These next couple of weeks, you’ll see families and individuals from all walks of life standing outside the Thousand Oaks Planned Parenthood. They’ve been there since February 17, taking 12 hours a day to pray for an end to abortion.
Twice a year, for 40 days in a row, citizens all around the world gather outside their local Planned Parenthoods and other abortion-providing facilities to pray for the end of abortion. 40 Days for Life, a pro-life organization founded in 2004, organizes these 40-day prayer vigils. Since their first campaign in 2007, the organization has spread to more than 1,000 cities in 63 countries, according to 40daysforlife.com.
Their goal? To end abortion and give families hope, love, and resources with which to care for a new baby.
Leonore Schuetz manages the Thousand Oaks location of 40 Days for Life.
“40 Days for Life is peaceful, prayerful, public witness, like a grassroots movement praying and witnessing right in front of where they can have the abortions,” she says. For Thousand Oaks residents, that location is a Planned Parenthood on Hillcrest Drive.
During the local 40-day campaign, volunteers gather on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood and pray from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Many participants fast during the campaign, and some devote their prayer time as part of Lent.
“We may have several different [church] denominations out there praying, but we all agree about abortion being a terrible scourge on this land,” Schuetz says.
Schuetz has worked in post-abortion counseling and got involved with 40 Days for Life in 2017. She says many volunteers have had past abortions, their family members have had abortions, or they were considered for abortion.
Their prayers are often met with success. When people pray outside Planned Parenthood, the business experiences cancellations and no-shows up to 75 percent. 40 Days for Life believes in a whole-life approach and seeks to meet spiritual needs as well as physical ones. Schuetz says there are many resources for the families after the baby is born. Some supporters of pregnancy centers give baby showers to celebrate mothers-to-be and new babies. An 800 number on the 40 Days for Life website connects families with post-abortion counseling.
Planned Parenthood did not respond to the Guardian’s multiple requests for an interview.
Schuetz emphasizes that loving the families, but not the action of abortion, will bring them closer to God.
“You want to give them hope, not condemnation,” she says.
A 40-day campaign was chosen for its biblical significance because many biblical promises include a time frame of 40 days. Schuetz also points to the Bible verse, “Where two or three are gathered together, there I will be in the midst,” as a principle 40 Days for Life operates under during the campaign.
This year, the campaign runs from Ash Wednesday on February 17 to Palm Sunday on March 28. Schuetz says those participating find new friendships and, oftentimes, healed families. She adds that those who go out and pray experience great spiritual growth.
Schuetz recommends coming with a friend or family member to pray.
“They can start with just one hour,” she says. “We always need people, and there’s always a middle lag.”
Stand in Love, a local partnership with 40 Days for Life, also hosts Thursday prayer and worship in front of Planned Parenthood from 5:30-6:00 p.m. Schuetz’s efforts — and the purpose of the campaign — come down to one main goal: “We’re after changing hearts and minds.”