Story by Samy C.
Eleven years ago, a 10-year-old girl walked into a Los Angeles abortion clinic with an angry older woman who was presumably her grandmother. As she followed her grandmother past praying pro-life witnesses and into the clinic, the young girl's eyes communicated neither distress nor comfort, sadness nor contentment; they contained only the innocence of a child. One of these witnesses was Irma Perez.
Over the phone, Perez tells me that she has now been working with 40 Days for Life for 12 years. “It’s not something I wanted to do or even felt like doing; I was called to it.” 40 Days for Life is an international Christian campaign that aspires to end abortion through community outreach, prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil outside local abortion clinics. For forty consecutive days — this year from September 25th to November 3rd — the campaign places a minimum of one pro-life volunteer outside a given abortion facility for every hour the facility is operating. On its website, the pro-life organization celebrates having rallied a million volunteers and having saved over 16,000 unborn lives.
One of the goals of the campaign is to spread awareness about the violent injustice taking place right in front of us: more than 800,000 abortions are performed in the U.S. every year, or about 2,200 every day. “I think a lot of people turn a blind eye to what’s happening,” says Perez. “There’s a type of indifference towards this topic due to its ascription to discomfort.” This discomfort is just as pervasive as the idea that the topic of abortion should not be up for general debate — that it is only relevant to people who are directly affected by or involved in it. “However,” Perez continues, “if the house is burning down next door and I don’t say or do anything, I can’t pretend there won’t be any consequences.”
More than 800,000 abortions are performed in the U.S. every year, or about 2,200 every day.
When I ask Perez for her take on the negative response to pro-life protesters, she responds lightheartedly. “When we’re protesting, they’ll [passersby will] sometimes yell at us or even throw things,” she reflects with a chuckle. (In contrast, 40 Days for Life participants are required to abide by a Statement of Peace which commits to non-aggression, compassion, and compliance with all local authorities.) Perez believes that the negative reactions stem from a lack of knowledge about the violent reality of abortion rather than from malicious intent. She holds the conviction that, if she were to sit down with a truly open-minded pro-choice person, the two of them would come to an agreement on abortion, “Because no one in their right mind would want to kill someone,” she says.
According to Perez, this widespread lack of knowledge drives up the demand for abortion: “I think a lot of people are at the abortion clinics because they don’t know any better.” For Perez, a pivotal experience was witnessing the 10-year-old — whom she doubted had been adequately informed about the abortion procedure — being dragged into the clinic by her grandmother. The grandmother snapped at Perez with such anger — “an anger as if I had done that to the child,” she describes. Perez admits predicaments like this are hard; nonetheless, she holds firm to her belief that there is a child in the womb, and she continues to pray outside clinics because, “if at least one woman is open to seeing this, then it’s worth it.”
"If the house is burning down next door and I don’t say or do anything, I can’t pretend there won’t be any consequences.”
Perez likes to describe her service as living out the Catholic teaching of the Corporal Works of Mercy. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, these Works are based on Jesus’s teaching to serve others as if they were Christ in disguise, and they include actions like giving alms to the poor and sheltering the homeless. Perez especially lives out this teaching through her work with Voice of the Innocents (VOTI), a group within 40 Days for Life that provides expecting mothers with support and resources, including food, clothing, and baby showers. During our conversation, Perez shares her excitement about hosting a baby shower next weekend for two newborns and their mothers.
In today’s age, “[Abortion] has become a style,” says Perez. “[It’s] the thing that’s ‘in.’ We’ve been so desensitized to reality that we’ve come to the point where we think we can take someone’s life without having any consequences.” It will always take courage to stand witness to the truth about abortion. It will always take time and effort to understand an expecting mother’s unique struggles and to find ways of effectively addressing those struggles to meet her needs. However, to Irma Perez and the million other volunteers from 40 Days for Life, this is what it means to be pro-life.
Note: If you would like to get involved in a local 40 Days for Life campaign, find a location here.