‘It was the only thing that gave me relief’


HEALING: Rachel’s Hope offers retreats for Catholic women who are seeking emotional and spiritual healing from a past abortion. The next retreat will be held March 8 to 10. (Credit: Courtesy Rachel’s Hope)

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SAN DIEGO — “I felt like what I had done was unforgiveable.”

That’s how Carol, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy, described her state of mind after having an abortion about three years ago.

But her situation today is much different, thanks to her participation in a retreat offered by Rachel’s Hope, a ministry focused on providing after-abortion healing and reconciliation to Catholic women in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Carol, a Catholic woman in her 30s, said that attending the three-day retreat was “the best thing I could have done.”

“It was the only thing that gave me relief,” she said.

Rachel’s Hope offers two English-language retreats every year. The next one will be held from March 8 to 10 at the diocesan Pastoral Center.

The organization also annually offers four retreats in Spanish, the next of which will be held April 5 to 7, also at the diocesan Pastoral Center.

“We can offer God’s mercy and healing in their life, and they can go forward renewed, and refreshed, and out from under the heavy burden that they have been carrying since their abortions. They can truly be set free,” explained Rosemary Benefield, founder and director of Rachel’s Hope, reflecting on the ministry’s purpose.

Through the English-language retreats alone, Benefield said, the organization has helped more than 600 women over the past 29 years.

It was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that Carol unexpectedly found herself pregnant.

Though her boyfriend previously had expressed interest in marriage and children, he “completely changed” after she told him that she was expecting. She said that he “started pressuring” her to have an abortion, assuring her that she would “ruin” her life if she carried the baby to term.

She asked him to give her time to collect her thoughts and weigh her options, but he kept up this drumbeat of negativity.

Carol wonders whether the situation might have turned out differently if, rather than feeling isolated because of lockdowns and social distancing, she had been attending Mass and felt connected to her parish community.

“I just felt terribly alone,” she said.

Carol “really wanted that baby,” but ultimately allowed herself to be persuaded to schedule an appointment with Planned Parenthood and to take the abortion pill RU-486.

She stayed at a cousin’s house as the pill took effect. She experienced hours of “excruciating” pain and “a lot of bleeding.” She said that her cousin was concerned that she might have to call an ambulance.

But Carol’s pain wasn’t only physical. Within days, commingled with a sense of relief that she was no longer pregnant, she already had begun to have regrets.

“They sell this like it is an easy answer, and your life is going to be fine (after an abortion) … and it is not,” she said. “No one prepares you for the shame, the regret, the depression … that comes afterwards.”

One day the following year, she was attending Mass and seeking relief from her post-abortion depression. At the church, she came upon some information about Rachel’s Hope and asked herself, “Why not?”

The experience of attending one of the ministry’s retreats was life-changing.

“Just knowing that I could be forgiven for my sin, telling my story with other women, crying together, seeing that I wasn’t alone,” she said, “it gave me hope that I could be redeemed, forgiven, and … move on with my life somehow.”

She said, “It was a beautiful experience just to connect with other women.”

Carol said that she has created lasting bonds with her fellow retreat participants and that they have kept an ongoing email chain.

“We pray for each other, we reach out, we know about each other’s lives,” she said. “It’s kind of a sisterhood.”

After-Abortion Healing Retreat
Catholic (and Catholic-friendly) women who are seeking relief from their grief and regret over an abortion are invited to attend an after-abortion healing retreat.

Presented by Rachel’s Hope, the retreat will begin on Friday, March 8, and conclude on Sunday, March 10. It will be held at the diocesan Pastoral Center. A closing Mass is included.

The cost to attend is $60. Partial scholarships and housing are available if needed. The group size is limited.

For more information or to register, call (858) 581-3022, text (858) 752-9378, email or visit

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