Who has noticed the increasing number of pro-lifers willing to publicly witness to what they believe, I'm sure I can't be the only one? We had a fantastic turnout at March for Life UK this year and I seem to hearing of more and more groups praying outside abortion facilities, offering alternatives to abortion minded women and hope to those who are post-abortive.
Scotland's first ever 40 Days for Life drew record numbers for a first time UK campaign. Good Counsel Network, Abort67 and Helpers of God's Precious Infants have been relentless in their all year round public work. SPUC pro-life chains seem to be getting stronger too as well as Project Truth in Scotland and many pro-life groups in Ireland. While every pro-lifer is of equal value it is particularly encouraging to see larger numbers of students and young people joining all these groups.
Could it be that what used to be considered by some to be extreme or radical is now being accepted by the mainstream pro-lifer? Could it be that a nation once considered to be reserved and individuals previously afraid of confrontation are now prepared to step outside their comfort zone and give voice to their private beliefs? After an initial surge of activity when the abortion law came into force things had grown quieter but it seems something was brewing beneath the surface.
And this doesn't appear to be confined to the UK, no, in recent years there has been an explosion of March for Life rallies around the world; Croatia's first March for Life this year attracted over 7000 to Zagreb. Australia had their largest turnout to date. As did Peru when they drew an estimated 750 000 to their march. Americans braved artic conditions in Washington to continue speaking out in a public witness and Ireland had thousands of pro-lifers on the streets when they held their 'Celebrate the 8th' event earlier this month, many other countries are holding similar events.
One of the common denominators in these public demonstrations other than a deep love and respect for all human life has to be the diversity within the groups. In the past, pro-abortionists have been keen to dismiss pro-lifers as a bunch of old fashioned, out of touch, patriachal, aging Catholics but it is becoming increasingly harder and harder to pin a label on the average person attending a public, pro-life gathering.
At March for Life UK there were many Catholics but there are a growing number of Protestants, Evangelicals and Episcopalians taking part as well as Jews and Russian Orthodox. During 40 Days for Life in Birmingham a Muslim came to stand amongst Christians and more than one self-professed atheist stopped to compliment those praying, putting aside their different religious worldviews in the face of such clear injustice. Around the world at various pro-life March for Life rallies priests and bishops have been clearly speaking out in a great example of clerical leadership. At March for Life UK three bishops attended this year.
No longer can pro-lifers be assumed to be part of any particular political party and public witness is certainly not just for the old. When standing outside an abortion centre I have often pondered on how many different nationalities I am praying with and the variety of professions represented in the gathering: Teachers, doctors, nurses, barristers, plumbers, hairdressers, gardeners, university lecturers, builders, police officers, psychiatrists to name but a few, standing side by side in solidarity.
I am also hearing more stories of dedicated people crossing countries or continents to unite with pro-lifers across the world. The skills, talents, political or religious beliefs as well as the ages and nationalities may be varied but we are learning to work together. We are learning to appreciate the different forms of public, pro-life witness whilst also fostering a sense of unity and community.
During one of the last conversations I had with Stephanie Gray when she visited the UK, she was explaining the importance of questions since part of the pro-lifers battle is in getting the other person to think. She reminded me that asking pro-abortionists (or those sitting on the fence) questions helps them to think through their own beliefs and their reasons for them - something they may not have done for a long time or never fully done. It is also helpful to question ourselves to ensure that our motives are loving and humble, to ensure that we show gentleness and patience and that we can respond with clarity and compassion.
One of the powerful things about so much public witness happening is that it will undoubtedly raise more questions in the minds of those who support and defend abortion 'rights'. Primo Levi an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz once wrote 'Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.'
Let's pray that those who are standing up in public for the first time stay strong, let's pray they have the humility to look to the older generation, some who have spent decades in active pro-life service, for lessons in perseverance and patience. Let's pray that when we are asked that final question 'Where were you when I was in need?' we can give a reply we are not ashamed of and so hear the words: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me'.