40 Days for Life, the inspirational brainchild co-founded by Shawn Carney, now president of the organization, commenced as a small peaceful prayer vigil outside an abortion facility in his college town of Bryan/College Station, Texas.
Originally it was supposed to be a one-time event. Carney did not envision that media coverage would morph the small local prayer vigil into a national and later international campaign to preserve the sanctity of life and family values in all 50 states and 40 countries.
Carney has been previously featured on The O’Reilly Factor, USA Today, Drudge Report, The Guardian, The Laura Ingraham Show, Sirius XM Catholic Radio, Focus on the Family, The Christian Post, EWTN Radio and The National Catholic Register.
This week, LifeNews had the opportunity to speak with Carney, who shared about the birth of his sixth child last fall during a 40 Days for Life campaign and celebrated that his child is now finally sleeping through the night.
LN: Please tell us a bit about yourself, your childhood memories, where you grew up.
SC: I am from a small town in Texas and was raised Catholic. I was raised in the Bible belt and went to Catholic school all the way through. Being such a small diocese, we had missionary priest from Ireland who was courageous in his pursuit of the saving the unborn. This inspired me in middle school and high school.
Though I have always been involved in the pro-life movement, I was never involved outside abortion facilities until my freshman year at Texas A&M. I had never seen an abortion facility before in my life, and had never met a woman to my knowledge who had had an abortion. At the time, I was dating the woman I am now married to, and she peacefully prayed at the Planned Parenthood location in our town, College Station. She invited me to go and I went, convicted by the notion of going out and praying where abortions actually happen.
It broke my heart to see peers going in and having abortions. Then I got involved through a local pro-life organization called Coalition for Life. I had plans to go to law school, but got married instead, and my wife and I wanted large family. So I was still on the way to law school when the local pro-life organization asked me to be the director. I was hired by David Bereit at that organization and that is when we did the first ever 40 Days for Life campaign in 2004.
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SC: Our original vision at the time was one campaign, one community, one facility, and it was successful. We dropped abortion numbers 28% and got new people involved doing something pro-life for the first time. There was no vision for a larger campaign at that time; city after city called asking how we did the vigil. I flew up to Green Bay, Wisconsin when they wanted to do a 40 Days for Life campaign and spoke; I was excited and thought we need to launch this nationally in 2007.
LN: How did all these other cities hear about your prayer vigil? I wouldn’t have thought a few people praying outside a single facility would garner national attention.
SC: That’s a great question. Media coverage; groups in Seattle and Dallas, Green Bay, Wisconsin, Charlotte, North Carolina, and others. As cities heard about it, we helped invest in these. It was our hope in fall of 2007 to do this in 25 cities; it ended up being 89 cities in 33 states in our first nationally coordinated campaign.
This year is the ten-year anniversary of our national and international campaigns. We have done campaigns in both the fall and spring since 2007 in 675 cities in 40 countries.
LN: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced with starting the campaign?
SC: Overcoming the natural fear of whether people will actually do this. It is hard to get people, hard to pray. People have been doing this faithfully longer have I have been alive, but we need more people doing this. Children are losing their lives every day. No one grows up wanting to walk into abortion facility. Women don’t want to be there, men don’t want to be there, abortion workers don’t want to be there. We can be there and offer alternatives, be joy and hope from our Lord. I think overcoming that fear of whether people are willing to sign up and get training.
LN: What has been your most memorable campaign?
SC: Two moments stand out and I have had these experiences many times. There is nothing like meeting a mom at a vigil and her child who are now participating in 40 Days for Life after mom chose life at a campaign. It is a beautiful thing to see moms choose life, then moms choose to participate in the very campaign that God used to bring the baby into the world.
The other very moving times in this work for me personally are when I meet parents of disabled children and I see children with disabilities participating in 40 Days for Life. Because these are the most forgotten people in our society and the people the abortion industry uses to justify abortion. How beautiful a witness to God’s love for these children to be praying in front of these facilities.
LN: What is the most obnoxious thing that has ever been said to you on a campaign, and how did you handle it?
SC: (laughing) I think “save the earth, kill the kids.” That is the edited, rated-G version. And my reaction (and this is why pro-life is rooted in prayer) was that is our fuel and that is what will last, and we should expect the world to be vile when it is killing children. Abortion is a horrific and barbaric act. Many of the people who support it are unaware of what they are supporting.
One of the common ones is from Planned Parenthood calling 40 Days for Life, “40 days of harassment.” Most of the feedback is that it is compassionate, prayerful and peaceful. A Planned Parenthood at one of our California campaigns called us “40 days of harassment,” and the media went to the lobby of Planned Parenthood and asked women who were there waiting for abortions if we were harassing them. The women said, “No, they offered us alternatives, prayed for us. They weren’t harassing us.”
LN: Have you had any experiences with directly saving a baby?
SC: I’ve seen a mom choose life for her set of twins after seeing the ultrasound after she went in for an abortion. Being not one but two babies, seeing twins, it registered to her that it was life. She saw two babies and couldn’t abort them. It was a beautiful thing to see.
LN: Tell us about the United Rally last fall.
SC: It was wonderful. It was the largest 40 Days for Life campaign we have ever had, 367 cities. Last fall, our nation had deep prayer with the attacks on the unborn and the family. We really made it a goal to have all 50 states at once and met that goal.
Sometimes when the bus showed up, Planned Parenthood closed for the day. To me, it showed how much momentum there is in the pro-life movement at the local level and how defeated the abortion movement is at the local level. There is not pro-choice activism at local level; no one wants to defend abortion. They can speak in slogans about it but not defend abortion. Planned Parenthood executives are vague in abortion speak because you can’t defend it.
We have science and technology to defend life in the womb, and that is a huge advantage for pro-life activism. There are more people now than ever who want to defend and save a baby, and that’s one of the reasons we had 750,000 volunteers. That was difficult 30 years ago but now it is widespread which is wonderful to see.
LN: What do pro-lifers need to be doing more of that we either aren’t doing already or not doing enough of to fulfill our mission?
SC: Definitely praying more. We need to be more willing as we move forward to stand in public opposition to Planned Parenthood. As they go, so goes the abortion industry. Many say they are pro-life but won’t vote so politically. This is the defining moral issue of our time. The Supreme Court redefined marriage you know, attacks on the family and direct attacks on unborn, and Planned Parenthood is at the helm of that.
So when it comes to voting pro-life and being pro-life in all areas of your life, we need to be willing to do that and oppose Planned Parenthood on all fronts. They are the abortion industry and you know, they do over 300,000 abortions year with 500 million dollars of our tax money. It is up to us to educate people about that and to be very public about that.
LifeNews Note: This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.