40 Days of Abortion Debate

By Elise Kaplan

Photo by Elise Kaplan—Planned Parenthood and Project Defending Life are neighbors.

—Twice a year, abortion opponents embark on an international campaign called 40 Days for Life. Project Defending Life, based in New Mexico, participates in the effort from Feb. 13 to March 24 by holding vigils and praying in front of Planned Parenthood and other clinics. The group also holds information sessions at the University of New Mexico.

This year, Albuquerque’s abortion rights supporters decided to add an alternative voice called 40 Days for Loving. “The idea initially was, Let’s create a counter to that—something that’s positive and supportive of all people and all of their needs, ideas and choices,” says Molly Adler, co-owner of Self Serve, a sexuality resource center in Nob Hill. “We’d create space for both personal and political discussion around abortion and reproductive justice.”

Adler and her business partner Matie Fricker, along with about 20 volunteers, organized bake sales to raise money, created a resource page on the Self Serve website and planned talks.

Self Serve’s 40 Days for Loving poster. Events are held at the Student Union Building on the UNM campus or at Self Serve.

A panel and a moderated session should encourage people to ask questions about the state of reproductive rights in New Mexico, Adler says. Participants will also be able to talk about the reality of abortion, she adds, for individual women, organizations and providers.

Shortly after 40 Days for Life gained nationwide attention in 2007, Planned Parenthood began the Pledge-A-Picket fundraiser, says Martha Edmands, spokesperson and security manager at the clinic on San Mateo. Each donation to the clinic during the 40 days is represented as a ribbon tied to the fence outside the office.

“Constantly having someone out there wears on you after a while, so we started putting out ribbons to show that we have support from the community,” says Edmands. “Self Serve brought over a bunch of ribbons, which is great for morale. The ribbons are a visual reminder and sometimes you see them more than the protestors. They catch your eye and you feel supported.”

Courtesy of Planned Parenthood

Forty Days for Loving has donated between $400 and $500 over the past month, Adler says.

Curt Kuper, the event coordinator for Project Defending Life, says the vigils are intended to be peaceful and prayerful while discouraging women from seeking an abortion. Demonstrators mean to let women know they can find support at the ministry.

The aim of Project Defending Life is to eradicate abortion completely, says Kuper. The 40-day campaign brings increased visibility for the anti-abortion movement. “Babies are saved,” he says. “It’s a good way for people to work together. We schedule a church event, and people can come together and pray together.”

Courtesy of Project Defending Life—A protest procession

Kuper counts 17 women who have been dissuaded from entering the clinic in the last 40 days.  “When women are coming into the abortion mill, they notice a big group of people here, and they say, Maybe I don’t want to do this. A lot of times they may have been praying or asking God for help to show them a sign.”

In September, an anti-abortion information table at UNM displayed posters that many found racist and offensive. This year, nothing was planned on the campus. Kuper says the man who made those posters was not part of 40 Days for Life, and the campaign does not condone violence or racist images. “When people participate, we have forms here where they sign up, and we stress that it’s peaceful and prayerful,” he says. “So if a pro-life person is not following national guidelines on keeping it peaceful and prayerful, they probably didn’t come in and see the rules. They’re doing it on their own.”

For Adler, the presence of the anti-abortion movement outside of the clinic represents a threat to the idea of a woman’s autonomy. “Women are always going to get medical abortions. Women have always done so. To prevent them and make them unsafe and life-threatening and illegal would not serve anybody,” she says. “I think what we’re talking about is people who support safe and legal abortion and access to it.”

New Mexico law does not require parental notification, waiting periods or limits on public funding often found in other states to limit access to the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute. However a 2008 study found that 91 percent of counties in New Mexico did not have an abortion provider. About half of the state’s women live in those counties.

Forty Days for Loving aims to bring the topic of abortion out of the shadows and educate the community about the obstacles women face when making the decision to end a pregnancy. Younger people might not realize how tenuous our freedom of choice has been in the last five to 10 years, Adler says. “Younger women might take it for granted that they have those choices,” like the right to take the morning-after pill, she says. “Some states make it virtually impossible to make a choice to have an abortion.”

40 Days for Loving Events:

Discussion: Abortion is a Political Issue
Tuesday, March 26, at 8 p.m.
UNM Student Union Building, Lobo Room, third floor

Rally for Loving
Thursday, March 28, at 11 a.m.
In front of the UNM Student Union Building

Project Defending Life Event:

Good Friday Jericho Walk for Life
Friday, March 29, at 9 a.m.
725 San Mateo NE

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