40 Days for Life begins today

Four New Hampshire locations are sites for 40 Days for Life campaigns beginning Ash Wednesday, February 17, lasting until Sunday, March 28. Each campaign features peaceful pro-life witness outside abortion facilities, along with prayer, fasting, and community outreach.

For more information about each campaign and about the global 40 Days for Life project, go to these links. Note that each campaign has its own vigil calendar, where volunteers can sign up. Each campaign also has its own special events schedule.

Statement of Peace

The 40DFL Statement of Peace, signed by all participants, is an integral part of the campaign. Among the commitments: I will only pursue peaceful, law-abiding solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign…I understand that breaking the law or acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign.

What 40DFL is and isn’t

40 Days for Life aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and – in its most visible work – peaceful vigil outside abortion facilities.

Civil disobedience is not part of 40 Days for Life. It’s about witness, not protest.

Also, it’s not about ignoring COVID. Volunteers are directed to observe appropriate protocols including social distancing. A volunteer who becomes ill or is exposed to COVID is expected to stay home rather than attend the vigil.

Anyone whose health concerns make participation in group events inadvisable can pray and fast from home, joining in spirit those who are keeping vigil on the sidewalks. Remote witness sounds like a contradiction in terms to anyone unfamiliar with the contemplative tradition, but that’s what some of us have done in COVID time. Has this weakened 40DFL? Hardly. This campaign is taking place in 567 locations around the world, making it the largest spring campaign since 40DFL began in 2007.

Virtual March for Life and Related Events

In lieu of the usual March for Life in Washington this year, the national March for Life team has scheduled several online events. Other groups whose gatherings usually coincide with the March are doing likewise. Some require registration for online viewing. All times listed are Eastern Standard Time.

March for Life Education & Defense Fund

Thursday, January 28: Capitol Hill 101. A free seminar about lobbying elected representatives at federal, state, and local levels. At the time of this post, openings were still available for viewings at noon and 5 p.m. Register here.

Friday, January 29, noon: Virtual March for Life Rally. The rally will be live-streamed. RSVP for a link to the coverage.

Friday, January 29, 7 p.m.: Rose Dinner Gala, with keynote speaker Tim Tebow. Fix your own dinner, & enjoy the speakers online. Tickets are $25.

Alternatives to the “side rallies”

During my last three trips to the national March for Life, I skipped the main rally in favor of the New Wave Feminists gathering in front of the Air and Space Museum. I meet people I don’t ordinarily hear from, who have experiences very different from mine. All we have in common is that we’re pro-life human beings. I’ll miss them this year. I’m guessing – but this isn’t a sure thing – that NWF and some other groups will have something going on via Facebook at midday on the 29th. Pages: New Wave Feminists, Democrats for Life of America, Rehumanize International, Secular Pro-Life.

Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life

This annual event is the nation’s largest student-run pro-life event, thanks to the work of students at Georgetown University in Washington. It will take place online via Zoom on Saturday, January 30 with keynote speaker Aimee Murphy of Rehumanize International. Panelists include Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and Sister Deidre Byrne, among other distinguished activists.

Registration for the Zoom conference costs $10. Best deal you’ll find all day.

Be sure to check out the Conference’s Facebook page, which already has some speakers’ videos posted.

I wrote about the 2018 O’Connor conference with some impressions of the day.

National Review Institute: Reframing End-of-Life Care During COVID

Wednesday, January 27 at 6 p.m., the National Review Institute and the Catholic Information Center will host an online panel discussion of what moderator Kathryn Jean Lopez calls “the need for a revolution of love in end-of-life care.” For more information and registration (free) go to the event page at cicdc.org.

40 Days for Life Sign-Up Day

The next 40 Days for Life campaign begins on February 17. National 40DFL leadership is observing the virtual March for Life by declaring January 29 “Sign-Up Day” and encouraging people to spend part of the day in peaceful witness outside an abortion facility.

New Hampshire will have campaigns in four locations: Manchester, Concord, Greenland, and Keene. For more information, go to 40daysforlife.com and search for the location nearest you.

Header photo by Ellen Kolb.

“I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down”

Adapted from a 2015 post on this blog.

Peaceful pro-life witness is not Activism Lite.

Recall what peaceful witness called for in 1963, in the face of angry and sometimes violent resistance that had deep political and social roots. Recall Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from those days: I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down.

In 1963, a few months before Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, he and many other civil rights activists converged on Birmingham, Alabama to challenge racial segregation. Their campaign was marked by intensive planning and discipline, because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was intent not only on its message but on delivering it the right way. Volunteers for the Birmingham campaign were screened and trained, as King recounted in Why We Can’t Wait. He noted, “Every volunteer was required to sign a Commitment Card.”

Comprehensive commitment

To what did the Birmingham activists commit?

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration.

King added, “We made it clear that we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself and us that he could accept and endure violence without retaliating” during the campaign. That took guts. It meant putting aside the natural right of self-defense during the demonstration, even as they faced people who had no qualms about using violence, including bombs.

I want to take the Birmingham commitment to heart.

Witnessing with accountability

Anyone can sign a piece of paper (or in this age, click on “I agree”) signifying a commitment. So why bother? Because nonviolence during a public demonstration isn’t something to take for granted. Public affirmation reinforces personal commitment. Public affirmation is part of accountability to the larger community. It draws a clear line between those peaceful demonstrators and any people willing to resort to violence to impede them.

I have neighbors who take umbrage at the assertion that today’s pro-life movement is part of the civil rights movement that came to flower at that March on Washington in ’63. In reply, I can only avow that life is the fundamental civil and human right. Abortion takes lives, and there are businesses that profit from it. Let peaceful public witness to that continue.

I haven’t endured the physical abuse to which the Birmingham demonstrators were subjected. Their example is awesome even today. They faced police dogs and fire hoses, and still made a commitment to nonviolent public witness and action. The best way for me to honor their memory is to emulate them, even though I’ve faced nothing worse so far than name-calling.

The immoderate “moderates”

Recall that the nonviolent demonstrators in Birmingham were far from passive. There was urgency in their goal of justice and reconciliation. From a 1963 UPI report on the Birmingham demonstrations: “King reacted strongly, however, to a statement by Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggesting that the all-out integration drive here was ill-timed. ‘I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down,’ King told a reporter. ‘I begin to feel that the moderates in America are our worst enemy.’”

King used the word “moderate” ironically. He knew that civil rights, but not yet was a phony kind of moderation. In the same manner, denying the right to life is hardly a moderate position, even when cloaked in euphemisms like “reproductive justice.”

The events and words of 1963 aren’t frozen in place, devoid of application to our own times. View them not as an archaeologist views a dig, but as a traveler views a map: take this path, not that one. I could do worse than follow the people who signed those cards in Birmingham.

An Alternative Pilgrimage

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester has released Pilgrims for Life: a digital guide for prayer and advocacy, which “offers ideas and resources for us to continue our strong, Pro-Life advocacy even though we won’t be boarding busses [sic] to D.C. this coming January.”

Some of us have wondered whether COVID concerns might affect diocesan-sponsored transportation to the January March for Life in Washington DC. Now we know. I’m a little sad, but not surprised. I’ve been on some of those diocesan pilgrimages to past Marches, and “social distancing” is at best an amusing notion in that environment.

The March goes on

The national March for Life itself is still scheduled for January 29, 2021, regardless of how scarce bus transportation might be. The Roe v. Wade decision will be 48 years old on January 22, and it still needs to be challenged socially as well as judicially. There’s no word yet about New Hampshire’s own 2021 pro-life rally and march in Concord, which is usually scheduled and managed by New Hampshire Right to Life independent of the national event.

While the annual diocesan bus caravan has always carried hundreds of people to the national March, it’s not the only way to get to Washington. Some faith communities arrange their own bus or carpool. I’ve taken the train from Boston to Washington, overnight both ways. I’ve flown down and back in a day, when I’ve found deep-discount airfares. There’s always I-95. If you want to get to the March for Life, you have options.

Pray, Advocate, Unite

The Pilgrims for Life program is not a virtual march. (I like it already.) It is intended to be an ongoing program of prayer, advocacy, and unity leading up to the March, to “build up a culture of life in New Hampshire and beyond.” To summarize briefly the 13-page guide:

Prayer will include special services at churches throughout the diocese in mid to late January.

Advocacy includes taking action on relevant public policy issues, including life-issue bills in Concord.

Unity – “unit[ing] our intentions, prayers, and actions around the same cause” – includes a suggestion to take the money one would otherwise have spent on a trip to Washington and donating it instead to a pro-life cause. I love that idea. A DC trip for me, even a one-day down-and-back sprint, is easily $200. That includes a couple of bucks for an indispensable hot pretzel purchased from a vendor on the National Mall. (I travel in style.)

The guide has many more ideas for your consideration.

What’s your plan?

If your own church or community group decides to head down to the March, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experience. If you typically make the trip but decide to forgo it in 2021, I’d like to know if you decide to participate in a local effort instead.

I still haven’t decided on whether to travel to Washington for the March. It is an extraordinary opportunity to meet and learn from people from different backgrounds with different pro-life ministries. If I go, I’ll cover it for my readers as usual. If I skip the trip, I’m confident there will be plenty to write about here at home.

For more information: Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, Respect Life and Pilgrims for Life

Fall 2020 40 Days for Life begins September 23

The next 40 Days for Life campaign will begin on Wednesday, September 23, in 588 cities around the world. New Hampshire campaigns are in Manchester outside Planned Parenthood’s Pennacook Street office, and in Greenland outside the Lovering Health Center.

40DFL is a twice-a-year coordinated campaign to end abortion through three actions: prayer and fasting; community outreach; and peaceful public witness (prayer vigil) outside abortion facilities.

Signups for vigil hours are available online. All volunteers must agree to 40DFL’s Statement of Peace. Each campaign has its own newsletter for updating participants. The campaigns’ websites outline COVID-prevention measures for participants, including social distancing during vigils.

Abortions go on during the pandemic, so 40DFL keeps going, too.

For the Manchester campaign: 40daysforlife.com/manchester

For the Greenland campaign: 40daysforlife.com/greenland