A year ago when I attended a 40 Days for Life kickoff in Manchester, New Hampshire, it was standing-room-only at the Pray for Life Center. Already, the leader for the campaign beginning in a few weeks has lined up more spacious accommodations. She knows what to expect.
Meet Jen Robidoux, a 40DFL veteran, who’s stepping up to coordinate Manchester’s Fall 2014 campaign.She’s been part of the support crew before, but this is her first time as a team leader. “Only for one campaign, I’ll try it out. If it’s too much, I’ll step back and maybe somebody else can pick it up. I have a team of four other people. One of them has been with me for the last two campaigns, so she knows what to do. The two of us have been making sure everything’s getting all set.” — set, that is, for a kickoff on September 22 followed by the campaign itself running from September 24 to November 2.
Jen is not only a 40DFL coordinator now. She’s also a plaintiff in Reddy v. Foster, challenging New Hampshire’s buffer zone law. Nevertheless, she says, “I’m really a very introverted, shy person. I got roped into [40DFL] by a friend.” From there, she read Abby Johnson’s Unplanned and David Bereit’s 40 Days for Life, and from them, “I see what a peaceful witness can be like.” All 40 Days for Life campaigns are resolutely peaceful in all three components: prayer and fasting, community outreach, and the most visible element, prayerful vigil outside abortion facilities.
She’s been praying at the Manchester Planned Parenthood facility on Penacook Street for several campaigns now. Jen knows It’s the epicenter of the buffer zone battle. “I wanted to do it there. That’s one of the reasons they wanted to put the buffer zone in – because of 40 Days and the Pray for Life Center. We’ve got to keep up the pressure there.
“If we are to bring an end to abortion we must be peaceful on the sidewalk. In my estimation, peaceful means people smiling, praying, being respectful to anyone who walks by or goes in or out of that clinic. In order to reach them, we must be loving to them. That means showing the same respect for them that we want them to show us.”
The sidewalks are of course open to anyone (for now), including people not affiliated with 40DFL. How about that? “I am going to ask everybody [with 40DFL] to focus on why they’re there. They’re there to pray. The other people there are there to sidewalk counsel, protest, whatever. But we are there as a prayerful witness.” The Manchester 40DFL team is considering using a designated part of the sidewalk outside PP, but that is not finalized at this point.
As a Reddy v. Foster plaintiff, Jennifer knows that everyone on the sidewalk outside PP is under a microscope. “We need to be aware we’re going to be watched. I’ll want to ask if someone can be a videography and photography person at all of our events,” to provide documentation by pro-life witnesses. “I have Michael Tierney a phone call away” – Tierney being an attorney representing the Reddy plaintiffs. “I’ve already asked him to speak at the 40 Days kickoff.”
Jen welcomes new 40DFL participants. She says that she has often prayed alone during her 40DFL vigil hours. “I have a set time, so I let people know when my time is. If anyone would like to join me, they’re more than welcome.” She intends to make sure Manchester police are aware of the campaign, and she says she’d welcome any police observation of the rallies and vigils.
Having at least one prayer witness outside Manchester PP from seven a.m. to seven p.m., seven days a week is an ambitious goal, but that’s what Jennifer is aiming for with this fall’s campaign. She says that as far as she knows, there will not be a Concord 40DFL this fall, so those who have participated in 40DFL outside the Feminist Health Center are welcome to join Manchester’s effort. She is taking news about 40DFL to faith communities in the area, too. “People [in Manchester] tend to associate 40 Days with the Catholic church, but it’s a non-denominational pro-life organization.”
She’s occupied with the campaign’s administrative details, but she has a sharp eye on the purpose they serve: reaching abortion-minded women and abortion-industry workers, and standing up for the children at risk of being aborted. “Throughout the whole national movement, I‘ve heard that the national pro-choice movement is dropping the term pro-choice and trying to find other ways to encompass their views. I look at that and say OK, you can try to re-brand yourself. The pro-life movement has done that too. But you’re still doing what you’re doing.”
Mark your calendars now: 40 Days for Life will run from September 24 to November 2. The opening rally will be a couple of days ahead of time, September 22 (a Monday) at Ste. Marie’s church in Manchester. There will be gatherings at the midpoint and end of the campaign as well; details are pending. New to 40DFL? Catch up on the project’s web site.
Jennifer reports that the 40 Days for Life web site has been revamped since the last campaign. Anyone signing up to participate, even 40DFL veterans, will create a new online account. The vigil calendar for the Fall 2014 campaign is not yet online but will be up shortly. Watch Leaven for the Loaf‘s Facebook page for updates.