For those who knew him, Joe Scheidler was not a man but a legend. His life-long battle against abortion went beyond sidewalk protesting and made its way to the Supreme Court. He entered the fight totally and unreservedly. Wherever abortion reared its ugly head, people could expect to see Joe with his bullhorn nearby. Pro-lifers everywhere mourned his death from pneumonia on January 18 at the age of 93.
He will forever be remembered for his unyielding attitude toward an abortion industry that persecuted him for decades through lawsuits and vilification. His death came just as the announcement that the March for Life was canceled due to COVID and security concerns. It was almost a fitting though unintentional tribute to him that there could be no March for Life without Joe’s towering presence.
Joe was the supreme activist that sided with the good cause. He always enjoyed telling the story of how as a six-year-old boy, he visited the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame and saw figures of winged angels carrying spears. He asked his Aunt Frieda why these angels looked like soldiers. “That’s what they are,” she said. “They fight Satan.”
The activist angels served as a model for his long and honorable fight for the unborn. The Chicago resident soon started the Pro-Life Action League, from where he gained the title of the “godfather of pro-life activism.” He came up with many of the pro-life tactics that became the scourge of the pro-abortion establishment. His 99 Ways to Stop Abortion listed the peaceful and legal things people could do to shut down the industry. Many clinics closed.
His distinctive persona made him a fixture in the pro-life movement both in America and the world. The tall bearded figure in suit and trenchcoat could be counted on to go anywhere to carry out his always peaceful yet successful action. He was also effective on the sidewalks, where he proved to be very successful in convincing women not to enter the abortion clinics.
His effectiveness soon incurred the wrath of the pro-abortion establishment. In 1986, the National Organization for Women targeted Joe Scheidler in a lawsuit that alleged pro-life violence had been used to interfere with abortion clinics. The lawsuit distorted a federal racketeering law, trying to apply it to his activism. The case served to harass him for 20 years as it worked its way through the courts. In 2006, he finally won a decisive victory at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joe Scheidler was also a man of deep faith. He was a practicing Catholic who took seriously what the Church teaches on abortion and the moral law. He never hesitated to affirm Church teaching or coax timid Catholics out of their complacency. He was passionate and combative when need be, charitable to all and devoted to the Blessed Virgin and her rosary.
Joe supported many TFP initiatives. About the book, Return to Order, by TFP Vice President John Horvat, he wrote: “The depth of knowledge and originality of Horvat’s analysis, plus the scope and inspiration of his vision for a true solution to our current economic crisis, make Return to Order worthy of becoming the bedside book for those who believe America is worth fighting for.”
After a long and exhausting life fighting against abortion, it would seem that he may finally rest in peace. However, for Joe, the admirer of activist angels in heaven, he might have other ideas.