An influential Milwaukee attorney who dedicated her life to helping women after abortions has died.
Recognized by the Vatican for her work, Vicki Thorn, 72, died Wednesdaysaid her husband William Thorn.
Grounded Thorn Project Rachel, a Catholic ministry for people struggling after an abortion, in 1984 in Milwaukee. At one time, the department ran offices in more than 160 American dioceses — and more generally.
Archbishop of Milwaukee Jerome Listecki said Thorn “single-handedly created a ministry of post-abortion healing at a time when none existed,” according to a statement in the Catholic Herald newspaper.
Thorn’s approach was non-judgmental and focused on listening, her husband said.
“It was always empathy for the pain they were going through,” William Thorn said.
Project Rachel trains priests, mental health and medical professionals to work with women and men affected by abortions. It also provides services such as pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which now runs the ministry nationally.
The name comes from the Bible verse in Jeremiah 31:15 – “Rachel weeps for her children, she refuses to be comforted because her children are no more.”
Thorn, who earned a degree in psychology and was a certified trauma and grief counselor, retired in late 2020 from her position as executive director of the National Office of Postabortion Reconciliation and Healing. The office, which was located in Milwaukee, oversaw the services of Project Rachel.
Born in 1949, Thorn attended the University of Minnesota and moved to Milwaukee in 1975 with her husband. William Thorn is a retired journalism professor from Marquette University.
The Thorns had six children together.
In the early 1980s, Thorn came up with the idea for Project Rachel. She previously told the Journal Sentinel that she initially thought it would be a “nice local project”.
It has become “perhaps the world’s leading post-abortion counseling and referral service,” a Journal Sentinel reporter wrote in 2005.
A moment in his adolescence was a major motivation. A friend from high school told Thorn that she had an abortion and was struggling emotionally.
“It was a life-changing experience in understanding that abortion was not a non-event, that it left huge imprints on someone’s life and enormous pain,” Thorn said in a video about his work Last year.
William Thorn said his wife was not focused on politics and disagreed with the methods of anti-abortion protesters who displayed graphic images of abortions.
“She was adamantly opposed to anyone who wanted to make political profit out of it,” he said.
Thorn also disagreed that the Rachel Project exploited women who regretted their abortions. In the 2005 article, she said her ministry offered common ground in the contentious abortion debate.
“The fact is that abortion exists in our culture. But we don’t really care for women or help them get ahead by pretending that abortion has no effect,” said- she declared.
Thorn has also trained leaders of other Christian denominations and has traveled to 29 countries as a speaker on abortion issues, her husband said.
A highlight of Thorn’s career was a private visit with Pope John Paul II, she told the Catholic Herald when she retired. He thanked her for her work.
Thorn was also a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Lifea Vatican entity on bioethics whose members are appointed by the pope.
In 2021, Thorn received the Evangelium Vitae Medal from the University of Notre Dame, a lifetime achievement award honoring “heroes of the pro-life movement.”
In a video for the medal presentation, a member of the university’s Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture – which awards the medal – praised Thorn’s innovative approach to caring for people after abortion.
“If it wasn’t for her in the pro-life movement, I just can’t imagine,” said Mary Hallan FioRito, Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Nicola Center. “We would be 10 to 20 years behind in our work of ministry and outreach to women who have had abortions.”
Thorn is survived by her husband, children and 19 grandchildren.