Requiem for the “godfather of pro-life activism”
Thanks to the work of Joseph M. Scheidler, countless people live today. Those who oppose abortion owe him thanks.
Joseph Scheidler (C), leader of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and Randall Terry (R) of Operation Rescue stand behind Fay Clayton, lawyer for the National Organization of Women (NOW) as she speaks to the press on Dec. 4, 2002 Washington , DC (Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
The legendary pro-life activist Joseph M. Scheidler took his last breath on the morning of January 18, 2020 at the age of 93, surrounded by his family. Scheidler, known to the movement as the “godfather of pro-life activism,” fought against sidewalk abortion to the Supreme Court (as the subtitle of his memoir) Racket for life memorable), and during his career he met everyone from President Ronald Reagan to Pope John Paul II. Knowing Joe a little meant loving him, and losing him meant mourning for a hero who has lived almost half a century long fought for the life of the unborn. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.
Scheidler was always offended by injustices, and while participating in the civil rights movement, marched with Dr. King of Selma to Montgomery. He had a successful career in public relations when faced with the reality of abortion in November 1972. At the suggestion of his wife Ann, Scheidler participated in an anti-abortion rally in Chicago led by Congressman Henry Hyde. He received a booklet and inside was a photo taken of a garbage bag of dead babies in a Canadian hospital. One of them, he told me the last time we spoke, looked just like his son Eric (who now runs the Pro-Life Action League instead of his father). It was the catalyst for a life of activism.
Scheidler began working full-time with Illinois Right to Life, but his bold tactics unsettled less confrontational activists. Scheidler wanted to wake America from its deadly slumber with his signature Fedora und Megaphon. He publicly showed photos of abortion victims; he made speeches; he picket clinics (some closed); He drew relentless reluctant eyes back to the truth he loved to forget. Patrick Buchanan called him the “Green Beret” of the pro-life movement. In 1980 he founded the Pro-Life Action League. His organization eventually spawned copycat groups across the country, and in 1985 Scheidler published his first book, entitled Closed: 99 Ways To Stop Abortion.
Scheidler describes many extraordinary moments in his 2016 memoir, but the most powerful one is his account of retrieving trash bags filled with aborted babies with his activist Monica Miller. One by one, he and the other rescuers photographed the dead children. One stayed with him: “It was a little boy who was at least six months pregnant and was cut into pieces by the abortionist,” he wrote. “We took him and put his broken body on a paper towel.” On May 6, 1987, pro-life activists took the aborted children they had taken from the garbage on a hearse to the front of the clinic where they had been killed and carefully placed them on long tables. Passers-by – and the press – were stunned.
In a culture where children are treated as garbage, Christians have to become garbage collectors, said Scheidler.
“It was emotionally troubling to see the little people,” he told me decades later. “There were twins … Monica photographed hundreds of them.” These photos would be used by activists across the country and around the world to expose what was going on behind closed doors and to inspire countless men and women to get involved, including many leaders who publicized the abortion debates in their respective countries would make and redesign.
The abortion industry hated Joe Scheidler, and along with several other pro-life activists, he was the lead defendant in a RICO lawsuit filed by two abortion clinics and the National Organization for Women. NOW v. Scheidler was filed in 1986, and after an initial win in the lower courts, the case was referred back to federal court by the US Supreme Court in 1994. Scheidler and his fellow activists were found guilty of extortion by a six-person jury – a decision that was finally overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003. NOW appealed to the Seventh Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Scheidler’s favor in 2006. According to the Pro-Life Action League, NOW continued to battle details of the verdict in the district court, and it wasn’t until 2014 – decades after the trial began – that the organization was finally forced to pay costs.
When I interviewed Joe in 2019, I asked him about the ups and downs in his long career. The lows, he told me, were the many disappointments that came from religious and political leaders who claimed to believe in God but betrayed the pro-life movement. The highlights, he said, were the people he had met – the young people who got into the movement and the many heroes who had already gone before him. And of course there were the many babies who were saved from abortion because of Scheidler’s work. He’s always been humble about his impact, but pro-life leaders around the world have stories about Joe and how his dedication, activism, and the relentless love he had for those around him inspired them to follow his example.
Until the end, Joe Scheidler used his voice for those who didn’t have one. In his 90s, he was still giving speeches, meeting other pro-lifers, and attending events whenever he could. “It’s such an important issue to me, I just can’t let go of it,” he told me. “It was my life. It’s a struggle I have to stay in until I can’t work anymore or until I die.” His message to fellow activists was simple, “You’re glad you’re alive. Try someone else on To preserve life. “
Countless people live today because of Joseph M. Scheidler. Many of them don’t even know his name or that he fought for them. But we do and we are grateful for his life and legacy. We already miss him.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His comment appeared in National reviewThe European Conservative, the National Post and elsewhere. Jonathon is the author of The culture war and Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face Abortion Victims as well as being co-authored with Blaise Alleyne from A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.
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