Joseph (“Joe”) M. Scheidler, a hero to the pro-life movement, passed away on Monday at the age of 93. Beginning his activism in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided, Scheidler founded not only the Pro-Life Action League, which today is run by his son Eric, but also co-founded the Thomas More Society, a legal firm dedicated to the defense of pre-born life.
Scheidler was famous for showing up on street corners in front of abortion clinics to talk with abortion-minded women about choosing life for their babies. He trained a generation of sidewalk counselors in how to peacefully communicate better options available to women in crisis. He leaves behind a rich legacy for which the current pro-life movement is indebted to him.
The pro-life icon passed away from pneumonia on January 18, Martin Luther King Day, a day befitting the man, according to his son.
“It’s fitting that my father died on the day when Americans remember the legacy of Martin Luther King,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of Pro-Life Action League. “Seeing the impact that regular Americans could have by taking action against racial injustice inspired my father to mobilize Americans in the same way in the fight against the injustice of abortion.”
In fact, as a college professor in 1965, Scheidler invited and chaperoned a group of students who went to march with MLK from Selma to Montgomery.
Scheidler’s effectiveness in opposing abortion earned him the ire of such pro-abortion groups as the National Organization of Women (NOW), which sued him and other pro-lifers in 1986 under a federal statute designed to allow civil lawsuits against organized crime, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Three decades later, in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court finally vindicated him in a unanimous opinion. Most importantly, the decision freed the way for sidewalk counselors to continue their important work in offering hope to women desperately in need of it.
The NOW case led to the formation of the Thomas More Society (TMS), which Scheidler co-founded with his wife Ann and Thomas Brejcha, who is the organization’s President and Chief Legal Counsel.
In a press release, Brejcha said,
At the Thomas More Society we are saddened at the passing of Joseph Scheidler. Joe was many things to me, and to the Thomas More Society. He was a long-time client, a co-founder of this pro-life firm, and a dear friend.
Joe was our raison d’etre – the only reason and sole cause for the Thomas More Society’s coming into existence. His unduly long, litigious persecution on the part of the National Organization for Women and the nation’s abortion industry – which lasted over nearly three-decades in a landmark court battle, NOW v. Scheidler – was the crucible in which our Thomas More Society was forged. Joe recounted the story of his having been targeted and tried under laws intended and designed to shut down organized crime in his 2016 book, entitled Racketeer for Life.
Scheidler’s wife, Ann, continues to serve as Chairman of TMS.
As a pro-life organization, Focus on the Family is grateful for the life and example of Joe Scheidler. Robyn Chambers, Focus’ executive director of advocacy for children, reacted to the news of Scheidler’s passing.
“Joe led out with boldness and passion, but also with love,” Chambers told The Daily Citizen. “He desperately wanted to educate pro-life people to reach across the aisle and come to a place where we could all agree – all life is worthy of protection. He set an example we can all follow.”
Scheidler is survived by his wife Ann, seven children, twenty-six grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.
Photo from Pro-Life Action