One of the oldest canards of pro-abortion campaigners is that pro-life advocates only want to stop abortions, and don’t actually care for women, or for children what have already been born.
In reality, many dedicated men and women across the country offer their lives in service of women in circumstances which could otherwise drive them to seek an abortion.
Those ministries are often unknown, even when they have decades of fruitful work to show for their efforts.
Good Counsel Homes for mothers and babies began in Hoboken, New Jersey, in early 1985. It now has four maternity homes in the New York City metropolitan area, and has helped to set up nine others, across eight states. The homes aim to assist any pregnant and homeless mother in need, allowing her to stay for a year or longer, and offering her opportunities to return to school and work. And at every Good Counsel Home, mothers receive encouragement to grow spiritually.
Charlie Camosy talked with Christopher Bell, who cofounded Good Counsel Homes with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, about the mission of loving mothers and their children in the most desperate circumstances.
In addition to his work at Good Counsel, Chris advises other maternity homes and is a member of the pro-life commission of the Archdiocese of New York.
Give us a brief overview of what happens at a Good Counsel home.
At Good Counsel a mom can stay for a year or longer, return to school or work or both. We have free babysitting in the home. At night, one or two of the moms will cook dinner for everyone. We eat together and pray grace before meals. After cleaning up, there are usually life skills classes in parenting, child growth and development, spirituality and more.
We have a chapel with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and invite women to Mass. Most important, we’re trying to share the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ even though most of our moms are not Catholic. These days few have any relationship with any church or denomination. We pray to be open to help, like the Missionaries of Charity, to receive Christ and be witnesses of Christ.
Good Counsel’s Exodus program follows moms as they leave our home, trying to be a “big sister” helping moms in transition and staying in touch.
Can you give us a brief history of Good Counsel Homes? How did your organization come to be?
God certainly touched me. I didn’t know it at the time, but obviously the Lord was leading me. I realized late in college that no one could choose where you’re born or who raises you. I was greatly blessed with loving, caring parents. Then I found out about a program helping kids who were left homeless and abandoned in places where prostitutes and pimps were day and night. I thought helping kids who mostly never had loving parents would be a way to pay God back for all the good done to me. I thought I’d do that by volunteering, full-time, in a lay prayer community for a year. I thought that was all I needed to do.
Then, when I started living and working on 8th Ave. in Manhattan, in this prayer community, helping kids, some of whom were prostitutes, a young woman walked in the shelter with a baby.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“When I told my boyfriend, the father of my baby, I was pregnant, he told me to ‘get rid of that thing.’ I felt like I wanted to kill myself. But I knew I couldn’t hurt my baby. Then my mom said I had to be on my own, like she was when she was a mom.”
She looked at me and said, “Will you help me?” Holding up her child she said, “Will you help us?”
I quickly found out that there really was no place for a young woman who was almost 18, with a baby, to go. She wanted to go on to school, find a good job, give her baby a better life. There was no place like that for her. Her only options were public assistance – welfare – and a rat-infested, drug den called a welfare hotel.
I saw more and more pregnant and parenting women come into this shelter. I saw more moms on the street in need.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours, as we did in the prayer community, it was as if God spoke to me from Psalm 68: “God is father of the orphan, defender of the widow. God gives the lonely a home to dwell in.” Homeless moms may not be widows necessarily, but they are without husbands. Their children may not be orphans in the strict sense, but in Latin America children without fathers are considered orphaned.
The Lord made it very clear in many other ways. I finally talked with my spiritual director, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, of happy memory. When he said, “I’ll help you start a home for mothers and babies” then it really sounded like God was saying, “Go! Do this now.”
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., the seminary professor and psychologist who helped form the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and wrote more than 30 books, was both an influence on this project and a partner for you, right?
He’s been the most influential priest in my life. As a priest and psychologist and having started his own home to help abandoned young men – St. Francis Home - he truly helped lead me on that path closer to the Lord, and practically he showed me how to deal with every kind of situation I never imagined. His gentle guidance and correction were invaluable. His name helped open many doors because it seemed that every priest in New York or New Jersey actually knew him. They were more willing to let me speak in their parish or take up a collection for our moms and babies.
He helped me out of the depths of despair when I was trying to help a mom after many weeks or months and then it seemed she’d leave and everything in her life that was going well fell apart.
When funds and staffing were low, his encouragement as well as material support got us through. He’d recommend other people and organizations to help. Many of his relatives and friends were among our first supporters.
Fr. Benedict has to be considered the co-founder of Good Counsel because without his guidance and support, I don’t think the doors would ever have opened. He became the first chairman of Good Counsel’s Board of Directors and remained there until the Lord called him home. He was always helpful in all practical as well as spiritual ways.
In terms of numbers and statistics, what can you say you’ve done since starting?
Good Counsel will take in any pregnant mother in need including those with other born children. We also welcome women who are older or from out of state or out of country, including now those who have mental health or addiction issues — without question.
We can count more than 8,000 women and children spending some 775,000 nights in a Good Counsel home since 1985. The average stay now is about a year. Many women have returned to school – both high school and college – received vocational training, found work for the first time and also career positions.
We’ve seen 1,265 babies born in our homes. Many more women and babies have been counseled and supported through our national helpline - 1.800.723.8331 – nearly 45,000 since that began in 1996.
Let me also mention that Good Counsel has been able to directly help 9 other maternity homes open in 8 states. We’ve helped form the Pregnancy Services Network of Greater New York to coordinate and improve better services for women in the N.Y.C. metropolitan area. Also, Good Counsel is one of the founding members of the National Maternity Housing Coalition, now more than 100 maternity homes throughout the country.
So many people are having ‘after Dobbs’ conversations now about the direction of the pro-life movement. I see this as really a good thing.
From your perspective, where do the pro-life movements need to go if Roe and Casey are overturned?
The briefest way I can answer that question is to say we need to share the twin good news more boldly: There’s hope for every pregnant woman and child – every pregnant woman and child! There’s forgiveness and mercy for every person who’s been involved in an abortion.
We need every American to know that pro-lifers have always and will continue to help pregnant women through birth and beyond.
Also, men and women who’ve been involved in abortion at any level, in any way, need to know that God forgives. You don’t have to be religious to need to hear that you can mourn the loss of your child and be forgiven. You can find healing, hope and compassionate care. Good Counsel has a special program for men as well as women and siblings involved in abortion called Lumina, which has helped so many people heal.
There’s lots of debate on about what kinds of public policies actual help women and families who are at risk from abortion.
You’re deeply enmeshed in the on-the-ground realities — From your perspective, if we want to address so-called ‘abortion demand’ what are the best kind of policies we can pursue?
First thing is cut off all state and federal funds, every cent, to fund abortion. The government – meaning you and me and our tax dollars – does not need to pay for the ending of any innocent life, ever!
Next, let the state and federal government give increased tax credits to people who donate directly to helping single mothers in need. Better that individuals help on a local level through private donations than have another bureaucracy try to help the many and varied needs of women and children around the nation.
Just as importantly, we need to use our incredible insights in medicine and psychology to help those who have mental health problems. Too many homeless, pregnant women have serious issues, and right now they are literally kept out of mental health services due to restricted government reimbursements for care.
Government run schools have to get out of the “health education” business. They should stop teaching amoral and immoral issues regarding family life.