BOSTON, April 6 (AP)--The Roman Catholic Church has begun a nationwide campaign urging women who have had abortions--and now feel estranged from the faith--to undergo counseling and return to the fold.
Because the Vatican considers abortion the taking of a human life and a mortal sin, many women who have terminated a pregnancy feel unwelcome in church. The church's goal is to reassure these women and bring them back to Catholicism.
``Many people think that abortion is the unforgivable sin, and that they have severed their tie with the church forever. In fact it is the complete opposite,'' Barbara Thorp, director of pro-life services for the Archdiocese of Boston. ``We want people to understand that there is nothing that separates us from the love of God.''
The campaign includes radio and billboard ads that feature the slogan ``Something inside dies after an abortion'' but do not mention the Catholic Church. Instead, they use the words of women who have had abortions: ``Not one day goes by that I don't think of my baby boy,'' one woman says.
The ads include a toll-free number for Project Rachel, the church's post-abortion counseling service that began 15 years ago. It is named for a Biblical figure who mourns the death of her children.
Until now, Project Rachel was handled locally through church literature or radio ads. The wider campaign, organized by the National Conference of Bishops, is pegged to the church's Jubilee Year, or 2,000th birthday. Reconciliation is one of Pope John Paul II's themes for the celebration.
In an interview, one Boston-area woman said she felt she was ``unforgivable'' for 20 years after having an abortion. She was a lapsed Catholic and a supporter of the abortion-rights movement in 1997 when she heard a local Project Radio ad on the radio. She sought counseling and wound up returning to the church.
``It gave me a way to make peace with God, my child and myself and to be able to move forward. I wanted a spiritual life,'' said the 46-year-old businesswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
``I spoke with the most wonderful priest. He was so loving, so nonjudgmental. A few months later I made confession.''
The eight-week campaign began Feb. 1 in the Washington area. It starts this month in Nebraska and next month in Boston. Ads are in the works for three more states and 10 more dioceses, depending on funding.
Church officials said the campaign is already having results.
When ads ran in the Washington-Baltimore area, Project Rachel counselors received about 150 calls for information during a two-week period, compared with the usual eight or so, said Helen Alvare, spokeswoman for conference's Secretariat for Pro-life Activities.
Of those new callers, about 40 percent were non-Catholics, she said. They were referred to rabbis, Protestant clergy or non-denominational social workers.
``The pain from abortion that women and men experience is not limited to one particular religious faith,'' Thorp said. ``And the pain of abortion is a feeling of isolation. There's this sense that you're not supposed to feel this way. We stand ready to help anyone who is hurting.''
Some abortion rights activists suspect the church has political motives.
Michelle Ringuette, spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, wondered if the ad campaign was timed to coincide with Supreme Court arguments April 25 over the procedure abortion foes call partial-birth abortion.
Ringuette also said the campaign could exaggerate the number of women who suffer severe emotional distress after abortions. Out of 1,000 abortions a month in Massachusetts, she said, only two to four women call for counseling, mostly over religious or cultural shame.
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