Joy, Disbelief and Planning for the Work Ahead: Veterans of the Pro-Life Movement Reflect on Roe’s Reversal
Pro-life stalwarts reflect on 49 years of Roe, celebrate the Supreme Court decision, and discuss the coming effort to spread the pro-life message in the states.
WASHINGTON — Some who began pro-life work soon after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 celebrated today, 49 years later, as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and sent decision-making on abortion back to the states. After five decades of pro-life work, veterans of the movement took time to reflect on how so many worked for this moment before looking ahead to the pro-life work that is just beginning.
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-life Action League, has been involved in pro-life work since 1980, when his parents, Joe and Ann Scheidler, founded the organization he now leads. He told the Register Friday that his first thought in hearing the news was “a tremendous sense of gratitude for the sacrifice of those pro-life leaders like my father who prepared the way for this day that aren’t with us here today.”
Pro-Lifers Who Paved the Way
He praised the work of “Paul Brown from American Life League and Jim Sedlak from Stop Planned Parenthood; Mildred Jefferson, the pioneering Black female doctor who was such an important voice early on; Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the former abortionist, one of the architects of legal abortion who became a pro-life advocate and a faithful Catholic; and so many others.”
“I’m especially gratified at the role that activist organizations like the Pro-Life Action League have played in keeping this issue before the public,” he added. “We have not allowed the American people to forget about abortion as much as the other side has tried to foist their propaganda on us and normalize and destigmatize abortion. They’ve never succeeded because we’ve been out there showing the reality of abortion, talking about the impact of abortion on our families, on mothers, and inviting them to care about the fate of unborn children.”
Scheidler noted the “tremendous amount of work ahead,” saying the decision “really opens the doors to an entirely new phase for the pro-life movement.” He said he was encouraged to see “some of the steps that have been made towards not just limiting or even banning abortion, but also toward providing assistance to families.”
Maria McFadden Maffuci, editor in chief of The Human Life Review, which was founded by her father, J.P. McFadden, in 1975, told the Register that when she heard that Roe was overturned, “I just immediately thought of my parents and especially my father, who right after Roe v. Wade began his struggle to defend the unborn. I just can’t believe in some ways that it’s happened, but I am just so grateful that it has.”
“I know that there’s so much hard work and danger ahead,” she said, “but I think we have to take this moment and just praise God because the Roe decision was a moral stain on our country, just as the Dred Scott decision was, because it took rights away from a whole class of human beings, and it’s important for our country that it was reversed. I am incredibly grateful to everyone in the pro-life movement.”
She credited the Dobbs decision being possible in part to “the efforts to get conservative justices on the Supreme Court,” but said “the pro-life movement has been working constantly for the last almost 50 years. So many people have worked for this. So many people who have now died spent their lives working for this. You can’t underestimate all that perseverance in what seemed like a lost cause and every effort reached a point where it swayed history, but there were so many disappointments along the way.”
Maffucci cautioned that “much of the culture is not ready for this because the culture has been so steeped in this for almost 50 years. Women are panicking because they’ve been told that their success lies in having access to abortion, so there is so much work to do, as far as trying to reach out and really help women in need and trying to find areas where we might find common ground.”
“When my dad founded the Review in 1975, he said at the start, most Americans don’t really understand what Roe means, and need to be educated, and one of the remarkable things about almost 50 years is that people still don’t understand what Roe did,” she said, emphasizing the need for greater education, as most Americans don’t realize that Roe permitted abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.
Unity in Legislative Work and Prayer
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a pro-life stalwart and Catholic lawmaker since 1981, told the Register Friday that he is “very grateful to God for this opportunity for the unborn child to be further protected,” and the decision means “many states and, hopefully, eventually the federal government will be empowered, to protect babies to the greatest extent of the law and equally to protect their mothers; as we've always said, they’re co-victims.”
Smith began his pro-life work in college just before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, when he was struck with the conviction that the unborn child had rights that were being overlooked in the debate over abortion. He credits many pro-life groups and leaders with uniting around the issue and persevering in their work. He praised the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pro-life committee as well as the Knights of Columbus. He added that “we’ve got a lot of evangelicals who have really stepped up. It’s created a better understanding among the denominations about how the centrality of Christ is what our faith is all about. We do have some differences on dogma, but we’re all united on trying to defend life.”
He referenced his time as executive director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee in the 1970s, saying, “the beauty of the NRLC is that they have state affiliates that are very effective. They practice disciplined tactics; they really tried to do what is doable.” He praised Susan B. Anthony List (now Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America) for “bringing more women on the pro-life side into public office” over the years.
“Everyone has a niche, and they do wonderful work,” he said, “on the education side, the political side, and on the service side and on the spiritual side. I do think, apart from prayer, today would not have happened. And any successes that are realized, it’s by the power of Jesus Christ.”
He said there were an estimated “63 and a half million dead babies, the size of all the population in Italy,” due to abortion since the Roe decision, and “we should be mourning those children, and out of respect for other children who are at risk, leaving no stone unturned in protecting life.”
Continued Work in Congress
Looking ahead to the future, particularly in Congress, Smith warned that pro-abortion lawmakers in the House and Senate will push for the so-called “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which would permit abortion until birth. “We’re concerned, obviously, that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will try to resurrect it on the Senate side,” he said. “People like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have to stay firm, because he has said some things that are very disconcerting about that; he’s disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court.” He wondered how Manchin, who has previously held a pro-life stance, could be disappointed when the court gave “the ability for lawmakers to make law while simultaneously getting rid of this false constitutional right to abortion.”
The legislation, which earlier was passed by the Democrat-controlled House, failed in the Senate on May 11 by a 51-49 vote, underscoring the fact that Democrats do not have the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority needed to advance abortion legislation there. Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona joined Manchin in signaling unwillingness to abolish the filibuster with the Democrats’ simple 51-vote majority after the leak of the draft in Dobbs.
Smith said the window of time before the midterm elections is “a very vulnerable time for legislating” because of President Joe Biden’s aggressive pro-abortion stance. “I couldn't be more disappointed and disgusted with his pandering to the abortion lobby,” he said, referencing Biden’s reversals on the abortion issue, including abandoning his past opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion.
Former Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski, a pro-life Democrat and Catholic who served in Congress from 2005 to 2021, told the Register that his first reaction to the news was disbelief. “I never really believed that I would see this day. I didn’t imagine after all these years that, finally, Roe would be overturned,” he said. “It’s great to see.” He said for the pro-life movement, “it’s especially important now that we increase our support for pregnancy-support centers, to demonstrate the real care that we do want to provide for women who may be considering abortion.”
He cited the March for Life as being among the organizations that have “been really critical in bringing people together.” He added that the pro-life movement has been “a real grassroots movement; the organizations have done a very good job of organizing the grassroots, but it hasn't been top down: It's from parishes, church groups and others who have come together.”
He said that while the decision does leave abortion up to state legislatures, “we can’t forget that Congress can legislate nationally on abortion,” referencing “an effort to pass a ban on abortion at 15 weeks nationally.” Republicans in Congress may have an opportunity to push for such measures, depending on the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections. He said polling showed that “a pretty significant majority of Americans support that.” Gallup recently found that 55% of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the second trimester, and 71% thought it should be illegal in the third trimester.
He added that he was “happy to see that there has been movement in the Republican Party among some Republicans, in terms of proposals out there for changing tax policy that would help families with children,” and called for “more of looking at: What can government do to help women who are pregnant and also to help families?”
A Time of Education
Janet Morana, executive director at Priests for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness campaign, told the Register that after more than three decades of pro-life work, seeing the Supreme Court overturn Roe was a wonderful moment. “I personally knew Norma McCorvey [the plaintiff Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade seeking an abortion, but who later became pro-life],” she said referencing a conversation with McCorvey “less than an hour before she passed,” where McCorvey told her, “Please continue the fight; please work to overturn Roe v. Wade.” Morana said, “I promised her we would. So, my first reaction today is, ‘Norma, promises kept.’ We have done it. Roe is finally overturned.”
She called this time a “time of education” because “so many people are confused about: What does this law mean? What does this mean that it got overturned? Where do we go from here? So the job now in the pro-life movement is to educate everyone and do more conversion of hearts and minds, so that more and more state legislatures will want to protect the unborn and their moms from abortion.”
She noted the progress made within the pro-life movement, saying, “back when Roe was decided, we didn’t have hardly any pregnancy centers in our nation, and now there are over 2,700 of them nationwide. We outnumber the abortion clinics at least four or five to one. We’re at a very different time, and there are also safe-haven laws, too, in every state where a woman, no questions asked, can leave her child in the hospital at birth or soon after, by bringing it even to a fire station.”
“There are a lot of resources for women now so that they don’t have to feel like the only choice is abortion,” she said. “I think with the overturning of Roe, this will give them more of a pause to think.”
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