40 Days for Life

It’s been local for a few years, but the 40 Days for Life campaign, aimed at saving the lives of the unborn, will go national this fall.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Forty days transformed Moses on Mount Sinai. The city of Nineveh repented when God gave its citizens 40 days to remain faithful. Christ was empowered by 40 days in the desert.

And pro-life groups across the country are asking themselves what can happen if they unite for 40 days of prayer, fasting and outreach to end abortion.

A lot could happen if the success of a College Station, Texas, effort is any guide.

“We saw the Biblical significance of what God accomplishes in 40 days,” said Shawn Carney, executive director of the Texas-based Coalition for Life.

The first 40 Days for Life campaign was held in 2004. It involved prayer, fasting, a 40-day prayer vigil outside the local Planned Parenthood business, and outreach, including a door-to-door information campaign that reached more than 25,000 households.

Those unable to pray at the abortion business were invited to participate in the campaign via daily e-mailed prayers throughout the span.

More than 60 local churches and more than 1,000 people participated. Set up much like perpetual Eucharistic adoration, individuals signed up for times to pray at Planned Parenthood around the clock — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Members of the Knights of Columbus, said Carney, took many of the late evening and early morning hours. Participants in the vigil have a prayerful presence at the abortion business, refraining from the use of graphic signs.

“It was the longest continuous prayer vigil in front of an abortion business,” said Carney. “As a result, abortions dropped by 28% locally.”

Not only that, but the effort inspired other communities to hold their own 40 Days campaigns.

Spreading the Effort

“When we finished our campaign, a group in Dallas wanted to do one,” said Carney. To date, a total of seven have been undertaken, including College Station, Dallas and Houston; Bremerton, Wash., Green Bay and Madison, Wis., and Charlotte, N.C.

In Houston, parishes, schools, families and individuals from both Catholic churches and Protestant congregations braved 99-degree heat from Aug. 15 - Sept. 29, 2006 to cover hours for the prayer vigil.

Following Green Bay’s lead in 2006, Wisconsin Right to Life’s Region 2 conducted its campaign in Madison between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day of this year. Unlike the Texas campaign, the Madison vigil took place only while the abortion business was open.

In Bremerton, the campaign took place over the course of this past Lent. Organizer Glenn Stockton said he was inspired to conduct a local campaign by his college-age daughter.

“Our daughter told me that she wanted to go camp out in front of Planned Parenthood night and day until they closed,” recalled Stockton. “I was primed. When I read about the 40 Days campaign in the Register, it dawned on me that this was a way to accomplish her vision in a manageable form.”

“What Kitsap Human Life is doing this Lenten season does more than make people aware that Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion profiteer,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, of the Bremerton effort. “This vigil is a sign of what Lent means in the first place; self-sacrificing love to save the helpless.”

The Bremerton campaign was not without opposition. Planned Parenthood launched its own counter-protest called “Pledge a Picketer” to try to intimidate the prayerful protestors to give up.

“Planned Parenthood came out and held up signs saying ‘Pledge a Picketer,’” explained Stockton. “The idea is that people will donate a specific dollar amount to Planned Parenthood per hour when there are people protesting Planned Parenthood. Later they hold up signs that say, ‘Your efforts have earned this much for us,’ and ‘Even your picketers work for us.’”

“If you’re not prepared for it, it can be disturbing to picketers, but you can’t let it discourage or deter you from being there,” said Stockton. “It was quite unsuccessful.”

In preparation for the fall 40 Days campaign, Planned Parenthood in Houston and College Station are raising funds to buy tarps that the abortion businesses will place over the fence surrounding their property to serve as a visual shield in front of the praying protesters.

The campaign focuses on Planned Parenthood because it is the country’s leading abortion provider, but communities without Planned Parenthood are invited to host prayer vigils outside any abortion business.

During its 2005-2006 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood performed a record 264,943 abortions, profiting $55.8 million, and receiving taxpayer funding of $305.3 million.

“Planned Parenthood is the preeminent source and biggest provider of abortions in the U.S.,” said Stockton. “They put themselves out there as a major not-for-profit that is in the business of killing babies, so they’re a big target.”

‘Fruit’ of the Campaign

Stockton said that the Bremerton campaign had almost immediate results.

“There was a definite save for a mother,” said Stockton. “In addition, the abortion business curtailed their operating hours and dropped one day off their work week.”

During the second week of the prayer vigil in Houston, one of the city’s abortion businesses unexpectedly closed after being in operation for more than 20 years.

According to a 40 Days for Life report, 120 women in Houston were directed away from the abortion business during the course of the campaign. In Dallas, 17 children were spared.

“Someone from inside Madison Planned Parenthood said that there were more turn-arounds during that time than they had seen in a while,” said Doreen Shirek, chapter director for Wisconsin Right to Life.

In Green Bay, more than 700 people participated. According to Carney, only 2% of those who participated had ever done any type of pro-life activity before.

Carney said that the campaign has been successful because it provides busy people something tangible to do in the face of abortion.

“There’s a beginning and an ending,” said Carney. “You can do anything for 40 days.”

Taking It Nationwide

The national interest has led to a television program and a national 40 Days for Life campaign that will begin Sept. 26. EWTN aired the Coalition for Life’s television program “Being Human” June 25 to garner interest in the campaign. The 30-minute documentary profiles everyday people who work to give a voice to the unborn.

Between Sept. 26 and Nov. 4, pro-life groups across the country will be mobilizing for 40 Days campaigns in their own communities. The organization has had inquiries from 374 towns in 42 states.

“We already have half a dozen major American cities that are going to participate,” said Carney. “We know of another dozen that hope to participate.”

Interested pro-life groups can learn more about the campaign, or register for updates at 40daysforlife.com.

No matter how many cities participate, organizers know that it will have long-ranging effects — not only for the lives of the babies and their mothers, but also for those who participate.

“The Madison campaign has been over since June 15,” said Shirek. “Yet we still have people who go to the abortion business to pray during the week.”

“Through 40 Days of Life, the contrast between the two sides of the abortion debate becomes clear,” said David Bereit, national director for 40 Days for Life. “Planned Parenthood preys on women and destroys their children for the almighty dollar, while peaceful Christians pray for women and protect their children all to glorify the Almighty.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.