February 22 to April 1 is not only a period to give up a favorite guilty pleasure for the Christian Lenten Season, activists also plan to make it a time to take a stand against abortion. The Pittsburgh 40 Days for Life Campaign plans to pray and hold vigils outside of the downtown Planned Parenthood location starting Wednesday.
The campaign takes place twice a year in 258 locations around the world including the United States, Canada, England, Australia and Spain. The movement began in 2007 in College Station, Texas, and Pittsburgh's started in the fall of 2010.
Nikki Bruni, director of the local campaign, estimates that the Pittsburgh movement has about one thousand participants this year.
"It's a grassroots effort based on 2 Chronicles 7:14," Bruni said. "It's about repentance, coming back to God as a nation particularly with a purpose of ending abortion through prayer and fasting during a 40 day time period."
Bruni says the Lenten Season is chosen because the 40 days already involve fasting, prayer and repentance. A 12-hour prayer vigil starting at 7:00 AM will take place outside of the Planned Parenthood center on Liberty Avenue on each of the 40 days of Lent starting on Ash Wednesday. Each of the 84 participating Pittsburgh churches is responsible for one 4-hour time slot on one day during the Lenten Season.
Bruni says that over 2,000 abortions were carried out at the Pittsburgh location in 2010, but they have yet to find out if their efforts have made an impact on those numbers for last year. The national campaign estimates that all of the demonstrations have deterred over 5,000 women from getting abortions.
Each day the national campaign emails the participants the Christian-based prayers to recite outside of their local clinic.
There was a backlash from critics during their first campaign.
"I guess they call themselves anarchists. They would wear the black hoods and they showed up at my door step actually the night after our fall kick-off in 2010 banging pots and pans and shouting things at me," Bruni said.
Bruni said she asked the protestors to have a conversation with her, but they dispersed. She said they were eventually arrested by the police when they showed up at a vigil and smashed a member's statue of Mary.
All participants sign a statement of peace which explains that their retaliation to protest against them is to be peaceful. If the members are confronted, they are to "react in love," Bruni says.