By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

Prayer is not a passive activity but an urgently needed action that can change the hearts and minds of women contemplating ending the life of their child through abortion, according to Shawn Carney, founder and CEO of 40 Days for Life.  

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Shawn Carney, center, founder and CEO of 40 Days for Life, met with leaders of local Catholic churches and pro-life ministries at Roux 61 on Aug. 29. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator 


Carney, a native of Tyler, Texas, met leaders in various Catholic and pro-life ministries at a luncheon at Roux 61 in Baton Rouge on Aug. 29.  

Carney said he came to Louisiana because of his high regard for the state’s strong pro-life stance and the work of Louisiana Right to Life. After visiting Baton Rouge he went to New Orleans for the launch of their 40 Days for Life Campaign.  

“I really love Louisiana, Cajuns and Cajun food,” smiled Carney.  

He launched 40 Days for Life in 2004 while still in college by praying with three others for an end of abortion in their town, Bryan-College Station, Texas. Carney helped lead the first local 40 Days of Life Campaign. He said the grassroots movement “spread like wildfire.”  

40 Days for Life involves a 40 days of fasting and prayer in shifts outside of abortion facilities.  

 According to Carney, since 2004, 22 campaigns have been held in 816 cities in 56 countries. He said there have been a total of 6,020 individual prayer vigils involving about 750,000 individuals who prayed peacefully outside local abortion facilities.  

Where 40 Days for Life prayer vigils have taken place, a combined 12,256 unborn babies’ lives have been saved, 186 abortion workers have left their jobs and 99 abortion facilities, and many more abortion referral centers, have closed.  

A father of seven, Carney talked about an unforgettable experience resulting from the campaign. He met a mother who had driven to the Bryan Planned Parenthood in the fall of 2004 during that first 40 Days for Life prayer vigil that Carney had organized. The mother saw people praying at the facility, turned around and decided not to abort her child.  

She had never told anyone about what she had almost done, but she later met Carney and said, “I want you to meet my teenage son,” who was standing in front of him and alive because of prayer.  

Carney said this points to the importance of vigilant prayer in addressing ongoing issues.  

Carney referred to abortion as the “genocides of genocides” and “the moral issue of our times.”  

“It’s never been on this scale so systematically,” Carney said.  

He said the nation has become too comfortable with the concept of abortion and readily accepts excuses that “ignore the science” about a life beginning at conception.

Abortion essentially destroys the family, according to Carney, and he urged Catholics to restore and defend the beauty of the family because “without it our country does not have a future.”  

Carney is portrayed by the actor Jared Lotz in the movie “Unplanned,” the story about Abby Johnson, now a mother of eight, who was one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the nation before she witnessed an abortion procedure, left the organization and became a strong pro-life advocate. Carney said he did not meet Lotz in person but had good conversations with him by phone.  

Scott Smith, vice chairman of Men of the Immaculata and member of St. Mary’s of False River in New Roads, said he liked Carney’s message about how people who have participated in 40 Days for Life have increased their faith life through sustained prayer during a 40-day period.  

“You should not be afraid to spend a length of days in prayer,” said Smith.  

He said prayer is even more important since people are engaged in a spiritual battle with a culture that disregards the value of human life.  

He also appreciated the fact that Carney said, “We need to sit down and pray” on how to address the abortion issue before starting the first 40 Days for Life Campaign. 

David Lukinovich, president of the Brown Pelican Society of Louisiana, which provides information and commentary on church teachings and social issues facing America, said, “What Shawn has done has changed the dynamics of the issue of abortion in this country. He has established a peaceful vigil that is a faith-based initiative.”  

He and Smith said 40 Days for Life has united people of different faith denominations as well as “those of no denomination.”  

Lukinovich likes 40 Days for Life’s approach to “not to tell women not to have an abortion, but offer an alternative and hope for women in crisis pregnancy situations.”  

“It’s putting the issue in a positive light,” said Lukinovich.  

Jeanie Hannaman, publisher and editor for the Brown Pelican Society and whose pro-life views were formed while growing up in Baton Rouge, agreed. Now living in Tyler, she launched a successful 40 Days for Life Campaign this past spring.  

“It’s a true ecumenical effort,” said Hannaman. She noted that there are families present at the vigils, and as Catholics pray the rosary, people of other faiths will ask questions about the devotion. 

“The show of unity is pretty powerful,” said Hannaman, who also talked about the importance of providing resources and support for women who ask, “Where are you going to be after the baby is born?”  

This is where centers, such as Woman’s New Life Center, provide healthcare, counseling and other services for women facing crisis pregnancy situations. Woman’s New Life Center has clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans that are next door to abortion clinics.  

Angie Thomas, CEO of Woman’s New Life Center, said, “It is amazing to see the Lord at work in all pro-life efforts. I am in awe at the growth of the 40 Days for Life program: over 800 around the world. This prayerful, peaceful effort is beautiful.”   

The Baton Rouge 40 Days for Life Campaign will run from Sept. 25 – Nov. 3, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, visit