The soaking rain and splashing cars made everything gray, dingy and uncomfortable.
It was perfect for a sidewalk gathering outside a building where thousands of abortions have taken place.
“The weather reflects the reality of what goes on inside there, which is very cold and very miserable,” said Shawn Carney, co-founder and president of the international 40 Days for Life campaign.
He was speaking to about 60 prayer warriors on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood in Columbia on March 23.
“We get to come out here and bring joy and life to a place that otherwise would have no joy and would have no life,” he said.
Abortions are no longer performed at the Columbia facility, but employees there still do abortion referrals for the clinic in Overland Park, Kansas.
“So your prayers are still desperately needed,” Mr. Carney stated.
He lauded the people who spend time in silent prayer and witness on the sidewalk during the spring and fall 40 Days for Life campaigns — and on the days in between.
“There has never been a moment like this in the United States,” he said, “when people who advocate for unrestricted access to abortion seem to be in the highest places in our media and in our government.
“And we need to witness to the world the Heart of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We need to give witness to the joy of His love and His grace in a place that desperately needs His help.”
Mr. Carney pointed out that the worse the weather — the heat of summer, the chill of winter or the deluge of spring — the more powerful the witness.
“The people who work here notice when you’re out here,” he said. “All of those who drive by notice it. And even if no one else notices it, Our Lord notices it.”
“We’re not going away”
40 Days for Life is an internationally-coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and a peaceful, all day presence on the public right-of-way outside abortion businesses.
Mr. Carney helped organize and took part in the first ever 40 Days for Life campaign outside Planned Parenthood in College Station, Texas.
In the 17 years since then, the movement has grown to 963 cities around the world.
In 2009, the Planned Parenthood employee of the year and manager of the College Station abortion clinic left her job and became a pro-life advocate.
The College Station clinic eventually closed, making the home of Texas A&M the nation’s largest college city without an abortion provider.
Mr. Carney said that’s an important accomplishment, because an estimated 1 in 4 women have an abortion while in college.
“That’s a statistic that should get us out here in the rain, in the sleet, and in the heat!” he said.
Abby Johnson, the College Station clinic’s former manager, became the subject of a 2019 motion picture, “Unplanned,” and has spoken at several pro-life events in Missouri.
Mr. Carney recalled hearing Ms. Johnson say that she finally felt comfortable in public places after she left her job at Planned Parenthood.
“That’s because shame and guilt beget shame and guilt,” Mr. Carney asserted. “And no matter how you word it, how you phrase it or what you tell yourself, you cannot justify that which cannot be justified.
“And that’s why, despite nearly five decades of legalized abortion, we are still out here,” he said. “And we are not going away. And we have more resolve in the United States of America than at any other time period in our history.”
“This is America”
Mr. Carney noted that while many in the pro-life movement are frustrated with the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., “America is not Washington, D.C.”
“THIS is America!” he said. “This is where we live, and where we can control what we do and what our communities look like. We can go out in the rain. We can hold an umbrella, and we pray to end the greatest injustice that has ever come upon American soil.”
He lauded the prophetic leadership of Kathy and Michael Forck, members of St. Andrew Parish in Holts Summit, who have been organizing 40 Days for Life campaigns in Columbia since 2012.
He devotes a chapter in his No. 1 top-rated Christian book, 40 Days for Life, Discover What God Has Done ... Imagine What He Can Do, to the success of the Columbia campaigns.
“This is my fourth or fifth trip to Columbia,” he told his sidewalk audience. “Every time I come back to Missouri, it’s like it’s closer to becoming abortion-free.”
He later predicted: “You will be the first abortion-free state.”
He noted that prayer warriors in Columbia have been taking part in 40 Days for Life 365 — a year-round sidewalk prayer vigil.
Mrs. Forck noted that up to 75 percent of women turn away from their appointments when there are people outside, peacefully praying.
“Your prayers help not just here but everywhere,” she added.
“I encourage you to continue to come out here between the 40 Days for Life campaigns, to keep your hour,” said Mr. Carney. “Know that you are making history by being out here, by praying and by eventually seeing this place and every other abortion facility closed in your great state.”
“Hands and feet”
Father Anthony Viviano, moderator of pro-life ministry for the Jefferson City diocese, also addressed the group and offered a prayer.
“I can tell you as a priest, I am very, very proud of you,” he said. “I know many of you have logged many, many hours out here.
“Maybe one day when we get to heaven, pray God, we will be able to see the many blessings that have come forth from the prayers that you have given,” he said.
Pastor Eric Lawman of Open Heart Baptist Church in Columbia, offered a closing prayer.
“Thank You for all these folks who sacrifice and give of their time to preserve,” he prayed. “Bless our efforts in this time to come, and we will be Your hands and feet.”
“What we need”
Mr. Carney later talked about how Columbia continues to be one of 40 Days for Life’s most successful campaigns.
“There’s no other way to put it,” he said. “It’s because of the consistency, and that’s what drives down abortion numbers.”
He said 40 Days for Life “took off and grew because it’s a manifestation of what we ought to be doing as Christians and certainly as Catholics living in modern America.”
Namely, “you go out and you give a basic central witness to a group of people who have no voice because of their size and their location,” he said.
“I think it should be a natural occurrence for our spiritual life,” he added.
He noted that strong families, with both parents actively engaged in their children’s upbringing and formation, are an essential part of building a culture of life.
Accordingly, he suggested praying for “the Church, for the family, for our priests and seminarians and our religious.”
“That’s what we need,” he said. “We need more good leaders.”