MANCHESTER - Pro-life activists say they are encouraged by the 40 Days for Life campaign, which works to place daily picketers outside abortion clinics throughout the country during Lent, the Christian period that leads up to Easter Sunday.
The 40 days reached their midpoint this week, drawing about 60 people to a candlelight vigil Monday at the Planned Parenthood clinic on Pennacook Street, said Marty Dowd, a Manchester resident who works as a substitute teacher.
Similar activities are taking place at the abortion clinic in Greenland, as well as 259 other locations around the United States, Canada, Europe and Africa, according to the 40 Days for Life website.
Dowd and fellow picketers spoke Thursday outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Manchester.
"It's a peaceful vigil. This is not a protest; it's a prayer vigil," said Bob Melnyk, a Manchester salesman who is organizing the Manchester effort.
Planned Parenthood sees the protests as disruptive.
"These protest marathons are designed to intimidate the many patients who seek basic health care services from Planned Parenthood," said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser of Planned Parenthood Northern New England.
Those services include cancer screenings, breast health care, family planning and birth control, testing for HIV and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as well as safe, legal abortions, she said.
Six picketers were on hand when Melnyk arrived about 12:30 p.m., most carrying signs that opposed abortion. The number dwindled to two within minutes, but he said people sign up to attend the protests on a regular basis.
Organizers said the intent is to have a presence outside the clinic seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Not all hour-long shifts are taken, but the turnout is better this year, Melnyk said.
"The weather's kind of a factor, but we don't let it deter us," Dowd said. Many prefer to come on Thursday, when the picketers say abortions take place at the clinic.
Picketers who sign up on-line are asked to sign a pledge to forswear violence and act compassionately to all clinic employees and patients.
"It's a peaceful message we're trying to get across. They're the violent ones. I don't have a suction machine taking out a baby; all I've got is a rosary," said Bedford resident Jeanne Szulc.
On Thursdays, she tries to distribute literature designed for women after they have had abortions. Szulc tried to speak to one patient as she drove an SUV out of the parking lot. The woman, who had a young child in the front seat, threw about a half-dozen wrapped condoms out of the passenger-side window at her.
Turnouts are also strong when Catholic priests show up and bring some members of their churches, Dowd said. They include the Rev. Msgr. Anthony Frontiero of St. Joseph Cathedral, the Rev. Paul Montminy of St. Catherine of Siena and the Rev. Robert J. Smolley of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Melnyk said the effort is non-denominational, but many protesters hold rosaries. The Diocese of Manchester is not part of the 40 Days for Life effort, said its spokesman, Kevin Donovan.
Melnyk said the 40 Days effort ends March 24; a final rally is slated for the following Thursday.firstname.lastname@example.org