On the eve of the latest international 40 Days for Life campaign, New Hampshire women and men came out in force to commit to an intense peaceful, prayerful daily vigil outside local abortion facilities until November 3. I went to the kickoff rally in Manchester and had trouble finding parking – my first clue that there was an amazing turnout.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. 40DFL efforts nationwide have had powerful results.
There’s already an ongoing sidewalk-counseling effort at the Planned Parenthood office on Pennacook Street. Some of those activists have rented an apartment across the street from the office, as a place of respite and prayer, calling it the Pray for Life Center. That’s where we gathered last evening – myself and at least fifty other people, filling every one of the apartment’s tiny rooms, spilling out into the little back yard. The “rally” was more like a neighborhood party, with people of all ages laughing and chatting and eating dinner standing up.
There’s no “typical” pro-lifer anymore, if such a person ever existed. Kids, college students, young professionals, Women of a Certain Age such as yours truly, people well into retirement: all were there last night. 40DFL is an explicitly faith-based initiative, so secular pro-lifers were probably underrepresented. We had an impressive blend of people nonetheless. It’s worth noting that I met a lot of new people last evening. I’ve been involved in pro-life work in New Hampshire for the better part of three decades, and I’ve met more new activists in the past three years than in all the preceding years combined. The post-Roe generation has come into its own. They see themselves as survivors, and it’s sobering to think about how accurate that is.
We all went outside into the tiny back yard in the chilly night air to hear the speakers. There was simply not enough room in the apartment to accommodate a crowd for a formal program. Nice problem to have. We listened to Paul Swope of nearby Derry, whose labors in the pro-life vineyard have taken him from scrubbing floors in a Philadelphia nonprofit’s office to working in eastern Europe to promote the culture of life. He reminded us last evening of “the power of the pro-life message. I owe to this movement everything that is important to me,” pointing out his wife Jenny as an example.
As a young man, Swope had no problem with Roe, even paying for his onetime girlfriend’s abortion (“I was a gentleman,” he remarked with gentle irony). Seemingly minor experiences led him only a few years later to a very different view of things. He talked about his mother’s prayers for him – which he didn’t want; “part of my story is to give you mothers hope” – and the trip to Europe that brought him into contact with people and books that he had never encountered in the course of his Ivy League education. He cited the books Whatever Happened to the Human Race and Abortion: the Silent Holocaust as crucial to his pro-life formation. “I was weeping at what I read. [Those books] were God’s chisel. All my Ivy League graduating-at-the-top-of-my-class didn’t matter.”
Swope says that through 40DFL, “We know that great things are happening, and it’s the Lord’s work. There’s a lot to be thankful for. We have much to celebrate.”
Fr. Chris Gaffrey of Derry said, “This is what our 40 days of prayer and fasting should be about: not only for the children, but also for those who go in there [to the abortion facility] – be they the workers, be they folks feeling as though they have no other options. We ask for the kind of love that would make us willing to die for any of those people, not just the children.”
Meanwhile, over in Greenland, New Hampshire, another 40DFL crowd gathered in front of the Lovering Center for its own vigil. Jackie McCoy emailed me today with photos and a brief report. “Throughout the hour, we experienced the usual feedback from passing traffic–some thumbs up, some unfriendly loud honks, and the neighbor across the street running his lawn mower to drown us out, but … we count it as blessings when we are persecuted and we pray for them, and pray for the abortion Dr and clinic workers.”
Both 40DFL locations in New Hampshire welcome participants who will sign a statement adhering to nonviolence and cooperation with local authorities. (The statement also includes an affirmation that “I am in no way associated” with any abortion provider.) Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., today through November 3. To sign up online to pray in front of PP or the Lovering Center during the campaign, go to one of these sites: