He's Back at the Supreme Court - Marching
Joe Scheidler, sporting his trademark black fedora, is a familiar sight at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Scheidler is national director of the Pro-Life Action League, a Chicago-based organization that focuses on nonviolent direct action such as sidewalk counseling, demonstrations at abortion sites and confronting pro-life politicians. It also brings the abortion issue to the public via the media.
A racketeering charge brought against him by the National Organization for Women 17 years ago, which was upheld by lower courts, was reversed last year by the U.S. Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision. He spoke to Register correspondent Bob Horning about his pro-life work.
Tell me about your family growing up.
I was raised in Hartford City, Ind., a town of 7,000 not far from the Ohio border. My father was an entrepreneur. He had six different businesses going at one time, from owning theaters to farming to running an ice-and-coal company. My mother taught elementary school before the six of us came, then again after we were grown.
Both of my parents were devout Catholics. Whenever we traveled, we would look for a church to attend Mass — sometimes very early in the morning — and every day at home we prayed together. When my mom held up the rosary, that meant all conversation stopped and it was time to pray. My dad had two brothers who were priests, and my mother's brother, Leo Pursley, became the bishop of Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1956.
Are there any incidents that stand out from your youth?
When I was 6 years old, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was the center of national attention for months. Charles Lindbergh was a worldwide hero because of his solo transatlantic flight. Their son had been taken for ransom and later found dead.
Somehow that incident instilled in me a compassion for babies who are mistreated and a need to defend the helpless. Maybe because whenever my mother had a new baby, it was a time of great celebration. It grieves my heart to know that children are being abused. These babies who are aborted are “my” children. It is very personal for me.
What got you into pro-life work?
At one time, I thought I was called to the priesthood. But four days before ordination I realized I didn't really have a vocation. I wrote for the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune for a while and taught speech at the University of Notre Dame. But I didn't really know God's plan for me.
Then when abortion was legalized in 1973,I knew I would spend the rest of my life fighting it. I hate injustice. I can't stand it. That's what had motivated me to march with Martin Luther King Jr. I can look back now and see how God was preparing me for this work.
Marchers in D.C. this week will be celebrating the passage of a federal partial-birth abortion ban. What effect do you think the law will have?
It won't save many lives. One reason is that it can't be enforced because there is no one to monitor the doctor. Secondly, it will probably be ruled unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, it is good press. As a result of the debate on partial-birth abortion, people have been shown how ugly abortion is, and they begin to question those politicians who could vote for such a procedure. It keeps the abortion issue alive politically and in the public eye.
What kind of an approach should we take toward ending abortion?
Whatever happened to that old song, “Onward Christian Soldiers”? I look at abortion protesters as God's warriors, fighting evil. After all, we are the Church militant. There is a lot of evil out there, and we are in a war until death. The worst evil there could be is for a woman to kill her own child. There is an American holocaust going on.
We have to tell the truth and get others to face the truth. Graphics aren't popular, but it's too late to be nice. We go out on the highway, 150 of us, and line up, holding posters that graphically illustrate the consequences of abortion so that later when people hear or read the word “abortion,” they see those pictures in their mind. Abortion is ugly.
The other side says you are doing this because you want to deprive women of choice.
I would fight against abortion just for the women, even if I didn't believe in the humanity of the baby. We love women; they don't. Those who have come over to our side after working for abortion providers will tell you the motive behind abortion is money, not concern for women.
What is the future of the pro-life movement?
First, let me say that I believe we are on God's side, which means that ultimately we will win. The time will come in America when abortion will no longer be legal. I probably won't see it, but it will happen. Some day people will look back and envy us because we fought this battle.
The number of abortions has gone down steadily over the past 10 years. There are fewer clinics in operation, fewer doctors doing abortions. Young people are getting serious about this because they know they have survived abortion. One-quarter of their peers are not here. They are going to be great priests, great lawyers, great fighters against evil. We are winning youth, clergy, mothers. And as the laity are becoming more active, they are pushing the clergy to become more active also.
How can the average Catholic or Christian be involved?
People have power in America. That may sound corny, but it's true. I encourage everyone to go to an abortion site and just stand there. You don't have to do anything. Just your presence will be the conscience of the father and mother rushing in to kill their baby.
“Women suffer terribly from abortion. Abortion is destroying our nation, our marriages and our relationships, which means it is destroying women. We offer them real help.”
Recently, a lady who had an abortion said she would never have another one because of seeing a man kneeling in the snow, praying at an abortion site. Guards at the clinics tell us that they have to let women out the back door when these women decide against killing their baby as a result of seeing Christians praying at the site.
We can't depend on Congress. And we can't wait for the priests and bishops. They may not get involved. We are the Church militant. We need to preach the Gospel with our life.
Bob Horning writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
- January 18-24, 2004