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Friday July 30, 2010

In the LifeLight: 40 Days for Life Leader Talks Saving Lives, One Prayer at a Time

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 30, 2010 ( – Following the closure of yet another abortion facility deluged by pro-life prayer and fasting, one leader of the wildly successful 40 Days for Life campaign has discussed the principles behind a movement that has electrified the pro-life community around the world.

Shawn Carney is Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life, a national prayer campaign to end abortion that has grown by leaps and bounds since it was launched in 2006, in both the U.S. and abroad. In this exclusive interview with, Carney shares his thoughts on the success of 40 Days for Life, which besides witnessing the rescue of countless babies and mothers from abortion, has also seen abortion mills close – the latest being in Fayetteville, Arkansas – and clinic workers converted.

Carney actually began his pro-life work in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic once directed by Abby Johnson, who is now an established pro-life speaker. Johnson, who has known Carney for eight years, left Planned Parenthood and walked into Carney’s office after witnessing an abortion on an ultrasound machine. He is sponsoring her entry into the Catholic Church.

He tells about the 40 Days for Life, its success, what is makes it tick, its growing popularity, and its two powerful ingredients for ending a culture of abortion: prayer and fasting.

LSN: What is your reaction to the closing of the abortion clinic in Fayetteville, Arkansas as a 40 Days for Life success?

CARNEY: Well, the Fayetteville news is excellent. We’ve had three forty days for life campaigns in front of that abortion doctor’s facility. He [Dr. William Harrison] has always been one of the more aggressive abortionists across the country, mocking our volunteers, mocking them in the media, really making it kind of a spectacle. And the campaign was led by a couple of moms, and they kept praying and kept recruiting, and getting people to get out and pray in front of his clinic. And that really wore on him.

I know he’s had health problems here recently, and we are certainly praying for his health. But his business has been declining, and he’s decided to close his clinic. It’s a huge victory for 40 Days for Life, but also for the local people, who were faithfully praying out in front of his facility for years, when he had no intention on not doing abortions for the rest of his life, and never retiring. He was bragging he was doing God’s will by offering abortions. So we continue to pray for him, and pray for his heart, and also rejoice that Fayetteville now doesn’t have an abortion facility.

LSN: Now this year’s 40 Days for Life campaign is coming up. Can you tell us a little about that?

CARNEY: It starts on September 22 and ends October 31. Last year it went from September 21 to November 1. So we always generally take the second to last Wednesday in September and then it ends – it’s very early this year being on Halloween – but it’s the first Sunday in November. It just happens to happens to fall on Halloween this year.

The reason for [these dates] is weather. We always have the Fall campaign in that position because we have a lot of campaigns in Canada and the mid-west and it can get very very cold toward the end. We have a lot of campaign in the deep south, where it is still summer. You know October in Texas is not fall. It is very, very hot, it gets up into the 90s. So when we started 40 days for Life on a national level in the fall of 2007, we positioned it that way due to weather. Obviously every year that there is an election, it helps to end a campaign on the Sunday before the election, especially when people need to be praying for our nation, and especially regarding abortion.

LSN: How many locations and participants do you have thus far for this upcoming national campaign?

CARNEY: Right now, I can’t even tell you, because we have some that are still in the mail, but we are over 200. We had 212 last year as a total, and we have been blown away by the results. There is a lot of enthusiasm. We are not going to release the exact amount of cities until a week or two after applications close this Saturday, because we will get some late comers in the mail. We’re still working out the cities that will do multiple locations than just one location.

This has really been a frenzy. This has been an exciting time for us, because we have this 10 day window for cities to apply to bring this campaign to their area. We had 117 campaigns after the application had been open 24 hours. So it really has been a rapid process. We have a lot of new cities and a lot of new countries that we are excited about announcing.

[You would think] that when you talk about praying in front of abortion facility for 40 days, that this would be something somebody would do to get the T-shirt and never do it ever again. But it’s addicting to go out and pray in front of a clinic. We haven’t seen fatigue at all. A lot of cities do it again: they either have the same leader or they have new leadership. It really gives people something to do on a local level that can save lives, that can change hearts and minds. People are responding to that.

This is the third anniversary for 40 Days for Life this fall, and we’re going to have more cities than we’ve ever had. It’s a very good sign from a grassroots standpoint, because people are wanting to do more in their communities.

LSN: What generally is the age demographic of people who are participating in 40 Days for Life?

CARNEY: I’ve been over to 160 of the vigils and I’m going to go to dozens more this fall, but I’m always surprised. The pro-life movement is by far a youth movement, especially when compared to those who support abortion. So it is a lot of young people, but it also a lot of people that have been involved in this movement for 30-40 years.

I’m always humbled when I go visit a site. There’s a lady who’s been praying a rosary or praying out in front of an abortion facility for 30 years, and she’s been ecstatic that something like 40 Days for Life has come along, because it’s brought a lot of new people.

We had priests lead campaigns; stay-at-home moms, Protestant ministers – every demographic you can think of – have actually led campaigns. We had a 19-year-old young lady in Memphis, Tennessee actually lead a campaign at one point. So the demographic is very diverse. It’s old people, it’s young people, there’s strollers out there, there’s elderly people, and it really is something that everybody can get together on.

Every year after the campaign, we survey the people who participate, and consistently, 30 percent of them had never done anything in the pro-life movement before 40 Days for Life. And that’s really what we’re going after: we want to mobilize that silent majority and bring them into the movement through these simple campaigns, and that is what’s happening.

LSN: What impact do you think the witness at these campaigns has on those women going into abortion clinics?

CARNEY: I think it has a huge impact. When you see people praying in front of the clinic, you know that somebody cares and your excuse that you are alone goes out the window. We’ve had a lot of women who have chosen life at the last moment when they go into the clinic. Many of them will tell us that when they woke up that morning they were praying that God would give them a sign that they would not have to have that abortion on that day. And the peaceful vigil is that sign, because we don’t go out there alone, we don’t go out there to judge the women, we go out there to bring our Lord out there. And that’s the witness that converts the clinic workers, and that speaks to these women that are about to abort their children.

LSN: What effect do you think the witness of women participating in 40 Days for Life has on those women going into the clinics?

CARNEY: There is always a couple of reactions. The elderly women they really pay attention to, because you think, “this woman is really 30 or 40 years older than I am, and she’s sacrificing time to be out here praying.” But also your peers, and women younger. When you have high school kids out praying or young college women praying, that says something to the woman in her mid-twenties going in for an abortion, because at one point she used to be that young lady, and now she’s found herself in this miserable position and so it helps to have that.

But we have a lot of women who are glad to see men out there. We also have a lot of men that go out to pray and clergy that go out to pray, and that shows too. I mean, many of these women have not been treated well by men. It’s nice to see men standing up for women, humbling themselves, and praying for women they’ve never met before.

LSN: You’ve also mentioned that you have other Christian ministers out there as well. Please tell me more about the inter-faith aspect of 40 Days for Life.

CARNEY: For us, it hasn’t been that difficult of a thing, and I think it’s due to the way it’s set up. It’s just rooted in prayer, we have an ongoing theme of 40 days, for how God uses 40 days throughout Scripture. At the root of the campaign it’s something we all share in common. I mean, I’m Catholic, and there are tons of Catholics involved in 40 Days for Life, and we have more Catholics involved than Protestants, but Protestants are particularly attracted to it. Particularly the Evangelicals, and the Lutherans. We get a lot of people from different faiths, because it’s based on prayer, it’s based on fasting.

I particularly, as a Catholic, love to see the enthusiasm we’ve gotten from our Protestant brethren. I just gave a speech in Oklahoma City, and a Protestant minister was talking about the power of fasting, and that what attracted him to 40 Days for Life is we put emphasis on that.

So number one, we have to stand together, because abortion demands that we do. It calls us to a sense of urgency that no other social issue does. So we don’t have the “luxury” of disliking one another. We have to join together to fight our culture. But number two, it really brings us together on the things that we have in common: faith in our Lord, faith in redemption, faith in salvation, and the idea that prayer matters. That we can pray for other people, and at a place where it will be the most effective.

This whole campaign puts its faith in prayer. If prayer doesn’t work then we are wasting our time, and wasting too much time outside. But it does work, and I think that is what bonds people together, and that confidence that God will heed our call.

LSN: Is there anything you think our readers should be particularly aware of as we come up to this next 40 Days for Life campaign?

CARNEY: People are going to want to know when they find out if their city has registered. The applications close on July 31 and we’ll be releasing the cities at, our website. People can certainly get on our e-mail list, and they certainly will be notified by e-mail as well. It will be about a week after applications close that we will release the cities. The reason we want to be sure to include all the cities, and we will likely have a few late-comers Monday and Tuesday.

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