Several weeks ago, I began overhearing conversations among friends about whose turn it was to pray 24/7 in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic on 16th Street downtown.
Then on a chilly evening last Friday, I encountered a man and a woman praying in front of a clinic on Lee Highway in Falls Church. The man was hoisting a sign, “Help Pregnant Women Deliver Their Babies.”
“That’s where the abortion mill is,” said Bob Gahl, pointing to a window on the third floor of a brick and concrete building.
He has tried calling out to women entering the clinic, but he says that Falls Church police “said I was violating a noise ordinance.”
Think the abortion wars might be over if Barack Obama wins the presidency? Think again.
More than 20,000 volunteers - most of them Catholics - are standing in front of abortion clinics nationwide, not to demonstrate but to pray.
It’s all part of a campaign called 40 Days for Life, from Sept. 24 to Nov. 2, coinciding with the last few weeks of the election season and involving 179 cities in 47 states and two Canadian provinces.
When I drove past the downtown Planned Parenthood clinic on Tuesday, there were two college-aged people praying on the clinic’s front lawn.
I unsuccessfully tried getting a statement from the clinic. I did manage to get in touch with Theresa Bach, the 27-year-old coordinator for the D.C. prayer effort, who said most of her volunteers are in their 20s and from local Catholic colleges.
She noted that the woman heading the Memphis campaign is 18 and a 19-year-old is heading campaigns in Portland, Ore., and Centralia, Wash.
“It is powerful to pray there where the death is going on,” Miss Bach said. “We pray for the women who work there and the children who are brought there. This is the social justice issue of our time.”
“We’ve had six saves so far,” she added, referring to people who had told them they had changed their minds about having an abortion.
David Bereit, a former executive director for the American Life League in Fredericksburg, is the lone staff member for 40 Days for Life.
The campaign started in the fall of 2004, when about 1,000 students and other residents of College Station, Texas, staged prayer vigils in front of the town’s lone abortion clinic.
Citing state health department statistics, Mr. Bereit said the number of abortions there have dropped 28 percent since 2004.
Seven other cities had vigils in 2005 and 2006. Last year, the vigil effort incorporated itself as 40 Days for Life, sponsoring vigils in 89 cities in 33 states. This spring, vigils were held in 59 cities in 31 states.
The entire effort is based on the premise that prayer works to end abortion. Mr. Bereit says there have been more than 300 “saves” nationwide during the current campaign. He added that two abortion centers in Rockland County, N.Y., and Dallas have closed this year.
“Can we say it was 100 percent due to the prayers?” he said. “No, we can’t. But we can say it was no coincidence that these abortion centers closed following the 40 Days campaign.”
• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.