I caught a cryptic commercial yesterday for some program called “40 Days for Life.” All I got from the commercial was that it’s something that Real Christians™ are supposed to participate in, and it’s a great experience for them. I inferred that the forty days were Lent-related somehow, and that “Life” was a code word for abortion, but I wasn’t sure.
Of course, that’s exactly what it is. The forty days aren’t about Lent specifically, but they explain:
The 40-day campaign tracks Biblical history, where God used 40-day periods to transform individuals, communities … and the entire world. From Noah in the flood to Moses on the mountain to the disciples after Christ’s resurrection, it is clear that God sees the transformative value of His people accepting and meeting a 40-day challenge.
Clearly they didn’t get the memo that in ancient Hebrew, the number 40 can be used colloquially to refer to some indeterminate, large number — the way you might complain that it’s a million degrees outside when in fact it’s just very hot. Anyway, I was definitely right about the subject matter. In fact, I can actually sort of get behind the picket signs they wave outside of clinics — they say, “Pray to End Abortion.” Yes, please, keep praying to your “omnipotent” deity. Don’t write to your legislators, don’t try to present logical arguments to defend your side, don’t even bother joining these protesters … just pray about it. Surely, if God wants abortion to be outlawed, he’ll make it happen for you if you just pray hard enough. Just keep telling yourself that.
Unfortunately, that’s not all they actually do. They identify three components of the program, one of which is “prayer and fasting.” You don’t have to fast from food, they say; you can fast from television if you prefer, or “anything that separates you from God.” (You know, like critical thinking, or science, or hobbies and interests besides going to church.) Their second component, however, is a prayer vigil. Apparently this is distinct from prayer. I’m just going to go with it.
The most visible component of 40 Days for Life is a constant prayer vigil outside a place where children are aborted. It is the hope that the vigil can be maintained 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It is a prayerful witness to the clinic’s patients and employees, and to the entire community, that evil is in our midst and that with God’s help, it will be defeated.
Looks like they also missed the memo that Jesus wanted his followers to pray privately, not ostentatiously in public. I guess they’d prefer to follow the whims of a guy named Paul, rather than the son of God / God himself. (What was that, again, about the Bible being internally consistent and clear…?)
The third and finally distinct component of this program is “community outreach.” I guess prayer wasn’t effective enough for them after all. This is the part that gets us radio announcements like the one I heard, and it appears there are also door-to-door campaigns and literature distribution efforts.
In their daily update posts, I can find a few references to the brochures and flyers they pass out. I can’t find any actual examples of them on the website, though — just “daily devotionals” for the protesters themselves to read for inspiration. What I gather is that they make the same bad arguments against abortion that we’ve been over before, how the fetus has a heartbeat and human features, and so on. They also warn women against something called “post-abortion syndrome,” which they compare to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Except … there’s no such thing as post-abortion syndrome. Sure, it’s a tough decision for most of the people who make it, and some women experience some sadness and grief even if they are also relieved and know they did the right thing for their situation. But people like these protesters and the “counselors” they promote almost certainly cause a meaningful amount of emotional trauma themselves, by shouting in women’s faces about how they are murderers and destined to burn in hell. I’d have some serious psychological distress if I had to brave a gauntlet of angry Christians just to get my medical care, too.
Here’s what really gets me about this entire thing: the 40 Days for Life campaign is steeped in religion. The implication is that Christianity is their entire reason, their only reason, for wanting to ban abortion. The Bible is true, therefore, pro-life. There are two huge problems with this.
The first is that, if their not wanting abortions is entirely derived from their religious beliefs and part of their personal religious expression, it’s unfair and unconstitutional to force that on the rest of us. We don’t make laws just because your holy book says so. I know there are Christians out there in the United States who think that murder is against the law solely because “Thou shalt not kill” is one of their god’s commandments. In fact, there are secular reasons why murder is both immoral and socially destabilizing, and therefore worth banning. If you can’t make a secular argument for it, you’re violating my freedom of (and from) religion by legally mandating it.
The second problem is that it’s deeply unconvincing. I have lots of reasons to doubt the veracity and authority of the Bible. If the Bible is all your argument really has to stand on, I’m going to consider you wrong from the get-go unless you can answer all those objections. Additionally, even to many people who do believe the Bible, it’s not clear that it condemns abortion. It’s also not clear that, according to the Bible, God believes that people have the sort of rights the US government recognizes, or that it’s even categorically wrong to kill people. When your arguments are so contingent on accepting the precise nuances of your specific theology, they’re just not going to win over anyone outside of your religious sect.
Maybe abortion should be illegal, or should be more heavily regulated. This is a legitimate policy debate for our country to be having. But we should have this debate using logical arguments and sound evidence. We should consider the practical outcomes of all the alternatives. We should weigh rights claims against competing rights claims, the way we do in all other legal decisions. Using religious dogma and (other) misinformation doesn’t help anybody.