Joseph M. Scheidler, ‘Godfather’ of the Anti-Abortion Movement, Dies at 93

Joseph M. Scheidler, ‘Godfather’ of the Anti-Abortion Movement, Dies at 93

In addition to his son Eric, who succeeded him as director of the Pro-Life Action League, he is survived by his wife, Ann Scheidler, the league’s chairwoman; his sons Joseph, Peter and Matthias; his daughters Catherine Miller, Annie Casselman and Sarah Worthington; a brother, James Scheidler; a sister, Eleanor McNamara; 27 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Mr. Scheidler enlisted in the Navy after high school and later attended Notre Dame. After graduating, he remained in town as a reporter for The South Bend Tribune before entering a seminary, intent on becoming a Benedictine monk. But he withdrew days before his ordination.

Mr. Scheidler received a master’s degree from Marquette University and taught at Mundelein College, a women’s school in Chicago, where he met Ann Crowley. They married in 1965, the same year he chaperoned a student trip to Alabama to march alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in support of voting rights.

In 1967 Mr. Scheidler took a job in public relations for the city of Chicago and was later an advertising executive for Selz Seabolt, a leading Chicago public-relations firm. It was there, in between pitching fishing tackle and cheese, that he became obsessed with abortion. After the Supreme Court legalized the procedure nationally in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, he took a leave of absence to begin organizing. He never went back to advertising.

From the start, Mr. Scheidler showed a proclivity for publicity. He took out anti-abortion ads in newspapers on the same pages where ads for abortion clinics ran. He assembled pickets outside abortion clinics. At one point he was the director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, but he was fired in 1978 over his aggressive tactics.

Mr. Scheidler and his wife founded the Pro-Life Action League in 1980 and quickly built a national network of activists. In 1985 he published “Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion,” a how-to manual of sorts that was loaded with tips about things like “sidewalk counseling,” which involved finding women who were considering abortions and persuading them not to follow through, even if it meant approaching them as they entered a clinic.

If Mr. Scheidler walked a fine line between aggressive action and outright lawbreaking, many of his followers, including a fiery evangelical minister from upstate New York named Randall Terry, did not. Mr. Terry formed an organization, Operation Rescue, that took Mr. Scheidler’s logic further than his mentor was willing to go — blockading access to clinics and packing court dockets with arrestees. Others took even more extreme actions, committing vandalism, arson and murder. By the early 1990s, Mr. Terry had eclipsed Mr. Scheidler as the leading voice for street-level anti-abortion activism.

Category Latest Posts