40 Days for Life to have record participation despite COVID-19 pandemic  

Participants in the 2018 pro-life observance 40 Days for Life gather near an abortion clinic in Green Bay, Wisconsin. | Courtesy 40 Days for Life

The annual pro-life prayer vigil campaign 40 Days for Life will reportedly break a record for the most participating cities this year, despite pandemic-related shutdowns.

The 40-day annual event, which involves pro-life activists regularly praying outside of abortion clinics seven days a week, will begin Sept. 23 and conclude Nov. 1.

Shawn Carney, president and CEO of the group 40 Days for Life, told The Christian Post that 588 cities were participating this year, the largest since the observance was first held in 2007.

“Many thought that the pandemic and civil unrest in our streets would be a deterrent, but I am so proud of the local leaders who came out in droves to apply, train, and lead their campaign locally,” said Carney.

“The desire to help women and their unborn children is at an all-time high despite nearly five decades of legalized abortion. The pro-life movement gets larger and younger by the day and that is illustrated in this record.”

Carney also told CP that for the prayer campaign, his organization “enhanced and expanded our training for the pandemic but also for security and keeping all participants safe.”

Demonstrators participate in a 40 Days for Life prayer campaign outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Storm Lake, Iowa in 2011. | (PHOTO: SUE THAYER)

The campaign is ready for any potential litigation, Carney explained, noting that they have “extensive legal support” available just in case a vigil faces legal harassment.

“Historically, 40 days for Life is well-known in the communities we are in and we have a good reputation with local officials and law-enforcement,” he continued.

“If a local judge attempts to use COVID-19 as a vehicle to suppress our rights, then we are prepared to respond and defend those rights as Americans.”

While largely concentrated in the United States and Canada, according to their website, 40 Days for Life vigils are slated to occur in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Argentina, Croatia, Germany, India, Nigeria, Spain, and Uganda.

Dorothy Zarelli, director of the local campaign for Tacoma, Washington, explained to CP that their vigil will be at the Cedar River Clinic, a late-term abortion provider.

“We are on the sidewalk praying and holding our signs. We do not march or yell or confront anyone. We are just there to pray for the unborn and witness,” said Zarelli.

“Some days the sidewalk counselors are there and they are trained for one-on-one conversations with the people going into the clinic. We also have info on CareNet, a facility where pregnant woman can go get help with their pregnancy and a free ultrasound.”

Zarelli noted that their campaign will feature four two-hour shifts seven days a week, with around 60 people being involved and at least two individuals present per shift.

Paula Grimm of the Right to Life League, head of the campaign for Pasadena, California, told CP that she first took part in a 40 Days for Life years ago as a college student.

Grimm explained that her local observance will take place at a Planned Parenthood in Pasadena, located right across the street from the offices of the Right to Life League.

“Our volunteer list has 160 people on it and is growing rapidly,” reported Grimm. “LA county still has strict COVID health regulations in place, so our volunteers are required to wear masks and stand six feet apart at all times.”

“For our larger events – kickoff, midpoint, closing — we will space ourselves up and down the busy boulevard and across the street, rather than gather in one area.”

As with other mass gatherings, demonstrations outside of abortion clinics have periodically been the target of law enforcement over concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus.

In April, a district court judge issued an order allowing for pro-life activists to demonstrate outside of abortion clinics in Michigan after they had previously been ticketed for doing so.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff issued an order approving an agreement between the City of Detroit and pro-life activist Andrew Belanger of the group ONElife for Life.

“The City of Detroit shall dismiss the criminal citation issued to Plaintiff Andrew Belanger and any related criminal charges or proceedings that might arise from this citation and the incident related to it,” read the order.  

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