WASHINGTON Although studies by the Guttmacher Institute indicate about 22 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion, the 40 Days for Life movement remains committed to praying for the end of the practice.
"Our focus is on prayer and giving witness to life," said James Sherk, volunteer coordinator for 40 Days for Life efforts in Washington, D.C. "I do believe that, through prayer, we can end this."
This fall's initiative, which began Sept. 22 and concludes Oct. 31, includes 238 cities internationally, the highest campaign participation thus far. This is only the seventh coordinated campaign, but the movement already has seen significant success. Since the operation began in 2007, the campaign has reported that 2,811 lives have been saved from abortion, 35 abortion workers have quit their jobs and six abortion clinics have shut down.
While other pro-life movements employ street rallies and picketing in their efforts, the 40 Days for Life approach is more subtle. Although all 40-day vigils aren't the same, the organization focuses on prayer and communicating love and forgiveness to those associated with abortion and its industry.
"A lot of people think you're standing on the sidewalk and you're going to be yelling at the women going in and being judgmental, and that couldn't be further from the truth," Juliet Cassell, leader of 40 Days for Life in Fayetteville, Ark., said in a television interview.
Though the group prays to save the lives of the unborn children, participants also reach out to the women who have aborted or are considering abortion. The organization says it is crucial to show love and compassion to women who are confused and scared about being pregnant, as well as those who have already endured the trauma of abortion.
"We're there to lend a hand and not point fingers," Cassell said. "We understand that they're in a crucial point in their life they have a very difficult decision to make, and we want to offer them the love that Christ offers through us."
The opening vigil that took place in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21 included a speaker, Alina Arias, who is part of Silent No More, a pro-life public awareness group that testifies to the devastation caused by abortion. Arias explained how her own abortion affected her life in subsequent years.
There is an ongoing debate on whether psychological repercussions follow an abortion. Some psychologists say, and some studies indicate that women may experience Post-abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). This often can mean that women experience depression and various factors associated with it. Arias said her own experience included eating disorders, alcoholism and even post-partum depression later in life.
Although many pro-choice organizations claim women feel relieved following an abortion, Arias said the relief is shallow and temporary.
"At first, I felt relieved. And that makes sense -- when you solve a problem, you should feel relieved. But a baby is not a problem," she said.
For women like Arias who have endured post-abortion suffering, 40 Days for Life not only prays for their healing but seeks to provide awareness to other women that PASS exists and can have severe effects.
Though the campaign has reached such widespread participation, Sherk emphasized that the vigils remain entirely volunteer and people are needed to take time to pray in front of abortion facilities.
"I would strongly encourage people to get involved and start a campaign or join one locally," Sherk said. "This effort is entirely volunteer it takes people sacrificing their time."
The locations of 40 Days for Life efforts can be found online at http://40daysforlife.com/location.