Joseph M. Scheidler, known as the "godfather of pro-life activism," passed away on Monday at the age of 93.
"The Pro-Life Action League is grieved to report the passing away of our founder ... Joe died this morning peacefully, surrounded by the family of which he was so proud. May he rest in peace," the organization he founded in 1980 tweeted yesterday.
A Chicago priest whose work with Scheidler over the years was "up-front and personal" told Church Militant today that Scheidler was "a man of deep faith, dedicated to Church and life."
The priest, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he worked with Scheidler in 2016 to shutter Albany Clinic on North Elston Avenue, a large abortion mill in north Chicago. While the priest said he processed around the abortion mill with the Blessed Sacrament, the godfather of the pro-life movement walked with him as black-garbed devil worshippers shouted curses interrupted his path.
"The satanists tried to interfere with his prayer," the priest recalled, "but Scheidler persisted, facing them with a 'Get behind me, Satan,' attitude."
"I am sure he is with the Almighty," the priest reflected. "I regret his passing."
The CEO and president of 40 Days for Life Shawn Carney tweeted: "Joe was a mentor for me and a great example of a man and father who gave his life for the unborn. His unwavering passion to end abortion, energy, and classic sense of humor will be missed by all those who love him. May he go to his eternal Home in peace."
Scheidler's son Eric found significance in the passing of his father on Jan. 18, the day commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"It's fitting that my father died on the day when Americans remember the legacy of Martin Luther King," said Eric, now executive director of the 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."
Abortion has long targeted racial minorities, as the founder of what is now Planned Parenthood was a vocal eugenicist.
Scheidler's mobilization of pro-life advocates did not come easily.
His pro-life activities landed him in court, where he faced a racketeering charge that would bear down on him for decades. The National Organization of Women (NOW) brought the lawsuit NOW v. Scheidler against him beginning in 1986. It alleged that Scheidler and other anti-abortion protesters "were members in a nationwide conspiracy to obstruct women's access to abortion clinics through a pattern of racketeering activity including the actual or implied threat of violence."
In 2014, victory finally went to Scheidler and the lawsuit was over.
Scheidler recounted his five decades of pro-life activism, as well as the ins and outs of a sometimes absurd trial, in a memoir titled Racketeer for Life: Fighting the Culture of Death from Sidewalk to the Supreme Court.
Part of the evidence presented against Scheidler was a friendly, handwritten note he left outside an abortion clinic for a surgeon he had hoped to chat with over coffee and possibly encourage away from the abortion business. The note read, "Sorry I missed you." It was presented at trial as evidence of a death threat.
Scheidler embraced the moniker "racketeer for life" even as pro-life advocates, indebted to his work, enjoyed the ability to pray and protest peacefully outside abortuaries. His 1985 book CLOSED: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, a centerpiece of NOW v. Scheidler, has become the manual for pro-life activists throughout the world.
David Scott Cordaro, director of communications for Students for Life, extended his condolences on Twitter for Scheidler's passing.
"Please pray for the soul of Joe Scheidler, founder of Pro-Life Action and the 'Father of the Pro-Life Movement,'" Cordaro tweeted. "His style of activism is greatly needed today more than ever, and his love for our Lord is something we all should yearn for," he added.
Tom Brejcha, president, chief counsel and founder of the Thomas More Society, issued a statement on Monday.
Brejcha lamented: "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."
Scheidler's iconic involvement with life advocacy helped birth the Thomas More Society, the national nonprofit law firm actively involved in preserving the sanctity of human life and protecting the rights of life advocates.