From 26th September to the 4th November, the organisation 40 Days for Life established prayer vigils at many of the nation’s abortuaries, some during each facility’s ‘opening hours’ while others occurred every hour of every day, for a complete forty days. This course of non-stop prayer was chosen on the advice of the 40 Days for Life groups in the USA, who found that once their vigils became a constant feature of the streets, the likelihood of abortuary closure became much more likely.


Volunteering for the vigil outside the Marie Stopes clinic on Whitfield Street in London, it occurred to me that everything we saw and did, and the reaction from the public, was a microcosm of this country at large. The battle between the culture of life and the culture of death is played out in people’s lives, far below the lofty chambers of Parliament and the High Court. Real women come out of these ‘clinics’ clutching the empty wombs where a baby once dwelt, a living human person, and this fact is clearly apparent to most of the women who left the clinic following the procedure. I would ask any reader of this article to pray for these women especially, they know what they have done and I doubt many could talk about it with friends or family. They would only be told that they had ‘done the right thing’, with no acknowledgement of what has truly happened. I saw women shrinking from their boyfriends, and even their own mothers, who had escorted them to this place of death, a look in their eyes of deep turmoil.




Abortion will not be ended without conversion


To understand the pro life position is in fact essential to understand true Christianity and vice versa. The Apostolic Tradition and the Sacred Scriptures attest that our fellow man has worth far beyond their ‘usefulness’, or their size or physical appearance. They simply are made in the image of God, from conception until death. It is for this reason that God the Son in His love became incarnate and died for us. Not because we are ‘useful’ but because He is love and desired what is best for us. Premature death is never what is best for anyone, neither the individual nor their families, despite what our ‘enlightened’ culture may try to tell us. We take this for granted, yet even to our neighbours and colleagues this is revolutionary. Many today think that they believe in the universal worthiness of love and life, but then we need only ask them what they would do if they became pregnant while working on a high salary, or if their ‘partner’ did.




The concept of 'choice' whereby a woman (or others pressuring her, as is surprisingly common) can do away with another life, simply because the younger one resides within the woman’s body at a particular time, is utterly incoherent. This was revealed by the inability of anyone who spoke with us to defend the abominable practice in rational terms. It was frightening to hear several people over 40 Days confess that they regard a foetus as truly human, yet the mother's right to abort standing as absolute, assumed as fundamental. There is much work to do if we want to break through the mantra of ‘It’s her choice, always!’ This is of course a legal fact; we were there in fact to help women make the right one. Ironies never cease; while we had many rational arguments, especially non-religious ones, those who opposed us always resorted to either insults or non-sequiturs (or a delightful combination of the two!).




Interestingly, a large number of people did not want to talk about abortion per sé but rather wished to discuss religion as a topic. People could instinctively see that pro-life views and actions strongly tended to be linked to a firm Christian faith. Perhaps this was to be expected, 40 Days for Life is an explicitly religious organisation, but it is interesting that there are no significant secular pro-life organisations to the best of my knowledge. Our vigil had members of the Good Counsel Network, a pro-life charity assisting women in all necessities, especially those without a place to go should they not choose an abortion, had a near constant presence on at the vigil, sensitively and gently offering women leaflets showing them their options, explaining that they did not have to have abortion, and that help of all kinds was readily available if they wanted. Suffice to say, they are an explicitly Catholic charity, though any member of the public who wished to join us was welcome.


‘You’re only doing it because you’re Catholic!’
Only the Catholic Church, though sadly not always individual Catholics, has unconditionally stood for the value for unborn life. No other faith on earth has resisted this evil at the institutional and dogmatic levels, and the public response to this was mixed. Generally apathy was mixed with both positive and negative reactions. One response I and nearly all vigil members received was the charge of ‘hatred’ and making women feel guilty about their consideration of an abortion. The first charge was calumny and faintly amusing, many days we received abuse and harsh words without ever returning such hatred, rather we simply prayed for them after they were gone. The second charge was more interesting.




I would say that we sought not to generate guilt, but rather to allow peoples’ consciences to awaken from slumber, that the two-headed monster of Conventional Wisdom and Received Opinion may be challenged. An icon of the Blessed Virgin, holding the Christ Child could be surprisingly powerful in drawing attention from the general public and opening hearts to the truth that is God and His gift of life. Where words cannot reach, a firm witness must be used to soften hearts. Responses varied from overt mockery to people thanking us for establishing a beautiful shrine and kneeling in public view, with images of the saints, the archangel Michael, and especially our Lord. We prayed the Rosary constantly, punctuated with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Stations of the Cross, combined with hymns. These things were never done for the praise of men, but as a witness for Jesus Christ. I and others noticed that in praying in public - on the front-lines so to speak - felt like spiritual warfare much of the time. When people abused us it did not concern us but rather like we were becoming conformed to Christ; lied about, slandered, (though fortunately not physically attacked, though some people came close). Our behaviour and demeanour had to be immaculate, and I am personally proud of the dignity with which all members conducted themselves throughout the vigil.




So where are we heading?


There is reason for much hope. Many people, men and women thanked us and gave us their blessing as they passed. Some would join us spontaneously, if only for a little while, both young and old. Catholics of other nations, especially Poland, seemed to be there everyday, and there were prayers in at least six different languages over the course of the vigil, sometimes within the same devotions. Most importantly, women spoke to us and changed their minds about having an abortion. They’re names are confidential of course, but they received our prayers constantly. One lady said she would bring her baby to show us when he is delivered next year.




During 40 Days for Life I saw that the struggle against Catholicism and secularism (really a mixture of apathy, relativism, materialism and utilitarianism, accepted without thought by most people) is really what is at stake. Abortion is just one of several rallying calls to secularists, a triumph with which they can be certain of the end of ‘the bad old days’ and be sure that the future is theirs. For sincere Catholics it remains far more than that, the rescue of unborn children and their mothers from a culture of death. Christ will triumph of course, and as the Holy Father Benedict XVI has stated many times, the culture of death cannot last because it is death. The Church has been through terrible times before, and while the evil of abortion is discreet it is one of the darkest stains on human history. We have allies in all stations of life, in all nations and in Heaven itself, most especially in Our Lady. The next 40 Days for Life will take place for this upcoming Lent, I hope it will be larger yet; with more lives saved and more hearts converted.