Nicole Peck isn't just someone who preaches against abortion.
At 15, Peck had an abortion and says she has been living with the consequences of that decision — depression, remorse and the inability to become pregnant again — ever since.
"I thought I was doing a good thing, and I wasn't," said Peck, who is 46 now and, with her husband, recently adopted their first child, from Guatemala. "I wanted to go to college and make a life for myself, so I couldn't see that the child could be a blessing."
Wednesday, Peck was one of a dozen or so people who gathered outside the Hartford GYN Center on the corner of Main and Jefferson streets to pray for the end of abortions there and elsewhere — part of a national religious campaign that began Wednesday and will continue through Nov. 2.
In Connecticut, the 40 Days for Life campaign involves Catholics from dozens of parishes who have signed up to participate in silent prayer and fasting at clinics in the Hartford and Norwich dioceses. Parishioners also have volunteered to perform 24 hours of silent prayer in their churches.
With a presidential election on the horizon, the annual event takes on added significance.
Mary Lou Peters, assistant program coordinator for pro-life activities for the Archdiocese of Hartford and campaign director for the 40 Days for Life campaign in Hartford, said the effort is intentionally timed to coincide with the election in the hopes it might change the minds of some voters.
"We want people to become aware of the issues concerning abortion and vote for candidates who are pro-life," Peters said. "It's the breakdown of the family that is causing so many issues in our society, which means the ramifications of abortions spread out far past the issue of a baby dying."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops put out a pamphlet on faith citizenship that urges Catholics voters to consider all the areas where the church has taken a position, including social justice matters and other pro-life stances on topics such as capital punishment, cloning and embryonic stem cell research. The church also objects to the use of birth control and opposes marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples.
Peters and others at Wednesday's vigil said they believe most Catholics agree with the church's opposition to abortion. But whether a majority of Catholics will vote for pro-life candidates remains to be seen. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama supports a woman's right to choose, while Republican candidate John McCain believes the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion should be overturned.
Andrew Walsh, associate director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and an expert on Catholicism, said the Catholic vote is not uniform across the country.
"It cashes out in extremely complicated ways," Walsh said.
Catholics in New England, for example, historically vote the Democratic ticket in large numbers, he said, while Catholics in the nation at-large are swing voters and, in recent elections, have often voted for Republicans.
"Many, many, many Catholics agree with the church's teachings on abortion, but it's a minority when it comes to shaping voting patterns," Walsh said.
"If you look at New England polling data, Catholics tend to vote for Democrats time after time after time. New England couldn't be this blue unless most Catholics were voting for Democrats in most elections. There's just too many of them."
The 40 Days for Life campaign began in Texas in 2004 and has grown into a national effort, with 170 cities across the United States and Canada participating this fall.
Wednesday morning, Don Wheatley and Tony Colonna from St. James Church in Manchester quietly recited the rosary on the sidewalk outside the Hartford clinic as women walked by. Wheatley and Colonna are regulars on this sidewalk because they participate weekly with the Helpers of God's Precious Infants group, which holds vigils here on Saturdays and then walks to St. Peter's Church on Main Street to worship.
"This is one of the ways I've found to serve the Lord," Wheatley said. "I'm coming here as a witness to life. We don't judge. Even if we think what they are doing is horrible, they are still human beings and God loves us all. But I would venture to say that most of the girls and women who are here and go in that gate have already made up their minds
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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