Legendary father of pro-life activism
Reviewed by John MorrisseyJoseph M. Scheidler, Racketeer for Life: Fighting the Culture of Death from the Sidewalk to the Supreme Court: A Memoir
(Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2016). Hardcover: 470 pages. ISBN: 978-1618908506. RRP: $US24.95
When pro-life warrior Joseph Scheidler faced a Chicago court in 1998, he was astounded to find that his dropping a business card at a branch of the feminist-run women's health centers in 1986 constituted the alleged offence, and that he was being prosecuted under federal racketeering laws.
This memoir is the fruit of his pondering how a boy from Indiana had ended up as a defendant on a federal charge in the city of the mob. It takes the reader through Scheidler's education, the question of a vocation, married life and a profession, and final evolution into a fulltime pro-life activist.
It touches on the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in 1973, Roe vs Wade, which legalised abortion across America. It quotes dissenting Justice Byron White, who famously denounced the ruling as "an exercise of raw judicial power". Scheidler expresses his disappointment at the Catholic Church's measured response. His alma mater, Notre Dame, comes in for special censure for not being true to Church teaching.
Scheidler's major role was leading the Illinois Right to Life Committee (IRLC), and most of the book concerns tactics used in their crusade. He tells many stories of how individuals, on being confronted with the reality of abortion, were turned to become allies in the fight for the unborn. One such account is of editors and journalists of a Chicago newspaper who carried extensive advertising for abortions, yet agreed to run a piece of pro-life advocacy alongside, after heavy engagement with the IRLC.
For the Australian reader, the most valuable aspects of the book are the examples of persistent activism and the variety of ways in which Scheidler, who had previously been a university teacher, journalist and advertising executive, tackled the issues. It is a mine of inspiration and information for us on the local scene where the opposition is just as relentless and the politics of the issue possibly worse.
John Morrissey is a retired secondary school teacher who has taught in government, independent and Catholic schools. He lives in Hawthorn, Victoria, with his dog "Wreck".