How 40 Days for Life saves, changes lives across the nation
By Wayne Laugesen
Abby Johnson was managing a large Planned Parenthood abortion clinic back in 2004 when four people showed up in front of her building to pray for an end to abortion. They were praying for an end to her career, and it was a prayer she hoped God would not answer.
The peaceful vigils, in College Station, Texas—home to Texas A&M—became a national movement of Catholics and pro-life non-Catholics that’s known as “40 Days for Life.” Johnson mostly ignored the initial vigils and went about her work.
A visiting abortionist came to Johnson’s clinic five years after the first-ever 40 Days for Life vigil and wanted to demonstrate his technique. He invited Johnson to watch an ultrasound monitor to witness a suction abortion in action. As the doctor moved his suction tool toward the 15-week-old unborn baby boy, Johnson became disturbed.
“What I saw on the ultrasound was a baby fighting for his life,” Johnson said. “The baby was trying to get away from the suction tube. He was flailing his arms and legs, and I had been told these babies had no feelings and did not suffer. What I saw was shocking. I felt betrayed by everything I had been told.”
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Johnson knew she could no longer continue in her work, which paid a comfortable six-figure salary. She didn’t know where to turn, but she knew the 40 Days for Life people—who had protested her business for years—seemed loving, caring, prayerful and kind.
Johnson walked to their office, which was a short distance away from the abortion business, and told 40 Days for Life volunteers that she was ready to stop running the abortion clinic. They offered to make phone calls and help her find a way to survive without the job.
Today, 40 Days for Life volunteers and Johnson work together toward a common goal of ending abortion by praying for pregnant women, their babies, abortionists and all abortion workers. Johnson visited Denver in February to address a fundraising event for Lighthouse Women’s Center, which supports pregnant women who need help.
Johnson began working last June to help other abortion workers leave their jobs and has convinced 46 to do so with the help of 40 Days for Life.
“Before 40 Days for Life began their kind, loving, prayerful vigils outside of my clinic, all we had were protesters who were aggressive and mean,” Johnson said. “They called women going into the clinic a lot of ugly names. They had horrible graphics. There was a man dressed as the Grim Reaper. All those tactics did was make women feel like the safe place was inside our clinic. But 40 Days for Life did damage to our business. Women were drawn to them. After talking to them they were turning around and leaving our clinic.”
Johnson learned later that when women left her clinic they often walked into a nearby caring pregnancy center and were given the support necessary to deliver their babies and care for them or place them for adoptions.
David Bereit, who organized the country’s first 40 Days for Life vigil outside of Johnson’s abortion business, said he frequently hears from caring pregnancy centers about women coming to them for help after speaking with vigil participants. He visited Colorado in February and March to help with 40 Days for Life activities in Colorado Springs, Denver, Alamosa, Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley.
Bereit said data from the Texas Department of Health showed that abortions in Brazos County, where he and others prayed outside of the clinic run by Johnson, dropped by 28 percent during the first year of 40 Days for Life vigils. He assumes the vigils played a role in the reduction and subsequent reductions in abortions in counties with strong 40 Days for Life organizations.
Bereit said he has confirmed at least 7,000 abortions that have been cancelled throughout the country since 2004 as a result of 40 Days for Life volunteers talking to women and praying with them. The longtime manager of an Iowa abortion business quit last years and began volunteering with 40 Days for Life. The abortion mill closed its doors at the end of a 2012 40 Days For Life campaign.
Forty Days for Life vigils have been a twice-annual tradition in the Archdiocese of Denver for years, but for the first time this year they are organized and supported by the archdiocesan Respect Life Office. Vigils are organized for 40 days during Lent and begin again on the last Wednesday in September. Colorado vigils are near abortion businesses in Alamosa, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins and Greeley (see www.40DaysForLife.com for details).
“The root emphasis of this movement is a belief in the power of prayer,” said Lynn Grandon, director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office. “So I have to believe that when we reach heaven, we will be made to understand the positive impact 40 Days for Life has on saving children. I believe the continuation of a peaceful, prayerful presence in front of abortion clinics will generate tangible, long-term results.”
Bereit said he and his organization has a longstanding and constructive relationship with Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who helped grow the 40 Days for Life movement while serving in his previous role as bishop of Fargo, N.D.