In the early years of the pro-life movement, Scheidler's book “Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion” was a foundational text. He traveled the world speaking on the ethics of abortion and outlining practical forms of activism that he had developed and tested. In the process, he inspired others to follow his lead.
“I would be watching, during my talks, and find the people who were listening most intensely,” he recalled. “I'd talk with them afterward, and suggest they go full-time in the movement. And a number of them did.”
Scheidler's own career as an activist was an unexpected calling, but one he is “absolutely convinced” he was born to fulfill.
“I spent eight years in the seminary, and four years in the monastery, wanting to be a priest,” he said. “But when I was preparing for ordination, I thought, 'Nope – this is not what I'm called to do.' And then suddenly, everything started to fall together.”
“I read the Roe v. Wade decision, in 1973, and it was an atrocity – it was a great big lie. There is no 'constitutional right' to kill children. I was working as an account executive for a public relations firm at the time, and I just had to quit and do full-time pro-life work.”
“I rented a cheap little office only a block from my house, and started from there. At that time you could go into the clinics to talk to the girls, and try to talk the doctors out of abortion. We'd pass out thousands of leaflets, and then we started making films of what we were doing.”
“Then we found out how important it was to do sidewalk counseling, because we could talk a lot of women out of abortion. And I started doing a lot of speaking – I took 185 flights one year, running around the country and over to Ireland, Italy, Mexico, just trying to spread activism.”
Scheidler took several steps that were controversial even within the pro-life movement – including a strong stand against contraception as the basis of abortion, and the public display of large and graphic photos depicting aborted babies. The “Face the Truth Tour” continues to show the reality of abortion to Illinois residents on a regular basis.
“Sometimes we get more than 100 people lining the highway with these signs, about six feet tall,” said Scheidler. “We go for 10 days straight, during the summer. And then once a month we go to the Art Institute, or the Civic Center – somewhere that people have to see what abortion is.”
“On one of our tours, we stopped 22 women from having abortions, because they see what it looks like and they don't want that to happen to their baby.”
He believes these forms of direct action and engagement are the most important part of the pro-life cause.
“It's one thing to work in the courts and the political arena – but that's going to take forever, and it's not going to stop abortion. You have to convert people. So that's my whole thing, to try and promote conversion.”
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Scheidler knows from personal experience just how long political and legal battles can take. He spent 21 years in court with the National Organization for Women, fighting charges that his activism was a form of “racketeering” comparable to organized crime.
“I had to found a law firm, the Thomas More Society, to fight this thing for 21 years,” he recalled. The dispute reached the Supreme Court three times, and was resolved in Scheidler's favor in 2006. “We still have this thing called the First Amendment,” he observed, “and even the courts are very reluctant to break the First Amendment rights.”
Scheidler, who was a Naval officer before his four years as a monk, urged young activists to develop a routine of spiritual discipline in order to prepare for their own struggles.
“Number one, you pray. You have to pray all the time. I can't get through a day without Mass, the Rosary, spiritual reading, and meditation. And in between, you work harder than the devil.”
“You need meditation, and prayer, and closeness to God. Christ has to stay on your mind – you offer everything to him, and join your suffering to his.”
He also urged young people to be fearless and unashamed about their pro-life convictions. “Bring the literature with you all the time. On an elevator, at a restaurant, wherever.”