This week, NC Family president John Rustin talks with Shawn Carney, campaign director for 40 Days for Life, a national pro-life campaign to end abortion through prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil, about the national campaign, and the growing number of young people who are joining the pro-life movement.
INTRODUCTION: Shawn Carney is campaign director for 40 Days for Life, which is a national pro-life campaign to end abortion through prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil. Shawn is a sought-after pro-life speaker at events across the nation, and he is the author of the book, 40 Days for Life: Discover What God Has Done … Imagine What He Can Do.
Shawn is with us to today talk about the 40 Days for Life Campaign, and more generally the increasing number of young people in our culture who identify as pro-life.
JOHN RUSTIN: For the benefit of our listeners, who may not be familiar with 40 Days for Life, talk a little bit about 40 Days for Life, and how this national campaign began?
SHAWN CARNEY: 40 Days for Life started locally in College Station, Texas, a college town, where Texas A&M is, and it was in 2004. We just saw our local abortion numbers going up, and so we decided to spend an hour in prayer, just asking God what we possibly could do to help get those numbers down, and 40 days just came to us. We decided to do 40 days of prayer and fasting, 40 days of community outreach, and 40 days of a non-stop, peaceful vigil outside of our local Planned Parenthood abortion facility. That was the first ever 40 Days for Life campaign in the fall of 2004, and it helped drop local abortion numbers by 28 percent. And believe it or not, other cities started asking about how we did this 40 Days for Life campaign for the first time. And our tipping point was we had helped a group in Seattle do 40 days, and then a group in Greenbay, Wisconsin, but it wasn’t until we got a phone call from the leader in Charlotte, North Carolina, saying they had just completed a 40 Days for Life campaign without ever even letting us know they were doing it. It was awesome, and they just got the information off our website. So we decided to launch this as a nationally coordinated effort, and it was really the Charlotte, North Carolina campaign—Catherine Hearn—who inspired that. And it’s been beautiful to see now 40 Days for Life, since 2007, has gone from one community in Texas, to 579 cities in over 30 countries.
JOHN RUSTIN: That is great, and what a neat testimony, and a nice tie to North Carolina! Now, Shawn, you started out, as I understand it, as a volunteer with 40 Days for Life. I imagine there are some listeners that can relate to your story, and certainly the stories of others who’ve been involved in 40 Days for Life. Talk a little bit about how you got started with 40 Days for Life. What led you to have a heart for the pro-life movement?
SHAWN CARNEY: It was really in middle school and high school where I got started, at a very young age. I went to a wonderful Catholic school in east Texas, and so we always heard about the sanctity of human life, and I just got really convicted. But I grew up in a relatively small town in Texas, and we didn’t have an abortion facility. Abortion was something you talked about or saw on the news or during political debates, so it was foreign. Then, my freshmen year at Texas A&M, I was asked by my then girlfriend, who is now my wife, to go out and peacefully pray at a local Planned Parenthood. And I was volunteering for a local organization called the Coalition for Life, and that organization ended up hiring me, and that’s when we started 40 Days for Life in the fall of 2004. I had the joy of serving as the director of that local pro-life organization for six years. But the seed of my pro-life passion was in the seventh or eighth grade, [when] I heard post-abortive women share their testimonies, and I heard a former worker, Carol Everett, share her testimony at a very large Baptist church in my hometown. This is very powerful. We all at one point have had our hearts broken on abortion. And that’s really the epitome of the heart of 40 Days for Life campaign is letting God work with those broken hearts—our own, and then also those that abortion continues to break every single day in our nation.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great calling that God put on you, and we’re certainly grateful that you followed that [calling] because it has made such a difference… Now, talk a little bit about 40 Days for Life, what makes it unique compared to some of the other pro-life movements or campaigns in which some of our our listeners may have heard or even been involved with?
SHAWN CARNEY: That’s a great question, and I think when we look at the rapid growth of pregnancy resource centers across the country, particularly there in North Carolina, and I think their rapid growth really explains the rapid growth of 40 Days for Life, which is that people want to be able to do something for the abortions that are happening where they live. They know they can’t control, for better for worse, what goes on in Washington, DC, but they can control what goes on in their own town, and when we see that this is about the hearts and minds of young women and young men considering abortion in our own schools, in our own churches, in our own communities, that really hits home, and it empowers us to do something about it, and that’s that really explains the growth. The heroes of 40 Days for Life are the local leaders. These are more often than not volunteers, stay-at-home moms, or pastors or retired military colonels, I mean we’ve got everybody in the 40 Days for Life campaign, and they’re leading it locally, which is where the abortion industry is the weakest. They’re very powerful politically, but they’re weak at the local level. And I think that the pregnancy centers spreading throughout the country, and 40 Days for Life exploding around the world, I think these are good signs for the future generation to be able to focus locally.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s great, because there’s always something that individuals can do to get involved and have an impact in their communities. And, Shawn, 40 Days for Life has had a major impact since it first began. Talk a little bit about the lives that have been saved from abortion, as well as the impact on abortion clinic workers—things that we see in the statistics that are so positive that come out of 40 Days for Life.
SHAWN CARNEY: Absolutely, we know of 10,336 moms that have chosen life for their babies at the very last moment. We’ve had over 400 during this fall 40 Days for Life campaign, there are 307 cities right now participating. And, tomorrow, we’re gonna send out a beautiful email that really speaks to what you’re talking about, and that is seeing our fruit and not seeing our fruit of when we’re out there. Sometimes, you may feel like you’re wasting your time, you have to overcome a lot of fear to go out and pray at an abortion facility. We’ve had over 650,000 people participate and go to vigils over the last eight years, and it’s hard, it’s difficult. And yet… moms during this campaign have seen people out in front of their local abortion facilities, and they’ve taken their children who are two, three, four, five years old, they’ve taken them out to the vigil and thanked the people for being out there, and informing them that they drove into this facility two, three, four years ago, saw them, and could not go in, and that their little boy or little girl is a result of those people’s courageous sacrifice to go out and to pray. And so, we don’t always see all the fruit, and frankly it’s not up to us, we just show up, and then God does the rest.
JOHN RUSTIN: I share that same message as we are working down at the state legislature lobbying. The most important thing that someone can do initially is to just show up, to be available, and then let God work through that availability. It can have such a profound impact on somebody’s life, even if you don’t say a word. And that’s one of the great things about 40 Days for Life is many of the activities just call individuals to go out and stand in a peaceful and loving way, to share a message of God’s truth and His love, and He can use that to have again a profound impact on folks…
Now, Shawn, I understand that not only have you seen wonderful circumstances like those you described, but also we’ve actually seen some abortion clinics close down, really as a result of 40 Days for Life campaigns. Talk about that a little bit.
SHAWN CARNEY: Yes, there have been record numbers of abortion facilities closing the last couple of years. There were 87 that closed in 2013 throughout America, and an additional 79 in 2014, last year, so the closures are phenomenal. We’ve seen 64 abortion facilities close their doors after multiple 40 Days for Life campaign outside of them, and go out of business—not ones that close and relocate, but ones that actually go out of business. And that is just so encouraging because the former Planned Parenthood workers tell us that the no-show rate for an abortion appointment can go as high as 75 percent, when people are out there praying, and that just really speaks to the powerful impact, like you just said, showing up is so much of it. And we’ve seen some of those abortion facility workers, 119 of them, have a change of heart and leave their job, and that really speaks to the reality that this is about hearts and minds. We cannot be cold or cynical when it comes to this issue, we need to trust that it really is about hearts and minds, and the conversion rate is only headed in one direction. It’s people who for some reason supported abortion rights at some point in their life, and now they are pro-life, including those who have worked in this industry.
JOHN RUSTIN: And speaking of hearts and minds, one of the exciting things to see, is the number of young people that are involved in 40 Days for Life campaigns and also those who are embracing the pro-life movement in general. National surveys show that more young people today are pro-life than ever before. What have you seen as far as young people’s involvement and engagement in 40 Days for Life, and how does it compare to the young people that you see on the other side of the abortion issue that consider themselves to be “pro-choice” or supportive of abortion? Do you see the same level of excitement or motivation among those folks as we do among young people who are pro-life?
SHAWN CARNEY: Not at all, not at all, and it is a great point. I believe that the pro-choice activist movement is essentially dead. I wrote an article about that recently, and the reason for that is that they have lost so much steam. They’ve also put so many of their eggs in political baskets, and as a result of science and technology over the last 40 years that has shown us who we’re aborting, and they’ve shown us the beauty that goes on inside the womb. And so who is going to go take to the streets or stand up at a city council meeting and defend that? The videos that have come out over the last few months certainly haven’t helped, as Planned Parenthood’s brand is at an all-time low. And so you have this sort of quote “pro-choice movement,” that’s old and and unmotivated. They’re not active. The pro-life movement is active, and it’s getting younger by the day. When I go to the March for Life, I feel old—I’m 33 years old—there’s a lot of strollers, a lot of high school busses, and lot of college busses, and that’s very very encouraging! We’ve certainly seen that, as you pointed out, in 40 Days for Life campaign, the enthusiasm that the youth have, because young people they want to do something special in their lives, they want to stand for something, and abortion is about life and death for the pro-life movement, and it’s not if you’re pro-choice. They also, to make the obvious point, could have been aborted, if they’re born after 1973. And so there’s this awkward relationship that your life was somehow okay with society, and so your mother made a responsible decision by having you, but if your circumstances would have been different, she could have been just as responsible for aborting you. Young people reject that mentality, because it’s so anti-family, and it’s so anti-culture. And so young people are turning away from that because they see the reality of life in the womb, and the only way to justify abortion these days for the other side is to completely deny all truths claimed by science and all truths claimed by religion. And to reject those two institutions in order to support abortion is not something most people are willing to do publically.
JOHN RUSTIN: I completely agree with you on that…
Unfortunately, we’re just about out of time, but I do want to make sure that our listeners check out your website and look at the resources that you have available at www.40daysforlife.com. And, Shawn Carney, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters, and especially for your dedication to defending the unborn through 40 Days for Life.
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