By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
BLUE SPRINGS — Raegan Ratterman was a pro-life sidewalk counselor who discovered that God wasn’t finished healing her yet from the two abortions she experienced as a young woman.
Glenn Darrow lost one son to suicide. But it wasn’t until the Twin Towers came crashing down on Sept. 11, 2001, that he realized he needed help and forgiveness for the son that was aborted in 1957.
That’s the way it often goes with Project Rachel, said diocesan director Teresa Hoeppner at “An Evening with Project Rachel” Sept. 19 at St. John LaLande Parish.
“It takes years for people to admit they have had an abortion — 20 years, 45 years is not out of the ordinary,” Hoeppner said.
“People don’t talk about that because there is so much shame. But it’s a miracle to see a heart heal, right in front of you,” she said.
Project Rachel is a national program launched in 1984 in Milwaukee that seeks to bring spiritual healing to women and men who have chosen abortion, as well as to all affected by that decision.
It operates here as a joint program of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and offers three programs — Project Rachel for women, Project Joseph for men, and Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for both women and men.
“We are open to people of all faiths,” Hoeppner said. “We have an opportunity to be a church of mercy, to open our hearts and our churches.”
Ratterman was still in high school, a star athlete, when she had her first abortion. Not a Catholic yet (she wouldn’t convert until after she married her cradle Catholic husband of 25 years, with whom she would mother 13 children), she was so wracked with guilt that she sought out a Catholic priest during her senior trip to Padre Island, Texas.
“I’m not sure how I learned about confession, probably the movies,” she said.
The priest of course could not administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Ratterman said. But he did listen to her story with loving tenderness.
He said to her, “Now that you know abortion is wrong, you must speak out against it.”
But he also warned her that post-abortion feelings of guilt can be so strong that a young woman often becomes pregnant again, very soon again.
“This culture of sex in which I was immersed in was still steering my ship,” Ratterman said.
Early in her college career, she became pregnant again. And she had her second abortion.
“Had I taken responsibility for my first pregnancy, I would have been taking care of my little girl instead of going to an abortion clinic again,” Ratterman said.
Healing was a long process, she said.
“After I truly embraced the Catholic faith, that is when my healing began,” she said. “This spiritual battle cannot be won without the graces of God and the graces of his church.”
Years of prayer followed in which she realized “it wasn’t God who hadn’t forgiven me. It was me who hadn’t forgiven me,” she said.
“God had been gently leading me. God wanted me to heal to do his work,” Ratterman said.
She became a sidewalk counselor at abortion clinics in Kansas City, trying to get young mothers at the last minute to choose life.
She even struck up a friendship with Danny, a clinic security guard, and as they talked, she shared the secret known only to very few, and to none of her children, about her abortions.
One day, Ratterman said, their discussion turned more heated than usual. Danny blurted out, in front of people who didn’t know, “Why don’t you tell them about your abortions?”
The look on Danny’s face told Raegan he was immediately sorry, and apologized to her profusely. But whatever anger she had was replaced by a sense of liberation.
Ratterman decided that her six oldest children, old enough to understand, should know before someone else told them.
“They all hugged me and told me how sorry they were that I went through that,” Ratterman said. “It was right before Holy Week. My secret was out. I was a free woman. I couldn’t stop smiling.”
She went back to the abortion clinic to seek out Danny. “I thanked him for the best week of my life.”
God wasn’t done pouring his mercy yet, Ratterman said. Nor was she finished healing.
“Abortion wounds a woman so deeply and in so many places that without divine intervention, it is impossible to know how to heal or even what to heal,” Ratterman said.
She went to a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Through an intense weekend of prayer and counseling, she was finally able to forgive herself, as God had always done.
Ratterman named her two aborted children Saraphina and Vincent. How did she know they were a girl and boy?
“God told me in prayer,” she said.
It was a life-changing weekend.
“When I came home to my children, I could finally be the mother they deserved,” she said.
She and her husband placed a headstone in the family garden at their home. It bears the names Saraphina and Vincent.
Darrow named the son he never knew Amaziah. “It’s a Biblical name,” he said.
He received his healing from Project Joseph, a program specifically for men who are victims of abortion.
He was 22 years old and engaged to be married when his fiancé, now and still his wife, became pregnant.
Darrow said it wasn’t easy to get an abortion in pre-Roe v. Wade United States in 1957. But it wasn’t impossible if you had connections.
Darrow’s father, a physician, helped make the arrangements.
In 1995, Darrow’s grown son, Tripp, committed suicide. He wondered if that was connected to the son he and his wife aborted 38 years before.
Then on Sept. 11 six years later, those feelings gushed out.
“The loss of life at the Twin Towers was gut-wrenching,” he said. “It reminded me of the life I took, and I thought, ‘Did my son take his life because of that?’”
At Project Joseph, he met other men going through the same emotions. He was not alone.
“Every one of these men were there as a result of coming to Christ to be forgiven,” Darrow said.
As part of the process, he had to not only name his aborted son, but also write that son a letter. His was dated Jan. 28, 2003.
“Please forgive me,” he wrote. “Untie the knot. Taking your life was being an accessory to murder.”
Darrow also made Amaziah a promise. “The Lord has turned my heart. I will do my best to help others survive.”
Darrow, an Anglican, is often asked to speak about the Catholic Project Joseph program. His message to other men going through post-abortion trauma is direct.
“The post-abortion trauma envelopes many areas — drugs, alchohol, depression, anger, suicide to name a few,” he said.
“The one shot you have is through counselling and confession,” Darrow said.
The truth about abortion is also simple and direct, he said.
“The pre-born child is not a potential human being, but a human being with potential,” Darrow said.
“I had an abortion out of fear of being a father before I wanted to,” he said. “Over time, I experienced guilt and doubts. But you can still fill your tomorrows with the joy of being forgiven.”
More information about Project Rachel programs locally are available online at www.projectrachelkc.com., or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. A national confidential helpline is available toll-free at (888) 456-HOPE (4673), or locally at (816) 591-3804.