That day I found him as expected outside the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament. As usual, he had a camera in his hand, filming, this time, a passing van that was displaying graphic images of the reality of abortion.
This was all part of a planned and legal protest that took place this week on the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act, the legislation that legalized abortion in Great Britain.
The man I had come to meet was a fixture at such pro-life events. His name is Joe Clovis. He is hard to sum-up: there are so many strings to his many bows. He is an activist, a filmmaker, an organizer of prayer vigils and much else besides. For nearly 40 years he has been campaigning, by whatever legal means he can find, utilizing whatever talents he has, to end abortion in this country. He trained as a cameraman, for example, solely so that he could document and explain the pro-life cause better.
On this day, opposite the entrance to the Houses of Parliament, there was a protest involving a display of abortion images that were not for the faint-hearted. Joe would approach passing members of the public and ask them what they thought of the images and then try to engage them in conversation. More often than not, the result was that he was verbally abused. On some occasions, in the past, Joe has even been assaulted for his willingness to put the pro-life case.
During a break in the protest, we retired to a nearby coffee shop, and I looked at the man in front of me: I couldn’t think of a more mild-mannered man or good-humored one for that matter. He was also one of the most determined men I had met.
Joe is now 62 years old. He has 9 children – and another 4, who, he says, went early, through miscarriage, to heaven. In another life, he had a long career as an engineer. Now, however, his days are spent exclusively on pro-life activities; this is mostly unpaid work except, that is, for payment in derision and, the occasional, threat. As he says: ‘If you want to be loved, don’t become a pro-lifer.’ He doesn’t seem to care about being popular.
That said, the first thing you notice about Joe is his smile. He smiles and laughs a lot. He is a joyful man protesting against a business that is anything but joyful. And yet he knows more about the grim realities of that trade than most, and is not naïve about the state of contemporary Britain into which the Culture of Death has now sunk deep roots.
Joe sips his drink and then sighs wearily before saying: ‘I want to be out of this fight, but the fight isn’t done yet.’ And, indeed, it seems this ‘fight’ shows no sign of abating soon. In fact, it would be fair to say that on the horizon, and promising to arrive soon, are yet more restrictions on pro-life activities, together with challenges to the meager legislation that still exists to protect the unborn. These include attempts to overturn Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws and the British Medical Council’s recent calls for the decriminalization of all abortion. Things could get much worse.
The outlook may be bleak but this appears to make little difference to Joe. His stance has never been and never will be fashionable, nor does he expect to have many to assist him in his various projects. He is pragmatic about this: ‘If I didn’t organize prayer processions, then who else would?’ And organize them, he does: notably vigils outside the global headquarters of International Planned Parenthood (IPP), which is – surprisingly – not in the United States but in London. Each month, dressed in black, he leads a funereal procession to the IPP HQ. Those taking part carry white crosses in memory of the worldwide victims of abortion.
Upon arrival at the headquarters, Joe and the other mourners stand for a time in prayer. It is a peaceful protest that now elicits little reaction from those inside the building. Initially, when first he started the police were called, but even in modern Britain it is hard to arrest someone simply for praying in public.
I wonder if IPP would have remained so indifferent to these gatherings had they known of the day that Joe was accompanied by an exorcist. That day, one of London’s exorcists, robed in cassock and purple stole, with his hand held high in front of this global HQ for abortion, prayed the prayers of exorcism and deliverance.
Here’s a video of the exorcist’s prayers:
But then, Joe’s approach to pro-life activism has always been novel. There are not many involved in the pro-life effort who are able to say that they attended the main UK abortion provider’s business conference - as an invited guest. Joe is vague about how he managed to get a ticket but, on that day, he turned up with his camera and started interviewing those attending and speaking at the conference. All those whom he filmed seemed happy to be on camera when asked to do so by this amiable, seemingly disinterested, ‘journalist.’ So much was this so that he managed to catch some off-the-cuff remarks about performing ‘illegal abortions’ in certain named countries. Later that night, he uploaded the footage to a well-connected contact in Washington D.C. who, in turn, eventually, showed it to the then President, George W. Bush. So much is certain; Joe credits his undercover work with helping to alter U.S. foreign policy, for a while at least.
Joe’s pro-life work has taken him all over the world. For his trouble, he has been attacked by a Left-wing mob while filming a pro-life march in Germany – a country, he maintains, where the most viciousness is on display from counter-protestors; he has been surrounded by Satanists in Toronto who attacked a pro-life conference he was attending; harangued by London abortionists outside the facility wherein they were plying their trade; ambushed by angry feminists in Essex; as well as being stopped and questioned in various jurisdictions by police. Whether working undercover or on the front line, Joe has had an eventful 40 years, and yet he wears his courage lightly.
Needless to say, Joe’s Catholic faith is what motivates him, and allows him to keep fighting this all-important battle. Before heading out on any pro-life activity, Joe prays for protection - probably not as much, though, he tells me, as his wife prays that he not be arrested. He accepts that his choice to keep doing what he does has come at a cost to his personal safety. He trusts in God though, and in the intercession of Our Lady and St. Michael the Archangel. He attends Holy Mass every day, and daily prays the Rosary as well; without prayer, he admits, he would not be able to continue: he recognizes that prayer is part of his pro-life arsenal. Each month, for example, he holds a lonely vigil through the night in front of the brightly illuminated IPP HQ. He is convinced of the power of prayer in the battle in which he is engaged, and therefore in its eventual outcome. ‘In the end, the Immaculate Heart will triumph.’
On the 50th anniversary of legalized abortion in Britain, then, there appears yet more disconcerting news coming from the U.K. Yet Joe is living proof that the fight is far from over. He will continue to film, to record, to protest, to argue for the rights of the unborn to exist. But, above all, he will continue to pray.
When asked what the hardest thing is about all that he is engaged in, his response is surprising.
‘To know this is God’s Will for me.’
Before he heads back to Parliament Square, to the vitriol and worse, we say goodbye. It is clear that Joe has been called to a singular witness at this moment in Britain’s history and, more importantly, he has responded to that call. He agrees when I suggest this. Then he adds, ‘I may not be the best person for this, but I feel chosen to do it.’