DAYTON, Ohio—It's no secret why Dr. Chris Kahlenborn chose to come here during a sabbatical from his medical practice.

“Dayton in ground zero for partial-birth abortions,” the Pittsburgh physician said.

Kahlenborn, 40, left his medical practice in June 1997 to write and also to take up residence in the Dayton suburb of Kettering, Ohio, the home of an abortion facility run by Dr. Martin Haskell, the man credited with perfecting the procedure known as partial-birth abortion.

Kahlenborn came to the Dayton area on sabbatical primarily to organize what he calls a “Life Prayer Vigil,” an effort to have at least two people praying in front of Haskell's partial-birth abortion facility every hour of the day and night until the clinic is closed forever.

The Pennsylvania internist first heard of Haskell after the latter presented a scientific paper on the partial-birth procedure at a 1992 National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar in Dallas. Haskell described his procedure as a D and X — medical jargon for a dilation and extraction procedure — where an almost fully delivered pre-born baby is killed by a sharp thrust to the skull with scissors.

“It destroys the brain tissue sufficiently,” Haskell once told the Dayton Daily News, “so that even if it [the child] falls out at that point, it's definitely not alive.”

When Brenda Pratt Schaeffer, a registered nurse who worked at Haskell's clinic for three days, testified at a 1995 congressional hearing, she described the gruesome procedure in detail and said, “I was completely unprepared for what I was seeing. I almost threw up as I watched the doctor do these things.”

Although Kahlenborn has been working on several writing projects during sabbatical — he is finishing a book entitled Understanding the Link Between Abortion, Breast Cancer and the Pill — his main focus this year has been organizing the Life Prayer Vigil.

“I have been visiting area churches not to try to stop partial-birth abortion — which I can't do anyway,” admitted Kahlenborn, “but with the main purpose of confronting apathy. Apathy is the real problem, the real killer. This sort of endeavor makes people have to get up in the middle of the night, or early in the morning — whenever. It makes people sacrifice as they ought to.”

Kahlenborn promotes a theme he refers to as FAST. That stands for Fasting and prayer to end abortion, Act for life, Steadfast repentance for the sin of apathy, and Turn off your television or Internet and give your time to God.

Kahlenborn was born in Germany, and his parents immigrated to the United States when he was 2 years old. “I grew up in American culture,” he remarked, “but I saw enough of my German relatives to always realize that what Hitler did was not just something in a history book….

“I could see that there is a point in every nation where if you allow evil to go on, you get this kind of result. So in this country, we have partial-birth abortion; people are now aware of it; babies are killed beyond the point of viability — not that that makes a moral difference — and we're at a very dangerous point. If a country continues to allow that, then we will end up with the mentality of the Nazis regarding the rights of the Jewish people.

“We're now at the brink. Very soon it may be that if a baby is 1 year old and a girl, she may be ‘aborted’ — killed by an infanticide mentality, which is really the same as an abortion mentality.”

What has become obvious in recent years, Kahlenborn maintained, is that neither the courts nor the state and federal governments have the courage or morality to stop even partial-birth abortion.

“In my view,” said Kahlenborn, “there is only one solution, and that is to pray, to fast and to act on our Christian convictions.

“I don't think that Martin Haskell would go into a place that was strongly Christian, because he would just be driven out by the moral force.”

Kahlenborn has acted on his own convictions as a Catholic. Last October he observed a 40-day fast in front of Haskell's clinic. Taking only juice and water during this period, he remained in prayer outside the clinic from 7 a.m., when he and a few others would recite morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, until 8 p.m. when he concluded his vigil withvespers.

He slept at a crisis pregnancy center across the street from the clinic, and rose each night at 2 a.m. for prayer.

Dr. Steve Koob, director of the Dayton pro-life organization One More Soul, said that Kahlenborn is “a very unique and exciting person” and that his commitment to the pro-life cause is “phenomenal.”

Koob, who joined Kahlenborn in front of the clinic for a few hours during his 40-day fast, said that it was “truly an amazing feat” on Kahlenborn's part.

“When he first told me of his idea to get people to pray around the clock at this late-term abortion clinic, I didn't want to discourage him,” said Koob, “but I was incredulous. I didn't think it could be done. Now, just a few months later, he's pretty much done it.”

A Model Program

Kahlenborn wants his efforts to serve as a viable model for pro-life activists throughout the country. “Once we can establish that this kind of prayer vigil is viable, pro-life activists in every city might be encouraged to start their own initiatives at local abortion clinics.”

After the fast outside the abortion clinic, four pro-life leaders decided to help Kahlenborn with much of the organizational work, traveling to parishes and churches, explaining the vigil and getting people to commit themselves.

“It's great to see so many people coming out to the clinic now,” said Anna Gros, who plans to continue Kahlenborn's initiative when he returns to Pittsburgh in July.

Before the vigil was inaugurated, no more than 50 people came to pray at the clinic, she said. Now there are more than 500.

At present, 40 active churches are involved, and 10 others are in the process of getting organized. Seventy-five to 80% of these churches are in Catholic parishes.

Each parish gets a four-hour block to fill each week, a two-hour daytime block and two hours at night. Two leaders are needed at each church to coordinate the prayer vigil program. They are responsible for ensuring that there are always at least two people from their church present during their assigned hours.

About 500 volunteers are needed per month (168 people are needed per week in two-hour shifts), and since some people will come out every week, that will reduce the numbers needed, Kahlenborn said.

“It is a sacrificial commitment that each person is making,” he added. “It is a commitment to be consistent and persistent in the effort to end partial-birth abortion locally.”

Ironically, said Kahlenborn, abortionist Haskell does everything that Christians are suppose to do, but in reverse. “He's consistent,” Kahlenborn said. “He does what he says he is going to do, and he is persistent. He gets up every morning to do the same job.”

A Lay Movement

First Kettering Baptist Church boasts the only clergy member, the Rev. Stan Ballard, who has committed himself to coming out for the prayer vigil each month. While that has been a disappointment to Kahlenborn, he said that “it's really a lay initiative and has received a lay response.” He and other lay organizers are hoping to get a priest to offer a eucharistic procession outside the clinic.

But Kahlenborn is pleased with the more than 500 volunteers who are now praying in front of Haskell's abortion clinic. “It's a good start,” he said, “but we need to maintain the momentum, enthusiasm and consistency over what could be a long period of time.”

Vivian Skovgard, known to the local pro-life community as Grandma Vivian, said she has noticed that more people are coming out to pray on a regular basis. Skovgard, who sidewalk counsels in front of the clinic, said she is delighted with the response to Kahlenborn's initiative.

Even so, a receptionist at Haskell's clinic, who declined to give her name, claimed, “We don't know anything about that [the prayer vigil] here.” A media spokesman at the clinic declined any further comment.

Skovgard, however, feels that workers at the clinic most certainly know.

“The fact that more people are visible in front of the clinic has a tremendous effect,” she said, “not only on the women and workers going into the clinic, but also on people who are driving by.” The clinic, Women's Med Center, is located on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the Dayton area.

Kahlenborn hopes that his vigil will set a nationwide standard for prolifers: “If it can be done in Dayton, Ohio, which is less than 8% Catholic, it can be done in any urban center in the United States.”

Michael S. Rose writes from Cincinnati-