On January 22, 1973, with the bang of a gavel, seven men in Washington, D.C. consigned tens of millions of future Americans to an incredibly premature death. These Americans were condemned to die before they were born by what one dissenting justice, Byron White, called “an act of raw judicial power.”
I refer, of course, to the companion abortion decisions of the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
When he first read about the decision, a Christian businessman from Chicago was dumbfounded. Joe Scheidler decided to quit his career in publicity and to work full time on behalf of the unborn babies, eventually founding the Pro-Life Action League.
Jump ahead more than forty years later, and Joe Scheidler is still going strong for the pro-life cause. He is one of the pioneers of “sidewalk counseling,” which has saved countless thousands of unborn babies that would have been aborted otherwise.
Last week, on September 7, 2017, he turned 90 years old. He’s been called the “Father of Pro-Life Activism.”
Prior to Roe v. Wade, Joe Scheidler was an activist on behalf of the racially oppressed. Writer and publicist Tom Ciesielka notes: “In the spring of 1965 he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a natural jump from speaking out for the civil rights of disenfranchised African-Americans to defending the right to life of unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, stood by Scheidler in his legal battles to protect the lives of children in the womb.”
With his son, Peter, Scheidler has written his autobiography, Racketeer for Life, which came out last year. The title derives its name from some heavy duty lawsuits against him, which he has won—after dealing with them nearly 30 years. He was charged with being a “racketeer.” In other words, although engaged in peaceful pro-life demonstrations, he was brought up on charges from a law (RICO—Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) normally used to put away gangsters.
About twenty years ago when prosecutors stared charging peaceful, prolife demonstrators under the RICO statute, TIME Magazine published a memorable line. I never forgot it. “Mother Teresa, Meet Michael Corleone.”
Ciesielka writes, “The ‘Godfather’ of the pro-life movement was victorious in the Supreme Court—twice…The RICO…laws were originally designed to address organized crime. No mobster, ‘Godfather’ Joe won lopsided victories at the Supreme Court in both 2003 (8-1) and 2006 (8-0), and was finally vindicated once and for all in 2014 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.”
Recently I interviewed Joe Scheidler on the radio about these cases. (I’ve often interviewed his son, Eric, who is a walking encyclopedia on Planned Parenthood.) Joe told me he was accused of taking business away from somebody (abortion clinics) illegally. He told our listeners: “If we were taking business from anyone—we were converting women who really didn’t want to have an abortion but needed some counsel, and that’s all we were doing. If [the abortionists] lost some money, that was their problem. We weren’t getting any money.”
He adds, “The whole thing was mistaken, made up, and very hard to fight—because they could bring in anybody they wanted to tell as many lies as they wanted.” It’s also interesting to note that these cases depended upon the assumption that Planned Parenthood is indeed a money-making business.
Scheidler’s attorney in his weary battle in the courts was Tom Brejcha, formerly of a Chicago law firm. But Scheidler couldn’t really afford his services. When Brejcha’s firm gave him an ultimatum, effectively saying, “Either you drop the case and continue working for us, or you go out on your own and represent Scheidler.”
Brejcha decided to continue helping Scheidler. At first his office was in an abandoned building without heating in the brutal Chicago winters and without air conditioning in the summers.
But through it all, the Thomas More Society in Chicago was born. Now they do some of the leading work around the country on behalf of pro-life activities and religious freedom.
One of the times his case was before the Supreme Court, Scheidler was delighted to hear some of the justices in debate: “Their own arguments were very, very good. They’d say, ‘Well, Martin Luther King, was he a racketeer? Because you know, he was marching and leading large groups in protest and against the ill treatment of his race.’ We were doing basically the same thing to save the unborn.”
Scheidler doesn’t want anyone to send him a birthday card. He says instead: “Send them to Planned Parenthood. Ask them to stop aborting babies, so that these children can live to celebrate their own birthdays.”