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Leader’s Conference in Rome sees fun, formation and fellowship and spiritual fruit in abundance

Wednesday, 7 February, 2024

By Robert Colquhoun
Director of International Campaigns, 40 Days for Life 

Nearly 200 leaders from 25 countries gathered in Rome, Italy from February 1-3, 2024 for an international conference for those who organize prayer vigils in public to end abortion. Leaders from as far as Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, USA, Mexico, Colombia and much of Europe attended this epic event full of spiritual fruit. 

Enjoy the event photos at the Symposium Gallery

Shawn Carney, President of 40 Days for Life reminded us that the weekend was like a family gathering of fun, fellowship and faith to empower, encourage and inspire those to make a resolution to end abortion where they live. No matter the crosses involved, leaders were encouraged not to run from difficulties but to offer our work to God, and that if God can end abortion in one part of the world, He can end it anywhere. The event was a fruitful weekend of prayer, work and recreation. 

Dr Julio Loredo de Izcue, the President of Tradition, Family and Property spoke of the history of abortion as a marxist tool in the context of the cultural and sexual revolution. He described how deeply engrained the culture of abortion was in communist culture, from Lenin who he quoted desiring women to be anti-maternal, to the cultural hegemony of Gramsci, the Frankfurt school and the Freudian marxism of the 1960s. Dr Julio also described how in Freudian theory the father is seen as a repression of the alter ego, religion seen as a hotbed of neurosis and how cancel culture today is connected to communist culture. 

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, 40 Days for Life leader and co-director and founder of March for Life U.K. shared her personal pro-life journey from being a pro-life teenager, to starting to pray outside abortion centres on a Saturday morning, to organizing a 40 Days for Life campaign, to seeing the oldest abortion centre in the country close, moving on to a more hostile area of Birmingham with virulently hostile residents staunchly supportive of abortion who were aggressive and even violent to her volunteers. Her journey in recent years has culminated with multiple arrests for praying silently in her head, an event which has galvanized significant international media coverage, support and fame from international locations. Isabel mentioned how St Maximilian Kolbe had inspired prisoners of Auschwitz to never give up on hope. Her talk ended with a standing ovation and significant interest and inspiration. 

Tomislav Cunovic, Executive Director for 40 Days for Life International spoke about the need for holy lawyers and natural law and how sin had been legalized as well as details of the buffer zone legal battle in Germany. Tomislav has served as legal counsel to several German and Croatian pro-life NGOs and pro-life activists and started the first 40 Days for Life in Frankfurt in 2017 with two friends, helping to spread the 40 Days for Life mission in Germany, despite significant spiritual opposition from satanists and LGBT activists. 

Dr Pilar Calva, a bioethicist and medical doctor, shared her experience of being a student of Jerome Lejeune at the Hospital des Enfants Malades in Paris. She promoted contraception as a young person in the sexual revolution, but today she sees abortion as a consequence of contraception. Her conversion was a result of working with Jerome Lejeune, the founder of modern genetics. In subsequent years the work of Lejeune on genetics has been misused. Dr Pilar spoke about the ethics of abortion, the reality of late term abortion and the ethical dilemmas such as double effect and ectopic pregnancy. 

Martina, a young woman from Switzerland shared her testimony of experiencing a crisis pregnancy. She was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but emigrated to Switzerland after experiencing physical, psychological and sexual violent and lack of freedom in her home country. She shared her testimony with her two beautiful girls, saying that she loved the life inside of her womb more than her own life. Her bravery gave her the grace to live through the ordeal of a dramatic pregnancy. Martina eloquently explained that nothing is impossible to God and the womb should be the safest place on the planet. The law gave her unborn children no right to survive, but they are alive today. 

Dr Antonio Brandi, the President of Pro Vita e Famiglia in Italy, has dedicated his life to the battle for Christ, life and family. His office has been vandalized by pro-abortion activists. In 1981, the pro-life movement was divided and lost to an Italian abortion law that could have been written by Joseph Goebbels. Current attacks against conscientious objection, RU-486 has made the pro-life presence more difficult in Italy. Dr Antonio has trucks with pro-life images travelling around Italy with messages saying, “You are here because your mother did not abort you.” He said the battle for life can never end until victory. He noted how many people when surveyed thought the state should do more to help women in crisis pregnancy, and currently there is a lack of help and support, in addition the legalization of abortion does not reduce the number of abortions. 

Dr Juana Acosta, a lawyer and director of the Legal Clinic of public interest and human rights at the University of La Sabana in Colombia, spoke about the power of words in international law. She noted the Orwellian terminology, newspeak, doublespeak and linguistic gymnastics used to support abortion in international law. States need to protect, promote and guarantee life, while some international legal documents do support life, there were an increasing number of threats. The Maputo protocol is the one international treaty that states that access to abortion is an international obligation. 

The UN human rights committee has described the non practice of abortion as torture, while the dehumanization of abortion in the courts continues abound. Dr Acosta mentioned milestones in international law in the protection of the right to life such as Artavia Murillo (I/A Court 2012) where 9 couples alleged a violation of their rights because IVF was not permitted in Costa Rica, to P y S vs Poland (ECHR, 2012) where a girl who was raped and abortion was delayed through various means in the health system.

Dr Acosta also mentioned other pending cases such as Rosaura vs Dominican Republic, where a pregnant girl diagnosed with Leukemia did not receive an abortion due to the ban on abortion. In ML vs Poland (ECHR) a woman with Trisomy 21 was unable to undergo an abortion in Poland due to a change in the law. The European Court of Human Rights has unanimously declared the inadmissibility of a group of cases related to access to abortion in Poland. 

Dr Acosta also mentioned opportunities for the pro-life movement such as those arrested outside of abortion centres (Damers vs Canada, IACHR) which involved the violation of freedom of expression and problems with the case of Beatriz vs El Salvador, a case which is trying to liberalize abortion law in all of Latin America. 

Matt Britton, legal counsel for 40 Days for Life, spoke about transitioning from whining to winning, how the battle lines have been drawn in the USA after Roe vs Wade, and the world is looking at America after the federal law on abortion was overturned. He mentioned the case of Mark Houck suing the Department of Justice, the establishment of the Institute of Law and Justice, the scope of abortion worldwide with the impending demographic winter and how 10% of the current population of Italy has been aborted, but ultimately God is supreme. 

Dr Donato Burrito, the Assistant General Counsel and Director of Medicolegal affairs for 40 Days for Life spoke about organizing a vigil in Gainesville, Florida, where the pro-life presence led to abortion escorts arriving and a 365 campaign developing. He stated that supporting abortion pill reversal could lead to some medical professionals having their medical license revoked and that the battlefield is changing with chemical abortions and the presence of pill reversal. He spoke of the joy of the presence on the sidewalk.

The weekend provided an opportunity to honour and award 3 female leaders for outstanding service to the pro-life movement. Petra Milković, the leader of 40 Days for Life in Croatia has helped the campaign grow to nearly 40 prayer vigils over the country. Pavica Vojnović who has been involved in the legal case of buffer zones in Pforzheim in Germany, leading to a victory in her case and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested and acquitted for praying inside her head outside an abortion centre, also helping to save over 100 lives during 40 Days for Life campaigns in over a decade. 

Feedback to the event was overwhelmingly positive, and the event was also an opportunity to let leaders know about other 40 Days for Life projects such as the magazine, podcast, 365 campaigns, memorial, former abortion workers, website and victories in Latin America.

The conferences have been overwhelming positive for several reasons: they focus on positive solutions to abortion, the event focuses on faith, formation and fun while the weekend is an opportunity to thank and shower praise on local leaders, without whom the campaign would not be possible. To God be the glory.