WASHINGTON — On a rainy sidewalk in Washington, D.C., 40 Days for Life's founder, David Bereit, and Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne, France, joined 15 pro-life activists in prayer outside of a Planned Parenthood facility. Bishop Aillet led the group in a bilingual Rosary on the busy sidewalk on 16th Street in the nation’s capital.
Similar vigils were scheduled throughout the country since Sept. 25, as part of the most recent “40 Days for Life” campaign, which ended Nov. 3.
40 Days for Life’s mission is “to bring together the body of Christ in a spirit of unity during a focused 40-day campaign of prayer, fasting and peaceful activism,” according to the group’s website. The mission is carried out by conducting continuous prayer vigils outside of abortion businesses and by counseling abortion-minded women to reassess their plans.
Since its founding in 2007, 40 Days for Life has conducted 2,480 campaigns in more than 500 cities in the United States and throughout the world. The group reports that more than 575,000 people have taken part in the campaigns. In addition to initiatives in all 50 states, the movement has grown to 18 other countries.
40 Days for Life's Bereit told the Register that he was “amazed” with this year’s campaign.
“We have seen more enthusiasm and more participation than in past years. People are recognizing that, with Obamacare, the HHS mandate and other challenges, prayer is a powerful way to make a difference,” he said. “People are recognizing that the local level, through prayer, is where we can make the most change.”
By Nov. 1, participants had reported a total of 428 babies saved throughout the country during this year’s campaign. Local activist Dick Retta, who has conducted prayer vigils outside of the 16th Street Planned Parenthood for 12 years, said that this campaign saved 10 babies at that location during the current campaign.
Retta carries pamphlets that have educational information as well as resources for pregnant women. He hands them to women entering the business in the hope that they will choose alternatives to abortion. Similar pamphlets are distributed throughout the 40 Days for Life network. According to the 40 Days for Life website, the campaign is responsible for more than 7,500 saved lives since 2007.
Strategic D.C. Presence
Bereit said that the 16th Street facility is important to the campaign because of its “strategic nature” in the nation’s capital.
“When Planned Parenthood leadership comes in from New York to lobby, this is their headquarters,” he told the Register. “We have to be here to give witness and to show workers that the body of Christ is present here and everywhere.”
Bishop Aillet said that he was “very happy” to join Bereit in the 40 Days for Life campaign on Nov. 1. Speaking with the help of a translator, Aillet said that he was visiting the United States to meet with associations inside and outside of the Church that stand up for life and the family.
Bishop Aillet was named bishop of Bayonne in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI, and he has emerged as a leading voice against abortion and same-sex “marriage” in his home country.
Last November, Bereit and the bishop met at the “Colloque International pour la Vie” — the International Symposium on Life, hosted by Bishop Aillet.
“I am here to visit with David Bereit, to support their ministry. I am very happy to testify about this ministry,” Bishop Aillet told the Register.
He noted that his own country lacks a pro-life initiative like 40 Days for Life. In France, he said, “things look a bit different. … There are no specialized abortion clinics.” Additionally, he said, “The freedom of expression is much more controlled in France. You are not free to make demonstrations like [40 Days for Life].”
At the conclusion of the Rosary, he thanked the crowd for welcoming him and encouraged them to keep praying.
“Your prayers are working,” he told them. “You are saving lives. You will meet those whose lives you saved in heaven.”
Success in Texas
Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood closed its facility in Bryan,Texas — the location of the very first 40 Days for Life campaign.
In 2009, the facility's director, Abby Johnson, quit her job, leading to a famous legal battle with Planned Parenthood that made her a leader in the pro-life movement. Johnson has written a book about the experience and now tours the country speaking to pro-life groups about her experience at Planned Parenthood.
In a phone interview with the Register, Johnson credited 40 Days for Life with helping her quit the abortion industry.
“I knew I wanted to quit after seeing an ultrasound-guided abortion,” Johnson recalled, “but I didn’t know who to turn to. So I reached out to the people who had been praying outside my clinic with 40 Days for Life. They always said they would help me if I wanted to leave, so I just said, ‘I want to leave. Can you help me?’”
Johnson remembers that the pro-life activists quickly “got the ball rolling” and tried to help her find other employment opportunities.
According to the 40 Days for Life website, 83 abortion workers have quit their jobs and have sought help from 40 Days for Life activists.
Johnson has started her own ministry, And Then There Were None, which specifically helps abortion workers and abortionists quit their jobs in the abortion industry. She reported that her ministry has been in contact with 86 people who have quit or plan to quit the abortion industry. Johnson said that about a quarter of these workers were directly influenced by the public witness generated by the 40 Days for Life campaigns.
Focusing on the Future
At the Nov. 1 vigil, Bereit was optimistic about the future of 40 Days for Life. “Every time we do a campaign, we have new cities. We have seen over a dozen new countries reach out to us recently. I definitely see us expanding in the future,” he said.
He added that the campaign’s impact continues well after the close of the 40-day period.
“For 33% of people, this is the first pro-life activity that they do,” he said. “People who get started with 40 Days for Life realize what a difference they can make. Their work transfers into helping at crisis-pregnancy centers, in education and advocacy, political activism with groups like the Susan B. Anthony List and sidewalk counseling beyond 40 Days for Life.”
Register correspondent Chris Crawford is the director of pro-life ministry
for Catholics at The George Washington University.