An Interview with Joseph Scheidler
the “Green Beret” of the pro-life movement
By John Mallon
For Inside the Vatican
Conducted February 2, 1998
Joseph M. Scheidler is National Director of the Pro-Life Action League, a national pro-life educational and activist organization headquartered in Chicago. Joe left a career in public relations to become a full-time pro-life activist shortly after the U. S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade opinion in 1973. When his brand of on-the-streets direct action met with resistance from established pro-life organizations, he and his wife, Ann decided to found the Pro-Life Action League in 1980. It has been said that Joseph Scheidler defined pro-life direct action. View more at: https://prolifeaction.org/joe/
Inside the Vatican: Mr. Scheidler, you have an important court case coming up. Could you tell us about that, and where it stands?
JOSEPH SCHEIDLER: Well, NOW vs. Scheidler is a federal suit in the 7th circuit court here in Chicago. It's been going for eleven years and 10 months, and it started out as an anti-trust case The National Organization for Women, and 2 chains of abortion clinics were upset that we are shutting down so many abortion clinics through our non-violent direct action. We've talked abortionists out of doing abortions, we've talked women out of having abortions, and as a result, some of these clinics were losing business and actually going out of business. So, they filed a suit against us. And it didn't go anywhere. It was struck down in the court here in Chicago, struck down by the appellate court. When Bill Clinton got into office, they figured they had a friend in there, and they then went to the Supreme Court, and the case was revived, and they added RICO to it, (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act), and they have got a judge here in Chicago now, David Coar, who has set the date for March 2nd, just a month from now, and we're preparing to go on trial. It's a lot of work, it's a lot of expense, I've had to set up my own law office, I've had to hire my own lawyers, I've had to spend close to a million dollars in the suit. And, so, it's been a very difficult time for us in many ways. At the same time, we're trying to go ahead with all of our usual activities.
So, right in the middle of all this, unfortunately, since the March for Life in Washington on January 22, we had a bomb go off in Birmingham, Alabama, at a clinic. I read in a wire service report a condemnation of that action from you. Could you expand on that, please?
SCHEIDLER: Well, I didn't condemn it, I don't know who did it. But I don't think bombing is a good idea—I'm certainly against it—but as far as we know, it could be an abortion competitor, an irate boyfriend, or just some fanatic that likes to bomb—we don't know who it is. What bothers me is that the media immediately jumped to the conclusion that it's a pro-lifer of some kind. It's not. Even if it's someone who calls himself pro-life, he certainly doesn't care much about the movement because these things don't help us a bit. We can't use violence to combat violence. I have spoken out for twenty-five years against the use of violence. Now, I don't get all upset about these things, because I don't want to assume that it's a pro-lifer. The National Organization for Women will, and the abortionists will, and the media will, but we have to wait and see who it is, and who did it. I've never condemned any of these actions until the abortionists condemn what they do inside those abortion clinics. They kill, all day long. They destroy human life, they ruin women's lives, and they are ruining the very fiber of this nation. And so, I have told them, when you condemn the killing of our children at the rate of 5,000 a day, I'll condemn any action against your clinics.
But, I certainly have spoken against it, I deplore it, I think it's stupid, it doesn't help anything, it's not the way to fight this battle. But at the same time, when you consider that they've murdered forty million of our children, I don't want to take the focus off of those dead children, and put it on some moonlighting police officer. I'm sorry he's dead—he shouldn't have been working in an abortion clinic, however. While that doesn't justify his being killed, you have to remember that those clinics are in the business of killing. There's an old saying, that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. That's come out and been true many, many times.
Where do you think the pro-life movement stands now? What direction do you think it's going?
SCHEIDLER: We're making ground all the time. All the polls are showing that by far the majority of Americans know that abortion is murder. They know that. They know that abortion is very unsavory. The polls say people support Roe v. Wade but they don't support abortion after the third trimester, or they don't support abortion for economical reasons. In other words, they're not for Roe v. Wade. Because Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the twin decisions that gave us abortion, allow abortion for the full term of a woman's pregnancy, with no possibility of curtailing it. Because in every state we've tried to cut back on abortion, we've lost in the courts. We've lost in the legislatures. In the legislatures, and in the courts, some judge strikes it down.
So abortion is legal for the full term of pregnancy, and yet 87% of the American people do not support abortion for any reason after the first trimester. In other words, they're speaking double-talk. We think people support abortion, and yet, in most cases, 80 to 90 percent of the American people don't support abortion. But the abortionists are so desperate to keep this available, that they support every form of abortion for any reason or no reason. They're abortaholics. They have to have abortion because it gives them power. It gives these women the same rights as men—not to be pregnant. We have a sick society—it doesn't care about its children.
Abortion seems like a natural outgrowth of the sexual revolution of the late sixties and seventies that was launched by the pill. Where sex is a kind of recreation.
SCHEIDLER: That's right. Abortion is an outgrowth of a playboy mentality, in fact the Playboy organization here in Chicago—the Playboy Foundation—is a great supporter of abortion-on-demand. It's a playboy kind of enterprise, to keep women non-pregnant, so they're more available. It's an outgrowth of the pill, an outgrowth of contraception. Contraception and abortion are kissing cousins. They are both anti-life, where sex is just a toy. You remove God from the equation, and you become your own little god, and you wreck your life, of course.
But, you're absolutely right, it's the pill, sex as recreation and not as a part of a relationship between a committed man and women, who are committed to each other, to bring up the children and train them and teach them, and all—and you see what's happened as a result. We've got a president who is a philanderer and nobody cares. Nobody cares. In the polls, his stock is going way up, even though everybody knows he hasn't got any moral character, but that doesn't matter. We're into a totally material society, and many of our people think, well, that's like me. The president's just like me—I don't have any morals, either. And, so, he's my kind of guy. And that's what we're hearing now, in a lot of these polls that are being taken. But I still believe that abortion, as useful as it is to these people, still terrifies the American people. Because it's killing. And there's something about solving your problem by killing children that doesn't sit well with the American people.
So, I'm optimistic in the sense that I'm seeing lots of young people coming into the movement. I was out in Washington for the march, and it was three-fourths young people. I'm also seeing a lot more religious getting involved, priests, and some of the bishops are very interested in what's going on. My own bishop, Francis George, came up to me during the march and asked if I would send him information on the trial that's coming up, so he'll know more about it. We're getting letters of encouragement from some of the bishops, and many religious orders are supporting us with prayer.
What I see is a movement of prayer coming in the pro-life movement, through the Helpers of God's Precious Infants. Which is a commitment to pray out in front of these abortion mills, and it's working. I mean, we're seeing women coming out of those mills, out of those abortion facilities in droves, unlike we've ever seen before. So, we have a powerful tool with prayer—if we would just realize that.
Christ Himself said that, if we had the faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. And if we put faith in God in this matter and say, This is your battle, and I want to help, instead of this is my battle, and ask Him for help, we'll move ahead. I think we are moving ahead. I'm very optimistic.
So, when these people pray, women who have gone into the clinic and are sitting in the waiting room are moved to get up to leave?
SCHEIDLER: Exactly. Exactly. We may not even get to talk to them. We may just have a moment to hand them a rosary and a pamphlet and say we're praying for them and she goes in. In one case where I was with Monsignor Philip Reilly and Sister Dorothy Rothar in Brooklyn, thirty-five women decided not to have their abortions. Only two decided not to go in the clinic. Thirty-three went in and came out, without their abortions. Now that was half of the clientele that day. And that's going to close down abortions clinics. That's the most powerful tool we have. That's the direction we're going.
As far as the rescues—the operation rescues and sit-ins, these things were all effective for a while, but I think they've run their course. I think now, the new tool, the new method, is conversion.
We interviewed Joan Andrews Bell just two days before she was sentenced and she was saying much the same type of thing as you are, with the young people joining, and the conversion. But she also said that she didn't think a lot of people cared. That they know it's killing but don't care. Or choose to deny it in their own minds, or something. And I guess that's something only conversion can solve.
SCHEIDLER: Well, you have to make them care, you know. They don't care because they're lethargic, their spiritual life is dead, and you don't care about anything when you're not caring about God or your spiritual life or your hereafter. So, that is the whole mission that Christ gave to His apostles, to go and teach, to go to convert nations, and that's a mission we have. It's not easy. He never said it was easy. But we have to do it. And it is doable, because I've seen it over and over again. And so, we can't be discouraged. There are a lot of people that don't listen and don't care, but you know, the story isn't finished yet.
So if someone, for example, reading this interview, wanted to get involved, but for whatever reason couldn't risk any trouble with the law or arrests, they could just go down and pray? Something like that, in front of an abortion clinic? Or go to the Blessed Sacrament?
SCHEIDLER: Yeah, both. I mean, you can start at the Blessed Sacrament—we often do that—and then get out to the clinic. They should go to the clinic, though, because that's where their prayer is actually experienced by those who run the abortion mill, the doctor, the death-scorts, the women going in. They need a contact, and we ask for prayer warriors. When we're at the clinic, we know that there are people back at the church, back in the sanctuary, before the Blessed Sacrament, praying for us, and that's very important, too. But if you can, get out to the abortion mill. That's extremely important—that the prayer takes place where the abortions take place.
You know, some of the apostles were hiding around in Jerusalem while Christ was dying on the cross, but Mary, Mary Magdelene and John were right there. And they gave witness to His death. And frequently that's what we do at the abortion clinic. We give witness to the value of these children. We give that witness to their parents, who rush into the abortion clinic to have the child killed, not to have it taken care of. We have to show them that at least we have concern for their child, even if they don't. That sometimes has an influence.
It's interesting, too, that Mary Magdelene—we're told—although it's not entirely clear that she was the woman caught in adultery—was a woman who had a past with sexual misbehavior and her encounter with Christ completely changed her. And it's often true that women who have had abortions are often the strongest soldiers against it now.
SCHEIDLER: They are. Some of the best people we've had are former abortionists. They're out there with us. They're the best ones to talk to these women.
And women who have had abortions?
That's right. They can do wonderful work, even more effectively than we can, because they've been there. They've been inside that place, and they know what they're going through. They've lost a child.
What are the possible outcomes of your trial that you're facing?
SCHEIDLER: Well, we could win it, then they would appeal it, then we could win the appeal. We could lose it, then we would appeal it, then win or lose the appeal. From that appeal you could go to the Supreme Court. What I'm hoping is that we will win the trial, and win the appeal. If they appeal and take it to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court confirms it, then we turn around and sue them for every last penny that we've had to spend, plus considerable punitive damages, for making us be distracted for twelve years, and I'd like to put NOW and this chain of abortion clinics out of business.
That's if you went to the Supreme Court and you won?
SCHEIDLER: The Supreme Court may not even take it. They have a heavy load, and they may just let it stand. But we have to get through this trial first. I think we'll win the trial. We're bringing in some fantastic witnesses, and they have no—they don't have anything. They're trying to get us to settle. They keep offering settlements. They want us out of the trial. We're not going to settle. We're going to court, get vindicated, and then sue them.
Is there an address, for people to make donations to help with your legal costs?
SCHEIDLER: Oh, yeah. There sure is. I'll give you the address, because we need help. It's the Pro-Life Action League.
They can make the check out to them?
SCHEIDLER: Yes, and they can put Legal Defense Fund, down in that left hand corner, but they don't have to, but, they can if they want to. Then, we're at: Suite 600, 6160 North Cicero Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60646. Our phone number is 773-777-2900.
Okay. What would be the consequences if, God forbid, you lost the case?
SCHEIDLER: Well, they'd try to put us out of business. RICO carries triple damages, so they'd put together a whole bunch of figures, what it costs to hire guards, put up tape and stuff—it comes into the millions of dollars. Because they represent every abortion clinic in the country, and they represent every woman who might ever go near an abortion clinic, or in an abortion clinic, or a hospital that does abortions, so all these people would submit damages, and then all that would be tripled, plus all their legal fees, so it would be catastrophic. They'd probably take our office and our equipment, and stuff like that. And try to keep me from ever making a living, and things like that. They're vicious, vicious , evil people.
Could they put you in jail?
SCHEIDLER: No, not in a civil suit, they'd probably go after me in a criminal suit.
Do you think they'd do that?
SCHEIDLER: They'll do anything. They have no scruples at all. They want to win this case any way they can, and they'll do anything they can get away with. They love abortion. They hate the baby, they hate God, and the whole setup of religion, and right and wrong, and they live their own lives.