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Joe ScheidlerLifeSiteNews

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – If there’s one thing the godfather of the pro-life movement has learned from all his years of activism, it’s that the work of saving the unborn is a boots-on-the-ground, year-round endeavor.

Some of the methods in the fight for life may have changed in the past 40 years, Joe Scheidler says, but pro-lifers must still be engaged in a direct and consistent way.

“You have to do something about it. And the thing to do is to talk to the people that are pro-abortion. Talk to the women that are going for abortions,” Scheidler said, stressing current success in on-site conversions. “You can go right there where they have the abortions. And many times those women are not a hundred percent certain, and we’ve had tremendous success in converting people.”

The fight for the right to life continues

“I would say do something every day,” Scheidler told LifeSiteNews during an extended interview at the March for Life. “Don’t just come to a march once a year and say you’ve done your pro-life duty.”

“In our country, we kill about a million babies every year, thousands a day,” he emphasized. “We have to save those children. Those are human beings; they’re us. And our government has just said, “They’re nothing.”

The Pro-Life Action League founder’s new memoir, Racketeer for Life: Fighting the Culture of Death From the Sidewalk to the Supreme Court, details Scheidler’s four-plus decades of pro-life activism.

The memoir from Tan Books also chronicles Scheidler’s infamous 28-year legal battle with the National Organization of Women (NOW).

In Scheidler v. NOW, the feminist group brought a racketeering and extortion suit against Scheidler with the false claim he organized violence or threats of such to shut down abortion facilities across the U.S.

The case went before the Supreme Court a record three times, with Scheidler finally prevailing in 2014.

Scheidler marks the time in the case around milestones in his children’s lives.

“My youngest son, Matthias, was four years old when I was sued by NOW and the abortion clinics,” Scheidler said. “He was 32 when the case was finally over.”

Still leading in the pro-life movement

Scheidler’s 1985 book, Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, is considered a landmark guide to pro-life activism. He is regarded as paving the way for today’s movement in all its forms.

Himself the target of violence at his home and elsewhere, Scheidler has taken it in stride and even forgiven perpetrators.

Telling his story

The idea for his latest book developed when two Pro-Life Action League volunteers asked how they could help while only having availability on Saturdays. He asked them to come and transcribe for him.

Scheidler recounted, “So I said, “Why don’t you come in Saturdays and I’ll tell you some stories. And maybe it’ll turn into a book.”

“It’s just that simple,” he told LifeSiteNews. “You know, if you tell enough stories, after awhile you have a manuscript. It’s the only way to write a book.”

Scheidler was impressed with how the volunteers kept up with his retelling of more than 40 years of pro-life advocacy.

“I had a lot of stories,” he said. “I enjoyed doing it.”

Distorting truth to preserve abortion

Going back through the specifics of Scheidler v. NOW for the book, Scheidler recalled how the feminist group twisted his pro-life work in court to paint him as guilty of violence.  

“I just thought it was interesting because, working through the racketeering case, I was doing all the stuff that they charged me with doing,” he said. “Going to clinics, talking to women, talking to the doctors, trying to convert who we could.”

Scheidler continued, “Doing the things in court that they made look like violent acts. Go to a clinic, talk to the girls — they would have us hitting people with our signs.”

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After nearly three decades of wrangling in court, often with the deck stacked against him and at one point the family having to put their home up for bond, Scheidler said, “And through it all, I got to learn a little bit about the law.”

The case resulted in the founding of the Thomas More Society.

“They’re doing great work. If nothing else came out of that case, we got a great law institute,” Scheidler said of the legal non-profit, then kidded, “And my book!”

If abortionists read it, they hate it, he said, and write “really bad reviews on Amazon.” But pro-lifers love it.

A story that must be told

This history of the activist and legal sides of the pro-life movement is an important story that must be told, he said.

“I think nowadays people should know,” he stated, “especially young people coming into the movement that don’t have this background of when we had to do it all. I mean, you start a pro-life movement, where’d you go?”

“But the story needed to be told and I think young people should read it,” Scheidler said, “and I think the abortionists should read it to see our motivation.”

God often works through our children

Being a parent is what drives many to deeper involvement in the pro-life fight, Scheidler included.

Two experiences involving his children defined his immersion into pro-life activism.

Scheidler said one reason was the fact his wife Ann was pregnant with their first daughter after three sons when the Roe v. Wade decision was issued.

“And I realized January 22, 1973 — she was of no value,” he stated, almost whispering.

Scheidler couldn’t believe his daughter had no protection from the government for which he’d served in the Navy in WWII.

“And to think that my daughter had no protection, had no value to my government, to the United States, the greatest country in the whole world,” he said further. “And, it was taken away, she was nothing. And I resented that.”

The other crucial moment for him occurred year before in 1972, when Scheidler attended a pro-life rally and saw a picture of a black bag containing the bodies of aborted babies.

“And one of those babies looked like my son, Eric, who is now the executive director of Pro-Life Action League,” Scheidler recounted. “And I took it personally.”

“That did it,” he said. “I would say that’s when I realized abortion was taking the lives of real human beings, and, that can’t be right.”

Later the following January when the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, Scheidler said he went into shock.

Other times God uses our friends

Then an account executive for a PR firm, Scheidler said he got together with his boss, a fellow Notre Dame graduate, who told Scheidler that he should go full time in pro-life work because he’d lost interest in his clients.

With young children and a baby on the way, Scheidler wondered how they’d get by, but he recalls thinking, “How can I be selling Telemea cheese when they’re killing my children?”

He recalled his boss told him, “You’ve got PR skills, you’ll get a following. And we’ve kept going now for 44 years.”

Where pro-lifers in the past had to do it all; counseling, revealing the truth about abortion, said Scheidler, the work is more specialized now.

A new day in the fight

He lauded pro-life leaders of today for doing what his group could not but whom they opened the door for, such as David Daleiden and David Bereit. 

“40 Days (for Life), staying at the clinic 40 days, we didn’t do that,” Scheidler said. “We tried it, after a couple days (we stopped) … I told David Bereit it’ll never work. (Now) It’s all over the world.”

“There has been a lot of change, and specialization,” stated Scheidler, who will turn 90 in September. “And there’s a lot of optimism.”

Like many, he’s encouraged by the renewed pro-life climate in Washington and the hope for overturning Roe v. Wade.

Pray and work

As a former Benedictine seminarian, the rule of St. Benedict’s has stuck with Scheidler.

Ora et labora,” he told LifeSiteNews. “You pray and you work. And that’s actually critical – Ora.”

“Because only God — you know, these are God’s children,” Scheidler explained. “These are His creatures, and we’re trying to keep them alive, to serve Him.”

“So I stress prayer quite a bit in the book,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Some people say, ‘Oh you only wanna pray.’ Yeah, you pray – then you work. But your work is based on your prayer and your trust in God.”

Joe Scheidler’s memoir can be purchased here.