A service at St. Francis Church in Fort Myers, followed by a peaceful protest at Planned Parenthood, will kick off a local effort today to support a campaign to wipe out abortions throughout the world.
The campaign, 40 Days for Life, is a peaceful pro-life effort where supporters in hundreds of cities worldwide get together and for 40 days hold prayers and bring awareness to an issue which, while it's legal, goes against the concepts of the church.
The event runs until Nov. 3.
The 40 Days for Life program, which is done twice yearly, is an organization that started in Texas in 2007, with the purpose of starting a peaceful presence in front of abortion clinics instead of the more confrontational displays in other cities.
"It was to get the word out about the evils of abortions," said Rick Hellenbrand, who is organizing the event with his wife, Paula.
This is the third year the event has been held in Fort Myers in the fall. A similar event has been held in Naples in the spring during Lent for several years, Hellenbrand said.
The kickoff started with an 8:15 a.m. mass at St. Francis Church in Fort Myers, after which, the group was going to make its presence felt at the Planned Parenthood clinic at the corner of Winkler Road and College Parkway for the next 40 days from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On Oct. 22, Bishop Frank DeWane will hold a mass at St. Francis Church and join supporters at Planned Parenthood.
The main idea, Hellenbrand said, is to educate people on alternatives, such as adoption.
"There are options. Abortion isn't the answer, whether it's through adoption or to bring light to pregnancy centers," Hellenbrand said.
"We want to educate, make a presence and bring attention to what's going on over there."
Jane Longo, a supporter, said abortion is part of the "war on women," and that the consequences of it last long after the deed is done.
"From the legalization of abortion, we're finding that a lot of women who have had abortions in their child-bearing years have emotional issues," Longo said. "There is definitely a better answer."
The effect of 40 Days of Life are significant, according to supporter Dan Dougherty, as many abortion facilities nationwide have closed and workers have found other employment, not to mention the number of abortions prevented.
"They have saved more than 7,500 babies, and more than 80 clinic workers have stopped working there," Dougherty said. "This has turned into a worldwide event."
Hellenbrand said don't expect to see graphic images of aborted fetuses and other confrontational tactics like seen at other demonstrations.
"We put our foot down about that. That's not the point. We emphasize peacefulness. It's not to shock people, we want to draw attention it through prayer," Hellenbrand said.
The event has grown yearly, with about 150 taking part last year. Hellenbrand said he expects more this year. All are invited, regardless of faith, so send a message.
"It's just for anyone who respects human life in front of the biggest abortion providers in the world, and they do it on your tax dollars," Longo said.
"Most people don't realize what goes on over there or that they're there," Dougherty said. "We're not happy with what's going on in our community and want to see it stopped."