PHOENIX – Fifteen months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled abortion is not a federally guaranteed right, advocates for protecting life at conception “still have a lot of work to do.”
But God’s law remains on their side, those advocates were told this week.
“We pray for the day when we don’t have to be here,” Fr. Kilian McCaffrey told nearly 100 worshippers at St. Mary’s Basilica during a Mass to open 40 Days for Life’s annual fall campaign in the Diocese of Phoenix Wednesday.
Bishop emeritus Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the Mass. Fr. McCaffrey, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Scottsdale, delivered the Homily.
Bishop Olmsted greeted worshippers, saying, “the LORD Jesus came to give us life. But He also gave us a mission to preserve the dignity of right to life of every person,” calling that mission “a sacred trust.”
Fr. Kilian said abortion remains a “twisting and warping of the truth” that God gave Adam and Eve when He placed them in the Garden of Eden centuries ago. The first couple, he explained, sought easy answers to their questions, and therefore violated God’s command to never eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Their actions, he said, eventually led to the belief that it is the right of humans to extinguish life in the womb.
“It is only for God to give life, and to take it away,” he said.
An internationally coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion locally, 40 Days for Life conducts prayer and fasting, community outreach and peaceful, daylong vigils along public walkways outside abortion businesses.
Arizona participants will be outside clinics in central Phoenix, Tempe and Glendale through Nov. 5.
This campaign is the second since the nation’s highest court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled June 24, 2022, that abortion is not a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, leaving it to individual states to decide how to regulate the procedure.
The legal landscape has fluctuated since the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, with some states banning abortion outright, others allowing after a certain amount of time during pregnancy and others protecting it until the latter weeks or preserving it altogether.
Arizona currently allows abortions up until 15 weeks of pregnancy.
But that could change.
Arizona for Abortion Access, a political-action committee, earlier this year sent the Secretary of State’s Office proposed language for a constitutional amendment that would ask voters in November 2024 whether to expand abortion rights. The committee currently is seeking to gather the required signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
“Life must be protected from the moment of conception,” Fr. McCaffrey said. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
Every Christian’s goal, he continued, should be “to become more Christlike,” and part of pursuit is “spreading the truth.”
The 40 Days volunteers, he said, are doing just that when they are on the sidewalk, outside an abortion clinic.
“Your praying, fasting and talking to women…it’s such a perfect witness to give.”
40 Days national campaign director Heather Gardner echoed that theme in remarks immediately after Mass, noting some volunteers may be outside an abortion clinic for the first time.
Gardner said cases in which a woman heading into a clinic turns around go up as much as 75 percent when there is prayer outside.
She encouraged volunteers to be ready to confront their own feelings of fear and uncertainty.
“You may be hesitant, even scared. But that is a good thing, because we’re going to a place of death. That should be uncomfortable to many of us.”
She recalled her own decision years ago to join others on the sidewalk.
At first, she said, she wasn’t sure. But, knowing her belief in the right to human life and what abortions were doing, she quickly came to a realization about volunteering.
“If I don’t do it, I can’t complain,” she said.
Finally, she told participants not to become discouraged if they saw no “turnarounds.”
It’s human nature to yearn for instant results, she said.
“But you don’t always see the fruit of your labor. You don’t know how many women drive up and keep going because they see you (on the sidewalk), and they’re just looking for a sign from God (to turn around).”
Or as Tempe Campaign Director Jim Fitzsimmons put it, “Many of these babies would not be here today without your prayers; your sacrifice. Even just one hour of prayer could change the course of a family for generations to come.”
Launched in 1998 by four individuals in Bryan, Texas, to prevent a clinic from opening there, 40 Days for Life has grown to 681 cities worldwide, expansion Fr. McCaffrey called “incredible.”
Though many volunteers are Catholic, the organization comprises numerous denominations.
Phoenix traditionally has launched its campaigns through the Diocese, said 40 Days Phoenix Campaign Director Nancy Brady.
“We’re kind of unique,” she said.
A parishioner of St. Mary’s Basilica, Brady approached then-pastor, Fr. Vincent Mesi 10 years ago about celebrating the first 40 Days Opening Mass in the Diocese. She then reached out to Bishop Olmsted, who agreed to celebrate the Mass and has done so nearly every year since. Olmsted served as bishop until Aug. 2, 2022, when he retired at the mandatory age of 75 and was succeeded by Bishop John P. Dolan.
“It’s always important we gather at the beginning of the 40 Days for Life,” Olmsted said in an interview with The Catholic Sun after Mass. “…so we get the word out there. But also, so all of us are reminded of how prayer is the basis for which we do the action.”
“The beautiful thing is I’m praying with non-Catholics. I build relationships with a common goal to bring Christ to (an abortion) site, speak with mothers and families, and save babies from abortion,” she said.