On one August Saturday morning, people were gathering outside Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. They were protesting the dehumanization on display in recent undercover videos from the Center for Medical Progress that exposed the abortion industry for what it is: a business centered on death.
The videos, which show doctors cavalierly discussing the harvesting of fetal tissue, have been the source of some criticisms, including accusations of doctoring by The New York Times; but they remain unquestionably disturbing alarms that should prod our consciences.
Seeing families and young people participate in the protests and watching social media light up with photos and testimony from the events was inspiring.
And then a scene from Detroit became instantly infamous: A group identifying themselves as Satanists led a counter-protest. Whether satirical or sacrilegious, it was a dark mirror image of the values on display elsewhere, and hinted at some unsettling truths lying behind our current cultural moment.
"When life is devalued, there is no limit to the ways life will be discarded," Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel recently told me.
Project Rachel is the official ministry to people who seek healing after an abortion. Thorn works for the women and men who have been customers and victims of the abortion industry, who are experiencing tremendous pain in the wake of what we pretend is a "necessary" evil.
Though we rarely engage with the e-word -- it would show the true nature of the stakes.
And while it is quite well known that the Catholic Church does indeed address evil, less talked about is the mercy it expounds and extends. The late Pope John Paul II united many with his focus on the Gospels' mandate for protecting life and building a civilization of love.
JPII also welcomed women to be healed. In his letter about the Gospel of life, he wrote directly: "I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly."
He continued: "If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life."
This is the work Thorn does. "The pain of abortion may come up immediately or many years later, when something called a 'trigger' incident happens," she observes. "Many times (women who've had an abortion) are caught off-guard when the pain comes to the forefront, because it was supposed to have solved a problem."
She adds: "I believe that any woman who has had an abortion may at some point have to confront the fact and deal with it. Perhaps using the language of regret is the problem. Many would say they couldn't see a way out ... but now, there is new awareness. Perhaps grief is not always the same as regret."
"Abortion is not a moral and philosophical debate. It is a heart issue and that is why it is so inflamed," Thorn emphasizes.
How can our hearts do anything but break as jarring headlines force us to confront the ideological brutality behind what we call women's empowerment and even health care?
Efforts and ministries like Project Rachel provide motherly love at a time when hellfire has vanquished and plagued mother's hearts.
(Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)