By Katie Peterson Catholic News Service
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The path to ending abortion is through peaceful prayer rather than harsh confrontation, said current and former leaders of pro-life prayer campaigns in Nashville.
Their efforts stand in contrast to allegations made in the recent indictment by a federal grand jury of 11 people on charges of obstructing a clinic that provides abortions outside Nashville.
The indictments allege the 11 defendants violated federal law by using physical obstruction to intimidate and interfere with the employees of the carafem Health Center in Mt. Juliet and a patient seeking reproductive health services at the clinic in March 2022.
After the Dobbs ruling in June -- that overturned the court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. -- there were reports of other incidents of protesters accosting vehicles in parking lots and threatening employees at carafem and the Planned Parenthood clinic in Nashville.
Jeff Coleman, a former leader of the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign in Nashville to end abortion, said the indictments and other events have not and will not affect the peaceful vigils that are part of 40 Days for Life.
"We at 40 Days have always been a peaceful, prayerful vigil. We do not allow anyone in our group to harass or intimidate anyone who is seeking an abortion," Coleman said. "We understand the importance of being there for these women who have found themselves in a very bad situation and give them every opportunity they need to save themselves and their children."
He said the pro-life movement is "made of people whose passion can overtake them and they feel the need to do more than just pray." He also said the media will "always use these types of situations to demonize the pro-life movement, and a few passionate people shouldn't taint the whole movement."
The 40 Days for Life organization requires participants to act peacefully, said Courtney Hayden, who led the fall 2021 and spring 2022 40 Days for Life campaigns in Nashville.
"There are so many different groups fighting for an end to abortion. However, we are grateful for the rules and guidelines that 40 Days for Life has for its participants across the globe," Hayden said. "Signing their 'statement of peace form' ensures that we will be peaceful, prayerful, and obedient to the rules that 40 Days has set forth for the safety of their participants and everyone around."
She also noted that fasting is another major component to participants and said: "that's where we draw our strength. Abortion is a scary thing, for those getting one and for those praying on evil's territory, so this peaceful and loving approach is so needed in these dark times."
She also said the campaign will continue in Nashville "until there are zero abortion facilities in the city."
Marilyn Cox, who leads the current campaign, which will continue through Nov. 6, said the recent Jericho March on Oct. 15, with 55 participants of all ages, was proof of the power of a peaceful, prayerful approach.
"Because prayer is our focus, God's will was done as we walked seven times in silent prayer around the block of Planned Parenthood," Cox said. "No matter what the chaos and noise is in our culture of death, we who follow Jesus must stand firm proclaiming the truth. St. John Paul II always advised us: 'Be Not Afraid.'"
She added: "We welcome church groups to come out to pray together. Even though Planned Parenthood isn't performing surgical abortions right now, they are aiding women to travel to states that provide abortions."
Cox said those involved in the prayer campaign will provide women information and help them to get a free ultrasound and guidance from Muliere Care, a mobile pregnancy care center in Nashville that provides assistance for women who have minimal support networks and are facing crisis or unplanned pregnancies.
She also noted that the campaign this year, after the Supreme Court's decision, has been "more subdued in numbers on the sidewalk as we have been praying in thanksgiving to our Lord for his great mercy. "
She said participants are praying "that our state will continue to be pro-life."
"While the number of participants has diminished this fall because of the news, there are more than 350 followers on the 40 Days for Life Facebook page, so people are definitely praying together," she added.
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Peterson is on the staff of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.