It is easy enough to get an abortion in Singapore. Since 1970, the procedure has been a legal, government-regulated part of everyday life. Each year, around 11,000 abortions are performed in clinics and hospitals around the island. But until recently, those suffering from post-abortion trauma – the emotional, psychological and spiritual pain – have had nowhere to go for specialized help. All that changed in March 2010 when four women and two men gathered in the quiet grounds of a neighborhood Catholic church to talk, pray, and share about how abortion had touched their lives. They were there for a Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion weekend retreat, the first of its kind to be held in Singapore. And over an intense, often painful, but ultimately redeeming weekend, these six people were led back into their abortion experiences by a small team of professional therapists and volunteers to help them find forgiveness, hope, and healing. Rachel’s Vineyard can trace its roots back to 1986 to one of the first ever therapeutic support groups for post-abortive women in the United States. Using a combination of biblically-based exercises, Christian rituals, prayer, and modern counseling and therapy methods, its effectiveness in helping people heal from the effects of post-abortion trauma has seen the ministry grow tremendously over the past 25 years or so. More than 700 retreats are conducted every year in 25 countries. Rachel’s Vineyard came to Singapore largely due to the efforts of Rose Boon, a long-time volunteer at the Singapore Catholic Church’s Pregnancy Crisis Service. “I have been hearing the stories of post-abortive women and men for almost 20 years, and I had been looking out for some kind of abortion-focused healing ministry for quite a while,” Boon says. “A couple of years ago, a priest introduced me to a woman who was suffering terribly from a deep depression which she thought could be the result of her abortion,” she recalls. “When I gave her Forbidden Grief
to read, a book on post-abortion trauma written by the founder of Rachel's Vineyard, she could identify with just about everything in it. She went almost immediately for a retreat in Sydney, Australia, that being one of the nearest retreat locations to Singapore at the time.” On seeing her again after her retreat, “She was completely transformed,” says Boon, “and I knew I needed to bring this ministry into Singapore.” Boon saw a similar change in most of the six participants of the first Singapore retreat. “For almost all of them, the retreat was the very first time they were able to talk about their abortion experience with anyone,” says Boon. Simply being able to safely share the shame, guilt, and grief of this ‘solitary sorrow’ one has kept silent about, sometimes for many years, can often be a profoundly healing experience. “At the conclusion of their retreat on Sunday morning, so many of them were so free. The difference was amazing,” Boon recalls. There has been one more retreat since the first was held in March 2010, with a further four planned for 2011. Presently, Rachel's Vineyard remains the only ministry dedicated to post-abortion healing in Singapore. Although most of the participants so far have been Catholic, the retreats are open to anyone so long as they have experienced or participated in an abortion in some way. Boon hopes that as more people in Singapore hear about the retreats, they will also become aware of the procedure’s psychological, spiritual, and emotional consequences. “But most of all, I hope that people will come to know that there really can be healing, hope, and forgiveness after abortion.” Father Colin Tan, Regional Superior of the Jesuits of Malaysia and Singapore, became involved with Rachel’s Vineyard through Rose Boon, who asked him to hear confessions and celebrate a special Mass for the participants at the first retreat.
|Father Colin Tan Photograph ©Andrew Chew |
“I recognized then that this was a very special ministry and I was happy to help. I have been involved ever since.” Through the program Father Tan has seen the damage caused by abortion at close hand and the deep sense of guilt and shame that can gnaw at the soul. “Sometimes, these feelings may not manifest themselves immediately and, for some, it may not surface for years afterwards. But they are there. “Often, there is also a feeling of alienation from God, a feeling that God is very, very far away from them.” Those seeking reconciliation or counsel, need special care, he says. “The last thing I would want to do is to give them a heavier burden of guilt and to make them feel that they have somehow committed this big, unforgivable sin. It is not my role to condemn,” he says. “It is my role to give them a message of hope and to lead them to a true image of God; that is, a God who is not heartless, punishing, and judgmental as people in that circumstance so often think He is, but God as presented by Jesus Christ, the One who is merciful, compassionate, forgiving – the God of Life. “It is about helping them re-discover their dignity.” He has seen Rachael Vineyard retreats have a dramatic effect on the participants. “On Sunday afternoon, when I am celebrating the Mass that concludes the weekend retreat, I feel that there is a certain sense of liberation and freedom among the participants,” he says. “They can breathe more easily and they can walk in their faith without carrying the burden of guilt and shame. Their dignity has been restored. “I think many also leave the retreats no longer believing that God is angry with them.” Father Tan sees the need for therapy programs such as Rachel’s Vineyard growing in Singapore. “This ministry has a lot of potential. “Abortion is not going to go away any time soon in Singapore and therefore, the need of such a ministry is great. As a program that helps people heal, recover their dignity, and gives them wholeness and hope, I think it has a place and a future in Singapore.” Related report Out of the darkness and back into the light