Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
The first time I went out to pray in front of an abortion clinic as part of a 40 Days for Life vigil, it felt surreal. Not only am I naturally awkward about public displays of faith, but less than a decade ago I was still a pro-choice atheist. In fact, it felt like such an unnatural thing for me to do that I was tempted to back out at the last minute and see if I could find someone else to cover my hour. I’m very glad that I went through with it, because it ended up being a powerful, eye-opening experience. Here are a few things I took away from it:
1. The pro-life movement is well organized. You can probably guess that from a glance at the impressive 40 Days for Life website, but I really noticed it when I was down “on the ground.” Before my scheduled hour, I was provided with detailed information about where to park so that our cars wouldn’t inconvenience nearby businesses, as well as some guidelines about where to stand so that we wouldn’t violate any laws. I was told whom to contact if I couldn’t make it for any reason, and that person would be responsible for trying to find someone to cover my hour. When I arrived at the designated area in front of the clinic, I signed a form that outlined some rules of conduct, acknowledging that I understood that this was a peaceful prayer vigil, not a protest. There were professionally printed signs available to hold if I wanted to, encouraging passers-by to join us in prayer, or stating messages like “Women Deserve Better than Abortion.”
2. Average people are getting involved in the pro-life cause. What you see out on the sidewalks is living proof of what the data show: The country is becoming more pro-life. I hate to admit this, but I still had a lingering impression in the back of my mind that abortion clinic prayer vigils were for extremists; in other words, “normal” people just didn’t do that sort of thing. I realized just how wrong that was when I actually got down to the vigil and started meeting people. I encountered software engineers, school teachers, lawyers, plumbers, people from my neighborhood and my church, and others like them. To see the group of people this event attracted was to see that average people are taking to the streets to do something about abortion.
3. Communities don’t want abortion facilities in their neighborhoods. The clinic I went to was on a busy street, so I’d been worried about nasty gestures from cars passing by. There were a few of those, of course, but I was surprised by how many positive responses we got. Many people driving to the nearby neighborhoods honked and gave a thumbs up sign, or rolled down their windows to shout words of encouragement. Overall, we got more positive responses than negative.
4. Pro-lifers care about the mothers just as much as they care about the babies. One of the things that’s most impressed me about 40 Days for Life and our local pro-life group is the effort they put into making sure that resources are available for women who change their minds about having abortions. Elizabeth McClung, the founder of the Austin Coalition for Life, has personally driven many women to crisis pregnancy centers. Those centers and other pro-life organizations offer women everything from a place to live to clothing and food to supplies for their other children to financial assistance. In my experience, it is emphatically not the case that pro-lifers only care about the unborn.
5. Spiritual warfare is real. I’ve known since early in my conversion that spiritual warfare is real, but I’ve rarely experienced it as intensely as when I’ve been at a prayer vigil in front of an abortion clinic. It’s not just the intense reactions we get or the knowledge of the terrible things that go on just a few yards away, but there’s an eerie, unmistakable feeling in the air. You get the sense that you’re truly on the front lines of the war between good and evil.
6. Prayer works. Even though no women have turned around during any of my hour-long vigils, I count the time I’ve spent as a 40 Days for Life prayer warrior as one of the most important things I’ve done recently—maybe ever. There is no doubt that the prayers of all the people involved in this movement are bearing fruit: Prominent abortion clinic employees have left their positions to join the pro-life cause; abortion clinics have closed; thousands of babies have been saved from death, their mothers saved from undergoing a procedure that would harm them both psychologically and physically. There is hardly a better example of the power of prayer than the 40 Days for Life campaign.
I never thought I’d be “that person,” the lady praying in front of an abortion clinic; but now I see that “that person” is an average person. The people who pray in front of abortion clinics are not the oddball fanatics I once perceived them to be, but normal, average citizens who are troubled by what is going on in their communities and want to do something about it. The next 40 Days for Life campaign begins next Wednesday, September 28th. In over 300 cities worldwide, people will maintain peaceful prayer vigils in front of the abortion clinics in their local communities, 24 hours a day for 40 days. Will you join us?