Glenn heal and experience God’s mercy.

“As a result,” he said, “I’m involved with Anglicans for Life. Their slogan is: Be silent no more.

“I try to witness to men as often as I can because I think they’re the forgotten ones.”

The devil’s deception

“The lie that’s been perpetuated,” said Klausner, “is that abortion is going to help you.

“And it doesn’t help you.”

It isn’t unusual for people to feel relief after an abortion, because the immediate crisis is over. But at some point, it seems inevitable that most will revisit the decision they made.

“When they first have the abortion,” said Sharon, a Project Rachel spokesperson, “a lot of them are in denial. They think they don’t need any healing.

“But as years go by, your relationships don’t work, you turn to drugs, drinking.”

Sharon speaks from experience. She is a survivor of two abortions — the first when she was only 15 years old.

“I remember it so well,” she said. “I was still living at home and had no resources, so I really didn’t have a choice

“[My father] made the choice for me.”

Sharon went on to marry and have a son. But when her marriage failed, she turned to drugs.

“The second time I got pregnant was a one-night-stand,” she said. “Mentally, I was thinking, ‘It’s going to be a crack baby.’

“I knew it was wrong. Satan really worked on my head.”

Though Sharon thought she was healed when she later had a religious conversion, she soon realized she needed more help — and she found it at Project Rachel.

“The deep-roots healing — forgiving my father, forgiving the doctors, naming my children,” she said, “there was so much more I didn’t know about.

“That’s what Project Rachel did for me.”


“What helps them is being able to reconnect spiritually with the child that they lost,” said Klausner. “And this is what we do.”

One of the ways participants reconnect is by writing to their lost children.

“This is a really good way for anyone to heal,” said Glenn. “You write this letter, and you’re writing it to this child you’ve named. I named mine after my great-great- grandfather.

“After you write this letter, Pat has you turn around and answer the letter with your less-dominant hand.”

At the end of the 10-week Project Rachel program, participants are given a chance to have a memorial Mass or service for their children.

“It gives the mother a little bit of comfort when you talk about God being a merciful God,” said Klausner.

In his 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life,” Pope John Paul II wrote about women being healed by Christ after an abortion and one day in heaven seeing “their child who is living in the Lord.”

Pope Francis reiterated that message in his first apostolic exhortation saying “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.

“With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.”

Starting anew is what Project Rachel is all about.

“Project Rachel is confidential,” said Sharon. “You’re not judged, you’re just loved — you’re just lavished with love.

“People need to know they can be healed and supported. And they don’t have to bury this anymore.

“You can talk about it; they’re going to understand.”

“The beauty of the church,” said Klausner, “is that it recognized abortion is a wound that’s very deep with a lot of layers that need to be healed.

“And so it offered Project Rachel.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

Leave a Comment