This year’s 40 Days for Life campaign is well under way in 306 American cities and towns, as well as others all over the world. This is a peaceful campaign of prayer, fasting and witness which aims to save babies by mounting prayer vigils outside abortion mills. It has been operating in England for several years now. I was privileged to meet its founder at a pro-life gala (pronounced “gail-a” in America) in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

David Bereit is a very unassuming man, I would guess in his 40s. He is neat and bespectacled, looking rather like my idea of an American academic or lawyer. He is extremely personable and relaxed, with a great sense of humour but also a kind of gravity and strength. When he speaks you realise that he is passionate but not fanatical. St Bernadette famously said: “My job is to inform, not to convince,” and David shares that attitude.

He launched 40 Days for Life as a grassroots response to the opening of an abortion clinic in his home town. A friend of his had said that something must be done, that they couldn’t passively accept this evil in the midst of their community. We have to organise people to stand outside and witness to what’s happening and to pray and fast, he insisted. David’s reaction was to feel that this was a little idealistic, a little extreme, and he managed to avoid further discussion because dinner was being served. But that night he couldn’t sleep for thinking about the ineluctable logic of what his friend had said.

Another crucial factor in his decision was a visit he made to Grand Rapids in 1994, to see a new pro-life crisis pregnancy centre. The old building at 72 Ransom Avenue had first been a synagogue and then been sold to a Greek Orthodox community. So for a century it had been a place where the living God had been worshipped. It was then bought by an abortion provider. Local Christians had regular prayed outside it, and when the building came on to the market again they made a successful bid. When David visited them, the new owners had been in the building for just four days. He described to me in detail what he saw.

There was a smart reception area where the women were separated from anyone accompanying them and directed into an attractive waiting room. Next door to this was a disused room full of rubbish, mould and cockroaches, just a flimsy partition away from the procedure room, in which he was horrified to see a brown rectangular stain in the middle of the floor where the operating table had stood. It was blood and rust and couldn’t be washed away.

Most disturbing, however, was a depression in the floor, a cavity hollowed out by the steps of the abortionist as he went backwards and forwards to and from the table retrieving instruments or adjusting machines. It spoke of the scale of the destruction which had taken place. Confidential records had been left behind when the facility closed, which confirmed that at least 22,000 abortions had been carried out there.

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