Politically, religiously, and morally, the topic of abortion never ceases to be a source lacking debate. For some women who have chosen abortion, the debate is often internal, and the struggle to cope with the decision can sometimes become a lifelong process.

Twice a year, Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries offers its services in Tucson to women and men who are experiencing guilt after an abortion.

The program, which began in Pennsylvania in the 1990s, has grown into a national effort. The Tucson chapter holds a three-day retreat every March and September to help individuals cope with any associated guilt.

“Many of these young women who decide abortion is the way they want to go, because it’s legal, or because they have control over their own body, we see them six months to a year later, and they’re not in that same frame of mind,” said Judy Barnett, one of the coordinators.

The Catholic-based retreat revolves around scripture, but does not require participants to follow any particular religion to participate.

“We’ve had Jewish people, we’ve had Protestant people, people that are not overly religious, and yet they’ve all been able to take something out of it and find healing for themselves,” said Barnett.

During the retreat, participants receive a prayer shawl knitted by the Cactus Comfort Ladies from St. Mark’s Church in Oro Valley, enjoy a small meal and read scripture before breaking into small groups to discuss their personal experiences with abortion.

Alice Cook, a member of the Cactus Comfort Ladies and volunteer at Rachel’s Vineyard, said group breakouts are valuable because they give individuals a chance to express feelings that have often been long kept in seclusion.

“With some of these women, there is a lot of guilt felt by having an abortion, and sometimes it doesn’t even come up until 30 or 40 years later,” she said. “And this is not only for women, but for men as well. We’ve had a girlfriend/boyfriend and mother’s and daughters come in together.

“As the retreat progresses, Barnett said participants take part in “bringing their baby back to life,” by naming it and writing a letter to it, and on the final day, they “give the baby back to God.”

Barnett said the process helps women find closure and move on with their lives in a more positive way.

“We had a woman come in who was married and had children and had never told her husband, and she’d never told a soul,” said Barnett. “By the end of the retreat, she had the most beautiful smile on her face, and everyone at work the next day was telling her how beautiful she looked, and asking her what she had done over the weekend.”

The retreats generally attract about 10 to 12 individuals. Cook said if there was a higher demand, more retreats could be organized.

Trained counselors, priests, and volunteer staff make Rachel’s Vineyard possible, and the Reachout Pregnancy Center in Tucson helps fund and host Rachel’s Vineyard each year. Reachout is a non-profit organization that offers free pregnancy services to women in an effort to encourage them to choose life for their unborn babies. Last year, Reachout’s Tucson facility assisted more than about 5,500 women with free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, materials assistance, educational information.

“We give them all the different options to consider, and they are then able to make an informed decision,” said Reachout Executive Director, Lori Giovannini.

The final retreat this year is scheduled for Sept. 21-23.

Rachel’s Vineyard asks for participants to contribute $170 towards retreat costs, but is willing to work with individuals who are unable to pay.

“For those who are unable to pay we put requests out for scholarships,” said Barnett.  “Even though we only charge $170, it costs us around $200 per participant. We stress to all participants that we do not want them to not attend the weekend because of money. Reachout helps us with the shortage.”

To find out more about services offered by Reachout or to donate to Rachel’s Vineyard, visit Reachoutforlife.org/.

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