For over a year now Clare McCullough has been at the center of a media storm.
Whether it has been undercover reporters for British television misreporting what she does, or, more recently, a blaze of vitriol directed at her as restrictions were placed on prayer vigils outside abortion clinics—something of which both she and the organization of which she is director, Good Counsel Network, are at the forefront—it is Clare’s name that keeps coming up in the media.
The woman sitting opposite me, however, shows no signs of weariness at this. In fact, she appears to have grown tougher, battle-hardened even, under the constant onslaught. I had come to meet Clare at the family center run by the Good Counsel Network in central London. This is the work she helped establish twenty years ago. It started out with little money and with only Clare based in a west London rented apartment. The work has since grown to include a battery of counselors, street counselors, volunteers, and paid employees: all assist and befriend pregnant women who are contemplating having an abortion.
Clare may be undeviating in her opposition to abortion based on the harm it does to women and the unborn, but contrary to the media stereotype she offers only practical help and genuine compassion to the women she encounters. She shares that she sees these women as ‘whole people, and [therefore] with a whole load of issues’ not just another unwanted pregnancy. She understands, having worked with women for decades, the pressures and the confusion that come with an unexpected pregnancy. And she is not naive as to where these pressures come from. As she points out, ‘A lot of people who genuinely care for the women press them to have an abortion because of the impact of having a child, but if these women were offered support instead there would be no need for abortion.’
Clare seems to have been formed early for this work. Her pro-life journey started at a Catholic school where she found herself having to defend the Church’s position to fellow pupils and staff alike. While still at school, she was brought to vigils by her older sister, Rita, and so began her involvement in public pro-life witness. The creation of the Good Counsel Network in 1997 set her vocation on a better course. She began the work of Good Counsel Network, and every day since then has only confirmed its importance to her. Consequently, she shows no sign of giving up the fight anytime soon. As she says: ‘It’s like what happened in Nazi Germany; how can you walk away when you know there is a massacre taking place?’
For all her idealism, Clare is a practical, ‘no nonsense’ woman. Even as we talked, her cell phone kept ringing telling of women on their way to meet her, women who had kept their babies but who still faced many difficulties: one, for example, who was about to be evicted from her home. This is all in a day’s work for Clare. This is also part of the reality that recent media portrayals of her have chosen to ignore. She tells of television producers who have been openly hostile to the Good Counsel Network. Even though Clare patiently takes them through all aspects of the center and the different ways it helps women, they still return to the same tired jibes about her ‘not caring about women’. This is even worse with media professionals who visit the center under the banner of objective reporting. They are introduced to many women who have been helped, only later to edit any film or news report in such a way as to be a travesty of what took place at the center in interview.
Take, for example, the undercover reporter who last year came to the center pretending to be pregnant and then ran a story in the national press alleging Clare was a ‘fanatic’ and had given misleading advice to pregnant women. That was a difficult time for Clare and her family—she is a wife and mother—but she has come through it and, if anything, appears yet more prepared to suffer for the cause about which she is passionate, namely, the lives of the unborn and their mother’s wellbeing.
When asked what sustains her in this work, Clare cites her faith. The Good Counsel Network center has a small oratory in its basement where Holy Mass is celebrated most days, and where adoration of the Eucharist takes place. ‘This is where the real support and the real drive to keep going is,’ she insists. Interestingly, over the years, she is more convinced than ever that ‘being pro-life has made me stronger in my faith, but,’ she adds, ‘tomorrow if I lost my faith I could never agree with abortion, knowing what it is.’ That said, she has known all along that what she is engaged in is, essentially, a spiritual battle.
The verbal abuse at vigils and the vilification in the media, Clare maintains, are nothing compared to the spiritual attacks that, from time to time, manifest themselves. It is mysterious, if perhaps inevitable, because, as she explains, ‘Satan knows where to hit you’.
After some 20 years working to establish the Good Counsel Network, I ask her if it has been worth it. As befits this practical woman, Clare replies with one incontrovertible fact: ‘London’s abortion figures have been falling year on year for the last eleven years.’ She puts this down largely to the greater prevalence of prayer vigils outside clinics in the last decade. Recently, for example, one central London abortuary was closed after just such a vigil. As a consequence, the abortion providers are all too aware of the Good Counsel Network. She knows this because regularly they complain about its work to anyone willing to listen whether in the media, politics or in government. It is not unusual, therefore, for official regulatory agencies to arrive at the center armed with a complaint of some sort emanating from an abortion provider.
At the end of the day, abortion is big business. In the past ten years alone in the United Kingdom, £757,832,800 ($993,602,162) of taxpayers’ money has been paid to private sector abortionists. In comparison, the Good Counsel Network operates purely on Providence and a shoestring budget when viewed alongside the vast industrial complex of abortion providers ranged against it.
Inevitably, Clare’s cell phone kept buzzing, and the doorbell ringing. She has to attend to the women who were arriving, and so our interview ends. As I leave, however, I ask Clare if she could tell me of just one of the approximately 3,000 pregnant women whom the Good Counsel Network has supported to become mothers?
She told me of ‘Jane’ who came to see her twenty years ago. Pressured by her mother to have an abortion, ‘Jane’ was unsure what to do. Alarmingly, she was also 20 weeks pregnant. In session after session (which sometimes ran until 2:00am), with an increasingly desperate woman, Clare talked her through alternatives: help with accommodation, finances and such like. In the end, ‘Jane’ kept her baby.
Twenty years later, ‘Jane’ was invited to speak at a conference organized by the Good Counsel Network. Her mother came too. This woman, now a grandmother, was conscious that what she had tried to procure decades earlier was something very wrong, and thanked Clare for the better outcome that she had helped to accomplish instead. And that day there was someone else present as well: ‘Jane’s’ now 20-year-old daughter. Those assembled were told by ‘Jane’ of how her daughter was currently at university, training to be a doctor. And so goes the fight for life and truth, one meeting, phone call, and prayer at a time.
• Here is a recent video from The Good Counsel Network with a young mother telling her story: