40 Days for Life 2023
Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly. Gather the people, notify the congregation. Assemble the elders; gather the children and the infants at the breast.… Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare, O Lord, your people.” ― Joel 2:15-27
The demise of Roe v. Wade has fundamentally shifted the abortion debate in the United States. All signs point to abortion rates plummeting in states that have completely, or mostly, banned abortion since the overturning of Roe. And there is reason to hope that more states will follow suit.
However, as I have so often emphasized in recent months, we cannot allow ourselves to get comfortable. The sad fact is that in the states where abortion remains legal, hundreds of thousands of women will have abortions this year!
Although there is never any reason that can justify the killing of a preborn child, it is important for pro-lifers to understand that for many of these women, the days before their scheduled abortion will be among the darkest times of their life.
Studies consistently show that many women who get abortions feel pressured or outright coerced into their “choice.” In fact, one very recent peer-reviewed study pegged that number at over 60%! Many of these women have unsupportive or even outright-abusive partners, who want nothing to do with their own child, and who threaten to leave the relationship if they do not get an abortion. Faced with the prospect of “going it alone,” these women often confess being overwhelmed with fears about their prospects for work or long-term financial stability.
It doesn’t help that we live in a culture that denigrates motherhood, emphasizing the superior nature of career success and economic “productivity,” and that pretends that getting an abortion is a simple, inconsequential medical procedure. As a consequence, so many women with unplanned pregnancies are surrounded solely by voices and messages urging them to realize that getting an abortion is “no big deal,” and that it will be “better” for them.
I say that it is important that we have a deep understanding of the reality that women with crisis pregnancies face, because doing so can open our eyes to seeing ways that we, as individual pro-lifers, and as a movement, can save the lives of preborn children and protect their mothers from a lifetime of regret.
That is: we can be there for women.
We can be the only presence in their life that cares about them and their preborn child enough to tell them the truth. We can be the only ones who approach them with a message of hope, and love, and courage. We can be the only ones who affirm the immense dignity and the great joy of motherhood, against which almost everything else a human being can do pales by comparison. We can be the only ones that tell them that they absolutely have the strength to be a good mother.
And we can help them discover a different path forward: one that will not lead to the death of their child, and a lifetime of regret.
Women facing a moment of crisis need to know they are not alone. That is: we are there for them and their child.
40 Days for Life: A Way to Being Present
When I say that we can “be there” for women, I mean that literally. We can be physically present to them.
This is why I love the twice-annual 40 Days for Life campaigns. By organizing hundreds of pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics all around the world, 40 Days for Life makes it easy to be a physical sign of hope for women in their moment of crisis.
Fittingly, one of the annual campaigns coincides with the season of Lent: a season of renewed prayer, fasting and repentance. The first of this year’s campaigns began last week, on Ash Wednesday.
As is always the case, the stories of lives saved, simply because pro-lifers were prayerfully present, immediately began to pour in. On day two of this Lenten campaign, a report came in of a child saved in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “We are keeping our baby!” a woman shouted as she left the local Planned Parenthood clinic. The 40 Days blog recounts, “Longtime campaign co-leader Dan said the woman appeared relieved as she accepted pro-life literature and instructions on where to get a free ultrasound.”
“This is the fifth save this year at a… center in a state where abortion is illegal,” Dan said. “Sidewalk counseling works. All the time. Thank you, Jesus.”
My favorite thing about the 40 Days for Life campaigns is reading stories like these, sent in from vigil locations all around the globe. Very often, these stories have to do with children being saved. At other times, the stories are simply brief updates about the joy and resolve of pro-life citizens all around the world.
On the first day of this year’s campaign, for instance, the blog included brief updates from campaigns in Taiwan and Germany – just two of the numerous campaigns taking place internationally. The organizer of the campaign in Zhongli, Taiwan said that last year over 1,000 people participated in the campaign!
The map showing the locations of each campaign is an impressive collection of hundreds of red dots spanning the globe. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pro-life activists will take part in this campaign, as they do every year.
Planned Parenthood: 40 Days Works
If there were any doubt about the effectiveness of the 40 Days for Life vigils, that is quickly dispelled by the numbers. Since the founding of 40 Days for Life in 2007, over 22,855 children and their mothers have been saved from the violence of abortion.
However, it’s important to realize these are only the cases that we know of. In a recent interview, the leader of one Planned Parenthood complained that during 40 Days for Life campaigns, the “no-show” rate doubles, or even more.
“It normally hovers at around 19%,” reports KQED, “but during campaigns, the number ‘skyrockets to 40, sometimes 50%.’“
We’ll never know how many of these women ultimately choose to keep their children. But it’s reasonable to speculate that many tens of thousands of other women have undergone a change of heart, without 40 Days for Life volunteers ever finding out.
And then of course, there are the nearly 250 abortion workers who have left the abortion industry thanks to the witness of 40 Days volunteers, and the 136 abortion facilities that have closed.
That is the power of prayer. That is the power of witness. That is the power of physical presence.
What Are You Waiting For?
The belief that every human person, born and preborn, possesses a God-given dignity has far-reaching consequences. For pro-lifers, it is a belief that becomes visible through our actions, influencing how we live and advance the Culture of Life. It is a belief that shapes how we respond to the assault on the sacredness of human life and its dignity, as well as how we provide care, resources, and accompaniment to women, their children, and families, so that no woman ever feels forced to choose between her future and the life of her preborn child.
As I said above, the thing I love most about 40 Days for Life is how easy it makes it for ordinary pro-lifers to make a difference.
Under normal circumstances, it takes some resolve to just show up in front of an abortion clinic, and to pray or offer sidewalk counseling. 40 Days for Life puts a structure in place, making it easy to sign-up, and to join a community of others who advise, pray for, and support one another.
If you are anywhere near a 40 Days for Life campaign this Lent, there’s really no reason not to go. All you have to do is sign up, stand for half an hour or an hour with your fellow pro-lifers, pray a rosary or two, and be present physically and spiritually to women who desperately need the hope that you can offer them.
The Gospels recount the story of a boy possessed by a demon. Christ’s disciples tried but failed to cast out the demon. And so, the boy’s father went to Jesus, who instantly cured the boy and cast out the devil. When asked by his disciples why they were unable to cast out the demon, Christ responded, “[T]his kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.”
There are, in other words, demonic forces that require stronger weapons. Abortion is one of those demons. After decades of constant, often-thankless work, the pro-life movement has begun to exorcise this demon from our midst. But still, we must persist.
40 Days for Life was founded in no small measure to focus the attention of pro-life activists on the spiritual dimension of this battle. We simply cannot hope to succeed in casting out the demon of abortion entirely through our own efforts. The end of abortion requires the spiritual conversion of our entire society, beginning with each of us.
The quotation from the prophet Joel at the beginning of this article was the scripture passage for the first day of this year’s 40 Days for Life campaign. Lent is the perfect time to echo the prophet Joel’s pleading prayer, “Spare, O Lord, your people.” Spare your children!
I hope that this Lent you will take a moment and search for the closest 40 Days for Life vigil. Make a commitment this Lent to fast one day a week for the end of abortion, and then go and join your fellow prayer warriors on the front line. Who knows whose life you will save, and what desperate mother you might protect from committing the worst mistake of her life?
As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.