WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Keeping vigil with rosaries and pro-life banners, across the street from Woman's Health Options, were Maryanne Testa, Clair Connell, Ernie Paquette and Megan Testa.
People from Edmonton have joined with hundreds of others worldwide for the annual 40 Days for Life, an international pro-life movement, from Sept. 25 to Nov. 3. The campaign involves prayer, fasting and community outreach.
Locally, the most visible aspect of the campaign is a peaceful prayer vigil outside of Women's Health Options (12409-109A Ave.), formerly known as the Morgentaler Clinic.
Karen Richert is Edmonton Pro-Life's office director and coordinator of the local 40 Days campaign.
While there have been no unruly incidents, police were called to the clinic at the outset of the campaign, which leads Richert to believe the pro-life presence is unnerving for the clinic staff.
The police presence may also have been a sign that the 40 Days campaign leads to sober second thoughts for those pregnant women contemplating an abortion, Richert said.
Some volunteers from Camrose were at the abortion centre. Two young women approached them, and the volunteers directed them to the Back Porch, an 11th hour ministry to women reconsidering their decision to abort.
"The girls were in there for a while, and when they left, one of the ladies from the Back Porch came to the window with her thumbs up, so those are encouraging moments for us," said Richert. "We don't know in the end what will happen. But we do know they didn't go in (to the abortion clinic) that day."
A notable difference from previous years is that various groups have requested designated days to participate.
There is a Knights of Columbus group praying Tuesday and Thursday evenings. There have been volunteers from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Camrose and Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish. Some seminarians have also been praying at the site.
"It should be an easy task to find 40 churches or groups to commit for one day, but it's been such a struggle," Richert said. "We need some leadership from within those faith communities to step forward and say, 'We're going to take this on in our parish, whether as individuals, knights, youth groups, prayer groups, RCIA or whatever.'"
Richert is also disappointed mainstream media ignores their activities.
A next step for 40 Days for Life is to build community awareness. She would like volunteers to go door to door and ask homeowners if they know about the abortion clinic in their neighbourhood.
Claire Connell, who volunteered Oct. 17 with her fellow parishioners from St. Vital Parish in Beaumont, said, "This is something we should all do, stand up for life. There are people who don't know what's going on, and don't know they are taking a life."
Participants pray for specific purposes. They pray for women who are at risk of having an abortion, innocent children at risk of perishing, men and women carrying the pain of past abortion experiences, and workers at Planned Parenthood facilities and abortion centres.
Fasting is another facet of 40 Days for Life. Fasting is seen as a powerful means to draw closer to God. Some people fast from certain foods or from television. Others fast from apathy and indifference, and whatever separates them from God.
"It's a concentrated time to pray, and allows a chance for someone like me to come and pray in a scheduled time," said Maryanne Testa, who was praying outside of Women's Health Options.
"It makes prayer a priority. Everyone who cares to pray for women or pray for an end to abortion or a better solution, the 40 Days for Life gets everyone together on the same page."
Ernie Paquette, visiting from Ontario, said he has been praying in front of abortion centres since he was a child. His said aborted babies are the victims of a selfish society.
For Paquette, sacrificing his time to pray at the abortion centre is worthwhile. "We do believe that our prayers are heard," he said.
According to the 40 Days for Life website, the campaign has been embraced by more than half a million people in 19 countries, saved 7,536 lives from abortion, led to the conversion of 83 abortion workers, and seen 40 abortion facilities close. As of Oct. 13, the international campaign was aware of 213 babies that had been saved from abortion during the current campaign.
Likewise, Megan Testa, holding a rosary and pro-life banner, said she cannot make a direct impact in changing a woman's mind about aborting her pregnancy. Not working in the medical field, she said she can feel helpless to change the accepted worldview on abortion.
But Megan hopes that simply being across the street from the clinic will make a difference.
"Just our presence being here may make people uncomfortable in a way and they'll have second thoughts (about abortion). Sometimes our being here is the sign they're looking for, if they are unsure whether they want to go through with it or not," she said.