CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
It’s easy to get your heart broken on the sidewalk.
During any given hour spent praying in front of an abortion clinic, participants in the 40 Days for Life campaign might have to bear vulgarities from passing drivers and aggression from clinic escorts or simply endure the hopelessness of seeing women coming to and from the clinic, knowing the violence that occurs inside. Or perhaps nothing happens at all, and the vigilers could simply feel that they wasted an hour shivering in the cold.
But that hour on the sidewalk did matter, in ways that can be counted tangibly — 153 lives saved as of print time just in this current campaign, which began March 6 — but also in ways that might never be known for sure. This was the message shared by Chris Davis and Steve Karlen, members of the 40 Days national team, as they visited the vigil outside the Sheboygan Planned Parenthood on the morning of Wednesday, March 20.
“I feel that 40 Days for Life is sort of like a tapestry. If you focus in too closely on one thread you don’t see anything beautiful or interesting. It’s only when you take a step back and you see all those threads woven together that you see the beauty of the artwork that’s been produced,” said Karlen, who is based in Madison and works as a campaign director for 40 Days for Life. “Same thing with 40 Days for Life — when you see all those hours and all those prayers that are woven together throughout Sheboygan, Wisconsin, across America and those 377 cities worldwide in more than 30 countries, we see what the Lord is doing and how He’s at work.”
“All of us are pro-life … but you have taken it to another level,” Davis told the group during the visit, which marked the midpoint of the spring campaign. “Your feet are on the sidewalks. You’re taking action to spread that message of life.”
Sheboygan was the penultimate stop on Davis and Karlen’s tour of Wisconsin vigils, which also included visits to Kenosha, Milwaukee and Stevens Point.
The total number of vigils running outside abortion clinics throughout the world during this spring’s 40 Days for Life campaign is unprecedented at 377, Davis told the group. “Not only have the United States and Canada campaigns increased, but our Spanish-speaking countries around the world have shown an increase, and the rest of the world itself has also shown an increase.”
At least domestically, Davis added, “I think a lot of that has to do with recent legislation and comments made on the East Coast.”
Davis is a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, and works as a campaign strategist for 40 Days for Life, a role he assumed last year after having spent close to a decade as the leader of a local vigil in his hometown.
“The main thing that I enjoy about (this work) is that it shows a public witness of how important this issue is to us, and it also shows how we believe that putting the fate of this issue into the hands of God is the most important thing,” Davis told the Catholic Herald in a phone interview prior to his visit to Sheboygan. His initial involvement in the vigils was limited to being a prayerful presence outside the clinics, he said. But later on, he became trained in sidewalk advocacy. “We learned how to peacefully call out to the women as they go in and out of the abortion facility and offer them loving options, life-giving options, life-affirming options, and we put them in contact with local pregnancy resource centers. So after a few years, we began to see the fulfillment of our own prayers and our own actions.”
Davis shared with the Sheboygan group that his own parents were young and unmarried when his mother discovered she was pregnant — “Back in the day when unplanned pregnancies were something you didn’t speak of.”
“Looking back on it, my dad has said, ‘You know, Chris, it really wasn’t a decision for us. The decision to have the child was already made, and it was made by God,’” he said. “But I can only imagine the look on my dad’s face the day he came home from college and my mother told him. It must have been similar to the look on my face when my girlfriend told me the same thing. Only I wasn’t 18 or 31 — I was 38 years old.”
Davis was recently divorced and in graduate school, he said, when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant. “I’m sitting there, trying to convince myself, no, no, that might just be one line (on the pregnancy test) … that’s the mindset of people facing an unplanned pregnancy.”
His son Patrick is now 9 years old, and Davis shares his picture with men and women he meets outside of abortion clinics.
“A lot of times, I can see the confusion in the man’s eyes … and I tell them, ‘This is the best decision that me and his mother made, and we don’t regret it one minute, and if you have this baby, you won’t regret it either.’”
Karlen encouraged the group to go and see the movie “Unplanned,” which opens March 29 and tells the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who had a conversion and is now a pro-life advocate. The movie is based on Johnson’s best-selling memoir of the same name, and has been given an R rating by the MPAA. The rating comes despite the fact that the movie does not contain any violent or graphic scenes — despite a scene depicting an abortion.
“Hollywood does not want this movie to succeed. I think (the R rating) is really somewhat of a backhanded compliment,” said Karlen. “There’s no cursing in the movie, there’s no sexual content or nudity, and if you go by Hollywood standards, there’s no violence. But they do depict an abortion, and I guess in its own backhanded way, Hollywood recognizes that abortion is violence. Because that abortion alone is why this film got an R rating.”