Campaign Re-Energizes

The national pro-life campaign 40 Days for Life, which ends Nov. 4, saw babies saved from abortion and minds changed on the issue.

(photo: CNS photo/Tanya Watterud, New Earth)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Christ spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert. For the past 40 days, a massive gathering of pro-life activists have gathered at the “desert” in front of abortion businesses nationwide to pray for an end to abortion.

Only two days into the 40 Days for Life campaign, Sacramento campaign co-coordinator Wynette Sills had an encounter with a Planned Parenthood employee who was on his lunch break.

“I’m curious about something. … Are you guys really going to be out here for 40 days?” asked the man.

“Yes,” responded Sills.

“You mean all day and all night?” he asked again.

Again, Sills responded in the affirmative, telling him how seriously they feel about the cause. He acknowledged that he had read the 40 Days website. Sills took his hand and introduced herself, saying she cared about him.

“Yeah, I know you do,” he replied, returning to work.

Stories like these have been the hallmark of the 40 Days for Life Campaign that began Sept. 26 in more than 89 cities in 33 states. At most of the abortion businesses, activists maintained a non-stop prayerful presence.

“This has been the largest pro-life movement in America ever,” said Milissa Ackron, campaign director in Ann Arbor, Mich. She said that one of the beautiful things about the campaign is that it has mobilized people like her who have never participated in pro-life work before.

The campaign took on a unique dimension in each of the cities where it was conducted. In Queens and the Bronx, N.Y., campaign director Chris Slattery parked a mobile ultrasound unit in front of abortion businesses in those boroughs, performing an average of 3-5 ultrasounds and 6-7 counseling sessions every day. In Ann Arbor, Father Bob Roggenbuck brought the Blessed Sacrament to the abortion business for weekly Eucharistic adoration and Benediction. More than 70 people participated on the first Friday.

“There’s no closer way to be with Christ,” said Father Roggenbuck. “Bringing him to a place that needs him and the Lord’s grace is a powerful experience not only for those who are praying, but also for those for whom they are praying.”

Diocesan Leadership

In Fargo, N.D., Bishop Samuel Aquila wrote a letter to the diocesan priests encouraging them to spend an hour in prayer at the state’s only abortion business. He asked the priests to encourage their parishioners to do the same. On the second day of the campaign, Bishop Aquila spent an hour in prayer at a clinic.

“God has called us to put an end to abortion in the state of North Dakota,” he wrote. “Abortion … cannot be a human right; it is the very opposite.”

Bishop Aquila received support from some pretty surprising places. A secular radio station in Fargo ran daily announcements for open hours needing to be filled at the abortion business during the campaign.

“Bishop Aquila’s leadership has inspired people all over the place,” said David Bereit, national campaign director of 40 Days for Life. “People are coming from nearby states to pray in Fargo, and the bishop’s letter went to a lot of other dioceses and encouraged other bishops to participate. It’s amazing how many people have become involved because of one’s man’s leadership.”

The campaign was not without its opposition. Slattery said that while their reception in Queens was warm, he was surprised by the level of animosity directed at their presence in the Bronx.

“On Saturdays, the abortion businesses shipped in 8-10 counter-protesters with signs and T-shirts against us,” said Slattery. “They were nasty and vile, made sexual innuendos and anti-Catholic slurs, blocked our path and were borderline violent.” Slattery asked the police to be there on Saturdays.

Still, Bereit said that he has been most touched by the faithfulness of the pro-life people involved.

“When we pulled in front of the abortion clinic in Toledo, Ohio, a family was there praying,” said Bereit. “Although we had never met, they said that meeting us was like seeing family.”

Bereit said that, in addition to the 83 cities that directly participated in the campaign, he was aware of another two dozen that participated in other ways. Boise, Idaho, for example, had a prayerful presence outside an abortion business several hours each day.

Nationwide, more than 85,000 hours were filled throughout the duration of the campaign at all of the various sites. The results, say organizers, are almost too numerous to mention.

In El Paso, Texas, for example, activists have reported at least a dozen babies saved, including the rescue of twins. Sarasota, Fla., saw record turnouts of 40-50 people on many days of the campaign. Several cities — including Durango, Colo., Milwaukee, Pensacola, Fla., and Sacramento — reported fewer abortions, and the abortion business even closing on some days when abortions were typically performed.

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.