On a quiet side street just off busy Nolensville Pike, huddled nearly motionless under a cloudy afternoon sky, three women catch the curious gazes of passersby. Two seated, one standing, their shoulders and heads slightly bowed, they clutch Bibles or rosary beads, united in prayer.
The focus of their prayers is a modest, nondescript, one-story building. Their mission is to see this building, and many others like it across the country, shuttered.
So if the prayers of these volunteer members of 40 Days for Life are answered, the Nashville Women’s Center on Welshwood Drive would close. That’s because it is an abortion clinic.
Last week, a national campaign was launched to end abortion in America. It is a campaign started in 2004 in Texas that at last count will be run in more than 200 cities in 45 American states, five Canadian provinces ...and Denmark.
It’s national director calls the 2009 campaign “the largest, most widespread coordinated pro-life outreach ever.” And it could be among the quietest.
40 Days for Life takes a determined, peaceful approach to showing local communities the consequences of abortion in their own neighborhoods, for their own friends and families. It puts into action — through prayer, fasting and peaceful vigil — a desire to cooperate with God in the carrying out of His plan for the end of abortion in America, according to the group’s Web site.
“There will be campaigns in at least 212 communities,” said national director David Bereit. “Last fall's campaign was conducted in 177 cities. This shows that support for the pro-life message is spreading.”
The 40 Days for Life cause spread to Nashville for the first time this year. Beth Rose Goin was one of the first Nashvillians to heed the call. The Tennessee Right to Life member is serving as a local coordinator for the event, which runs through Nov. 1.
Goin’s task is to have at least two people praying outside the women’s center from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day for 40 days.
“There are some open spots, but they’ll fill up,” she said. “Like everything, I’m putting it in God’s hands.”
The 40-day campaign tracks Biblical history, where God used 40-day periods to transform individuals, communities ... and the entire world. From Noah and the flood to Moses on the mountain to the disciples after Christ's resurrection, it is clear to the organization that God sees the transformative value of His people accepting and meeting a 40-day challenge, according to Bereit.
“I had been looking for a way to get involved in the Pro-Life movement,” Goins said, adding that she did not want to take part in any political protesting or overtly evangelical practices. “Our focus is on prayer and fasting, though we are ready for sidewalk counseling if asked.”
So far, the daily dose of people lined up outside the Nashville Women’s Center is not having any effect on the clinic or staff, said one employee who did not want to be named.
“Nah, they’re harmless,” she said, when asked if there were concerns about having members of the campaign camped outside the clinic for 40 days. “We’re used to this.”
Unlike many other causes and movements, casual observers outside the clinic will see no signs, slogans or literature ready to be thrust into hands.
It would be easy to do. There are so many venues in which to attack abortion legislation and legal rulings.
Nationally, anti-abortion foes don’t believe President Barack Obama’s health care reform pledge that no federal money will be used for abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to move on abortion rights, and Tennessee’s high court has ruled in favor of abortion rights for decades.
That’s why Goins and others are acting ‘locally.’
“I think 40 Days of Life is a jump-start for the community, and I think you get connected to the pro-life movement through community efforts,” said Goins.
And Goins is experiencing — after so many years of legalized abortion — what many people of faith are experiencing: a renewed sense of hope. And it’s a word President Obama used during his campaign, along with ‘change.’
The 40 Days organizers say the first five campaigns did lead to change. According to data from Bereit, the more than 200,000 people who have joined together have helped close three abortion facilities, prompted 18 abortion clinic workers to quit their jobs and spared 1,561 lives that would have been lost from abortion. While the numbers are difficult to verify, Bereit’s main intent for showing them is for the method used to attain them — peaceful prayer, not firebombs or other acts of violence.
Bereit’s first 40 Days for Life campaign was conducted in Bryan/College Station, Texas in the fall of 2004. A local pro-life group prayed for an answer about how to reduce abortion in their area, and the answer God gave them was 40 Days for Life. The campaign was put together in a matter of weeks, yet it activated 1,000 people and led to a decline in abortions in that community, organizers boast.
As news of the group spread to other communities, the annual 40 Days for Life campaign grew. Thanks in part to Goins, Nashville now is part of the movement.
For more information on the group, visit www.40daysforlife.com