40 Days for Life participants pray the rosary during a candlelight memorial to aborted babies March 2 outside the Glendale Planned Parenthood. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Against a backdrop of robust debate fueled largely by recent legislation in New York and Virginia, pro-life supporters are again confronting abortion through peaceful, prayerful and purposeful means in the biannual “40 Days for Life” campaign.

This year’s spring effort began March 6 — Ash Wednesday — and will continue throughout Lent with participants praying, fasting, conducting vigils outside abortion facilities, and performing community outreach.

In the Diocese of Phoenix, campaigns are centered in Flagstaff, Glendale, Phoenix and Tempe.

Local leaders and participants prepared for the launch by attending the Diocese’s kickoff Mass Feb. 27 at St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix, where Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted urged worshippers to devote themselves wholly to the risen Christ and His mission of offering hope and life to the world by His death and resurrection.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted delivers the Homily during the Mass for the 40 Days for Life 2019 Lenten Campaign at St. Mary’s Basilica Feb. 27. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

“Without Him, we can do nothing,” Bishop Olmsted said, recalling Jesus’ words to the Apostles during the Last Supper (Jn 15:5). “With Him, everything is possible,” he added. “The 40 Days for Life Campaign this year will bear good fruit to the degree there is a Christ who lives in us and that we allow Him to act in and through us.

“Every woman facing a crisis pregnancy needs to encounter the risen Christ … perhaps by encountering someone who already has heard His message, received His mercy and entered into fullness of life in Him. Every woman facing a crisis pregnancy needs to be freed of fear and doubts and whatever keeps her from accepting the Lord’s mercy and love.”

Immediately following the Mass, Shawn Carney, president and CEO of 40 Days for Life, appeared in a video message, urging believers to reach out to pro-life supporters not yet involved.

“Over the last few weeks and months, we have seen an unprecedented support for abortion and even infanticide, and it’s not from people on the fringe who are abortion advocates on the street. It is from governors; elected officials, people in the media, supporting this barbaric act at an unprecedented level,” Carney said. “What a great opportunity to recruit …. I encourage Arizona to take advantage … to use this awareness to get more people out.”

Local campaign coordinators believe participation has already increased.

Tammy O’Connor, 40 Days’ Glendale coordinator, addresses campaign participants following the Mass for the 40 Days for Life 2019 Lenten Campaign at St. Mary’s Basilica Feb. 27. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

“We have at least one person signed up for every day of the campaign; participation has been really good. We have people who come out and pray without signing up,” said 40 Days local Glendale coordinator Tammy O’Connor, . Ahead of the campaign kick-off, nearly two dozen participants prayed a pro-life Rosary March 2 at a candlelight memorial outside a Glendale Planned Parenthood. They prayed for unborn babies killed at the facility and said they hoped more people would participate in the campaign.  

“Every prayer, every Rosary we say here matters. I’m angry because of all these innocent babies who cannot protect themselves,” said Yolanda Pinuelas, parishioner at St. Joachim and St. Anne in Sun City.

“If we don’t get this straightened out, the country is in bad shape. This is our soul. If we won’t fight for life, we can’t fight for freedom,” added David Rice, who drove from Scottsdale, where he is a parishioner at St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

A 40 Days for Life participant prays during a candlelight memorial to aborted babies March 2 outside the Glendale Planned Parenthood. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Begun in 2004, by a prayer group of college students and young adults in Texas, 40 Days for Life has grown over the years into a global campaign that by its account has saved 14,636 lives since 2007. Its approach remains the same: a peaceful effort centered on prayer and fasting, constant vigil and community outreach “to show local communities the consequences of abortion, drawing attention to its evils,” according to the campaign’s website.

Supporters were energized earlier this year with initiatives in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo Jan. 23 signed legislation legalizing abortion after 24 weeks if the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is deemed not viable, and that allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform abortions. Previously only New York doctors could perform the procedure.  Virginia lawmakers considered but ultimately rejected a similar bill.

Denise Harkison, a St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner and 40 Days participant, addressed the issue after the Feb. 27 Mass, saying pro-life voices are needed now as much as ever.

“In the United States, over 55 million babies have been aborted since Roe v. Wade in 1973. That’s a conservative estimate — 55 million babies who are gone,” Harkison said. “Women who have had abortions are among us. They’re next to you in the pews. We need to confront it and put an end to this scourge.”