The growing 40 Days for Life prayer and fasting effort added an attention-getting new dimension this year. The “40 Days Bus Tour” is covering 50 states in 40 days, stopping at local prayer vigils and state rallies in front of abortion centers. Begun Sept. 28, the campaign continues through Nov. 6.
The rally cry is being heard: Reports from local 40 Days for Life campaigns indicated 410 babies have been saved as of Oct. 24.
“We felt we needed to do more this election year,” said David Bereit, the campaign director. “There’s such cultural chaos, and the moral breakdown and political toxicity of the campaign really called for an emphasis on defending the unborn with prayer and fasting.”
This year’s campaign received the enthusiastic endorsement of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Holy See’s Pontifical Academy for Life and grand chancellor of the St. John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family: “Seeing that 40 Days for Life has been preaching [that] same Gospel since 2004 and that its prayer, fasting, witness and outreach have saved more than 12,000 lives and brought reconciliation and healing to so many suffering mothers, fathers and families, I am honored to endorse your efforts and to ensure you of our enthusiastic endorsement and cooperation.”
Hitting the Road
A prayer volunteer from Indiana offered the bus for the campaign, and the idea of a cross-country bus tour was born.
Wrapped with the “40 Days for Life United” logo, the bus has an amazing schedule of meeting local pro-lifers at state and local events.
The bus tour spans an astounding 18,500 miles, equal to 3/4 the circumference of the world. Months of planning went into preparing the bus and mapping the route.
This year’s 40 Days has three goals, according to Bereit: “One, more cities. Last year, 316 cities held 40 Days for Life prayer campaigns; this year, the number jumped to 367 cities: 270 of those are in the U.S., with the others in 22 different countries. Two, we wanted to have all 50 states participating at the same time. Over the past few years, some held it in the spring, [with] others in the fall. This year, every location is participating at the same time, this fall, especially important now, with the election so soon. Three, we, as organizers, wanted to stand together with prayer groups across the country. We felt if we are asking people to stand as witnesses in front of Planned Parenthood, we want to stand with them. This is our way of not only calling more Americans to prayer and fasting for an end to abortion with our bus on the road, but of encouraging and breathing more life into our local campaigns.”
“Filling up a 75-gallon tank takes a while, and, of course, the bus gets attention, so we get talking to people,” he added. “Some people ask how they can get involved, so it has been a way of recruiting into the movement. We invite people to sign their names or a message to the bus. We get a lot of honks as we’re driving, and they’re mostly with a smile or a thumbs-up.”
At most of the prayer events, women give testimonies of grief, pain and healing following abortion, as many are involved with the post-abortion ministry Silent No More Awareness.
In some cities, as word got out about the 40 Days’ rally, bus and media coverage, the local Planned Parenthood closed early or closed for the day altogether.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Melissa Armstrong tearfully described the devastation of her abortion, speaking right in front of the facility where her baby’s life ended in 2001.
She was in the military when she conceived a child, and her boyfriend didn’t want a baby to affect his career. He pressured her to abort. When she tried to talk to her minister about her decision, he said he was too busy to counsel her.
“I was a pro-life Christian. ... Regrettably, I allowed fear and shame to dictate the decision I made. I succumbed to the temptation to end my child’s life,” she recalled.
Years of “heart-wrenching grief” ensued, which eventually led her to the post-abortion healing ministry Rachel’s Vineyard.
“As I speak to you today, it is my prayer that my story can be a witness to women that they do not have to choose abortion, and if they have, there is healing, hope and redemption available through our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In Colorado, the first state to legalize abortion (six years before Roe v. Wade), a big crowd was on hand to welcome the 40 Days for Life bus. State Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, encouraged prayer volunteers and sidewalk counselors on behalf of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Mary Beth from Silent No More spoke of how, after having two abortions herself, she empowered her abortion-minded daughter to choose life. As a result, she now has an 8-year-old grandchild.
The Colorado rally in Denver featured more than 200 attendees standing across from one of the largest Planned Parenthood abortion centers in America.
When the 40 Days for Life bus tour arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, abortion supporters were celebrating Planned Parenthood’s 100th birthday, Oct. 16. But 70 faithful 40 Days prayer volunteers were up early that Saturday morning and dwarfed the pro-abortion-rights contingent. It’s difficult to “contemplate the irony,” said 40 Days for Life President Shawn Carney, “of celebrating the birthday of an organization that prevents hundreds of thousands of children from celebrating their own birthdays every year.”
A large crowd greeted the bus in Morristown, New Jersey, in pouring rain. One prayer volunteer, Jenny, told how she had been indifferent about abortion until she encountered the 40 Days for Life folks last year. Now, she’s a regular in front of the local abortion facility. And Lana gave a beautifully moving post-abortion testimony of heartbreak and healing.
Beginning by celebrating Mass at St. Margaret’s Church, a group then processed with Father Jesus Peralta three blocks to Planned Parenthood, where other pro-life people of different denominations joined them. Stephen Perkowski, head of Morris County Right to Life, carried a cross as he led the group in silent prayer. Alicia Piacek reminded the group to “spiritually adopt” the children in danger of abortion by picking a day and praying for nine months for the child to be born. Perkowski added, “Let’s spiritually adopt all the children scheduled to be aborted today.”
Dawn Eskew, organizer of 40 Days for Life on Long Island, New York, pointed out that the “prayerful presence in front of abortion centers is helping our youth get the answers to their questions.”
During a candlelight prayer vigil in front of Planned Parenthood in Hempstead, a young woman walked over from her home in the neighborhood. “She asked if she could join us. She was very quiet, but after, she told us that she’d seen people praying there before and felt a pull to join in. A friend of hers had an abortion and is really struggling, depressed and talking about it a lot. This woman who prayed with us is feeling regretful because she went with her friend for the abortion. A few of us went to get something to eat after, and she came with us; and it was an opportunity to talk to her more and provide resources for healing for both of them.”
“Another day, three young girls pulled over and wanted to talk to us,” she added. “They started asking us, ‘What about rape?’ We were able to explain the sanctity of all human life and how abortion in a rape situation is a tiny percentage of all abortions. I told her about Rebecca Kiessling and Save the One, and they were obviously fascinated.”
Making a Difference Coast-to-Coast
In spite of the difficulty of maneuvering a huge bus on the crowded streets of Manhattan, a large group including the Sisters of Life greeted the bus and then prayed the Rosary in front of the Margaret Sanger Planned Parenthood facility on Bleeker Street. The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, joined in prayer a few days earlier as part of 40 Days for Life efforts and encouraged the group to continue their presence.
Prayerful folks across the street from Planned Parenthood in Manchester, New Hampshire, had the police called on them on two different days. What the police found twice was a group, including college students, praying.
In Providence, Rhode Island, 40 Days’ folks worked closely with Rhode Island Right to Life, a non-sectarian group, emphasizing that pro-life is not just a Catholic issue. The groups came together for the state rally, with the bus providing “great visibility” to the public, “letting them know we’re not stopping until the abortion laws are changed,” said Carol Owens from the diocesan family-life office in Providence. “We had powerful post-abortion witness from both a man and a woman, priests participating — several priests — and, surprisingly, no activity whatsoever from Planned Parenthood. Usually, they try to drown us out with their boom boxes, they hire an escort to bring women in for abortions, and have a few of their supporters outside with their ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries’ signs — but for this big event, maybe because of the huge bus, they were silent.”
The “United” bus stopped at two area abortion facilities and reported much encouragement from passing drivers.
Sheila Pursell, coordinator for Arkansas events, said the bus added great enthusiasm to this year’s campaign. “Just knowing this bus was traveling to every rally in 50 states over 40 days was amazing,” she said. “The bus arrived at 7:30 in the evening; and even though it was dark, we had over 100 people show up. The bus folks handed us markers and invited us to write our names on the side of the bus. We had David Bereit speak; and even after traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles on a bus, he was so inspiring and so enthusiastic We also had the campus minister from the University of Arkansas, Adam Kohler, and the director of Loving Choices crisis-pregnancy centers speak. What is so great about 40 Days for Life is that it really brings together a lot of different pro-life groups.”
In Casper, Wyoming, local leader Bob Brechtel, who spent 10 years in the state Legislature, said 40 Days for Life has done more to accelerate the end of abortion in Wyoming than all of the laws passed during his decade in office.
More than 125 enthusiastic pro-lifers came out to greet the bus and pray in front of the state’s only remaining abortion business.
The Knights of Columbus opened the prayer vigil in front of Planned Parenthood in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Paula Ellefson explained how God’s mercy broke the chains that surrounded her due to her abortion.
Supporters of 40 Days for Life, along with pregnancy-center directors, spoke in front of the huge bus in Bellevue, Nebraska, where the abortion facility there is run by notorious late-term abortion doctor Leroy Carhart. While he’s now in his mid-70s, rally participants noticed that pro-lifers are getting younger. High-school students and local college members of Students for Life joined in prayer. Heather from Silent No More told her abortion story. Her cousin was in the procedure room up until the last minute, trying to persuade Heather to change her mind, but the abortion staffers forced her to leave.
One notable elected official who has enthusiastically supported the 40 Days for Life campaign is U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Consistently pro-life, Blackburn spoke at a state rally and signed her name on the side of the bus.
“It was a pleasure to join the 40 Days for Life campaign on their stop in Nashville. As I’ve chaired the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives over the past year, we’ve worked tirelessly to investigate the alleged lawbreaking by the fetal-harvesting industry. Causes like 40 Days for Life are imperative to changing the narrative on abortion in this country, and I am pleased to see their dedication to saving infant lives and protecting women.”
Louisville, Kentucky, organizers say the bus brought out more people, including newcomers, to the 40 Days for Life statewide rally on Oct. 9, in front of the only surgical abortion facility in the state.
Peggy, from Silent No More, shared her moving post-abortion testimony about her daughter, Jordan, whom she aborted after being raped many years ago.
David Bereit and Steve Karlen, the local 40 Days for Life organizer, energized the crowd, speaking of the importance of standing up for unborn babies and to never give up. At least nine babies have been saved in Louisville.
In one of the most poignant moments of the campaign so far, Bereit told of a group that has been praying regularly in front of an abortion facility for years. The group mentioned to 40 Days’ leaders that “they really hadn’t seen any actual results so far. That evening, at our prayer vigil, a woman joined in with a 2-year-old girl. The woman traced the little girl’s hand on the side of the bus and wrote her name, Larelle, next to it. The woman turned to me and said, ‘This is one of the children saved from abortion during 40 Days for Life two years ago!’ It was so great to get to meet them and hug them. And what an inspiration to the prayer group to keep going!”
Patty Knap writes from Long Island, New York.