Human Interest

‘Godfather of the pro-life movement’ Joe Scheidler passes away at 93

Joe Scheidler

Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League, received his eternal reward today, January 18, 2021, at the age of 93. He was affectionately dubbed the “godfather of the Pro-life Movement” and a “Racketeer for Life.” The announcement was made today on social media by the Pro-Life Action League (PLAL).

Joe Scheidler, a former Benedictine monk and journalism professor, was active in the pro-life movement for decades and may be best known for being a named defendant in the RICO lawsuit, NOW v Scheidler, a landmark case which went to the US Supreme Court three times. With help from the Thomas More Society, the defendants, including Joe Scheidler, prevailed in protecting the free speech rights of pro-lifers.

WARNING: Images of abortion victims below.

Image: Joe Scheidler founder of Prolife Action League 1983 (Credit to book Racketeer for Life )

Joe Scheidler, founder of Prolife Action League – 1983 (Credit to book Racketeer for Life )

Eric Scheidler, who has replaced his father as the executive director of PLAL, told the Chicago Sun Times that his father “devoted five decades of his long life to proclaiming the value of human life at its most vulnerable stage, the child in the womb.”

“I’m grateful that he passed away surrounded by family, in the comfort of his home, his refuge from the rigors of his pro-life mission,” Eric Scheidler said. “His memory will be cherished by the thousands whom he inspired to join him on the front lines of the pro-life movement.”

Joe spent much of his time training activists to take the message of life to the streets, expose abortion, care for abortion-vulnerable women, and reach out to those working in the abortion industry. In 1965, Joe married the love of his life, Ann, and together they had seven children and many grandchildren.

In 2017, Joe told Live Action News that he entered the pro-life movement after attending a conference in 1972, where Congressman Henry Hyde (for which the Hyde Amendment was named) was speaking. At that time, Joe was working as an accounting executive for a PR firm in Chicago.

“As we approached the site, they handed us ‘Life and Death,’ which is a brochure put out by Dr. Jack Willke,” he stated. “That’s where I first saw the picture of aborted babies….”

Image: Vintage pro-life brochure "Life and Death" shows graphic abortion victim imagery.

Vintage pro-life brochure “Life and Death” shows graphic abortion victim imagery.

Joe Scheidler said his interest in abortion grew, and he read everything he could find about it, including the infamous Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions which legalized abortion and opened the flood gates to “abortion on demand,” as Joe phrased it. “And I thought, we won’t survive this. We are killing our posterity,” he told Live Action News.

In response, Joe went to every meeting he could and eventually became a full-time pro-life activist. He worked part time for the Illinois Pro-life Committee before eventually starting Pro-life Action League in 1980. “… I wanted to be active,” he said. “I’d be out on the streets going to the abortion clinics. Meeting with the abortionists, trying to convert them.”

Joe was perhaps the first national leader that was successful in converting many abortionists to quit the industry… and he did so by inviting them out to eat and treating them with respect. Some of the testimonies of these former abortionists can be found at the link, “Meet the Abortion Providers” on PLAL’s website.

Live Action News asked Joe what he thought the pro-life movement had accomplished over these many years. He said, “Well, we kept abortion on the front page for one thing. Abortion is THE issue.” He continued, “We have gone to the clinics. We have converted the doctors. We have saved thousands of women from abortion through going to the clinics, talking to the women, talking to the doctors. Many women going around speaking about abortion – how bad it is.”

Image: Joe Scheidler addresses pro-life rally (Image credit: Carole Novielli)

Joe Scheidler addresses pro-life rally (Image credit: Carole Novielli)

Joe also pointed to the decreasing numbers of abortions and abortion facilities, counting them as a success. Guttmacher’s latest data on abortion reveals that in 2017, the US abortion rate hit its lowest point since Roe v. Wade.

“Abortions are down quite a bit,” he said before somberly adding, “We’ve committed 60 million… it’s a curse… murder.”

Now, he said, “There are fewer abortions. They used to say that one out of three women have had abortions, now they say one out of four.” But Joe was also optimistic, believing that one day America would overturn Roe v. Wade.

He believed the best way to address the genocide of abortion was to “personalize the baby – the child. So, we go out onto the streets… let people see what the baby looks like in the womb.”

He then suggested that pro-lifers must keep these babies in the forefront of our minds every single day.

Keep it before your mind all the time that we are killing thousands of thousands of children, like 2,000 a day, and we’ve killed 60 million. If you come to the end of the day and you haven’t talked to anybody, or written anything, or gotten into the paper, then pray, say a prayer.

“We have to stay close to God, close to Christ,” Joe stressed. “God doesn’t make junk. People are what it’s all about. Human beings. One little fertilized egg is more valuable than the entire universe because it has an immortal soul to live forever to worship God.”


Joe warned that laws targeting pro-lifers are bad but believed the real danger for the pro-life movement is that of complacency – the idea that we can simply “let somebody else do it.” He told Live Action News, “We have to do it, we have to stay active…. We can’t say, well, the laws will change, or the Supreme Court will change. We have to be out there. The abortions happen every day and you have to be where they happen and talk to the women. And you have to meet with the doctors, as I’ve tried to do, take them out to lunch.”

“Always stay cordial. I am totally against violence,” he added. “We convert them – we do not try to destroy them.”


He felt the pro-life movement’s greatest successes were “the lives saved” and “making abortion a bad word.”

In 2016, Joe Scheidler published his memoirs in a book he authored with Peter M. Scheidler, whom he described as an “invaluable partner.” In the book, “Racketeer for Life,” he wrote, “A new generation of pro-life activists is taking to the streets. Growing up in a society that not only tolerates but actually celebrates the killing of its posterity, the new recruits experience the evil of abortion in a very personal way. More than one-fourth of their classmates, their business acquaintances, and their social circle is missing. They were not allowed, as the earlier generation of pro-lifers was, to grow up in a country that values and protects unborn life.”

Joe told Live Action News that his advice to those who are pro-life is to “[b]e totally committed. Do something pro-life every day. Keep remembering that this little brother and sister is just as valuable as your born brother and sister.”

Joe, you will be missed. May you rest in peace.

Editor’s Note, 1/26: This article incorrectly reference Scheidler as a “plaintiff” in NOW v. Scheidler. This has been corrected to read “defendant.”

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