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League history, NOW v. Scheidler, Action News, Joe Scheidler, League staff

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Home About Action News Winter 2005 History, 1980-1987 (Part II)

Winter 2005 ACTION NEWS | VOL. XXIV No. 1

NOTE: This is the first installment in a four-part Twenty-Fifth Anniversary retrospective series on the Pro-Life Action League. Due to its length, this installment is broken into two parts.

Part 1 Part 2

Pro-Life Action Comes of Age, cont.

by Joe Scheidler

The Chicago Four

The "Chicago Four" appear in court, from left: Greg Morrow, Joe, Andy Scholberg and Gerry McCarthy

First Pro-Life Arrest

My first pro-life arrest came on January 29, 1983, when twelve squad cars converged on Concord abortion clinic on Grand Avenue in Chicago (which closed in 2003). Greg Morrow, Andy Scholberg, Gerry McCarthy and I were handcuffed and put in a paddy wagon for an offense the police couldn't specify. They finally decided it was either "mob action" or "inciting to riot." We were simply picketing the abortion mill, which, of course, the clinic staff didn't like, so they called the police and made specious claims about our activities. "The Chicago Four" were found not guilty when the case finally came to trial on April 20, 1983.

Having been arrested together, Andy Scholberg and I began a custom of infiltrating the National Abortion Federation annual conventions. Until we became too readily identified, we were able to sit in on their meetings and hear first-hand their own concerns about how working in abortion clinics affected their staff, their high turnover rate, and what to do about anti-abortion protests. We attended abortion conventions in New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and other cities.

The League's storefront office was vandalized a couple of times in early 1984, so the landlord refused to renew our lease. We needed more space anyway because the League was outgrowing that office. In June 1984 we moved into our current office building on Cicero Ave.

Activism Comes of Age

In May 1984, Jean Emond organized the first national pro-life activists convention in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. At that meeting, we agreed to meet annually and planned to picket the Kansas City Planned Parenthood clinic during the National Right to Life Committee annual convention in Kansas City, MO the next month. All the abortion clinics in Kansas City shut down to avoid confronting possible pro-life pickets. The power of activism was beginning to be felt.

Joe and Monica in D.C.

Joe with Monica Migliorino Miller (left) and other activists in Washington, D.C. for the National Right to Life Convention, June 22, 1985 [Photo by Howard Deever]

My book on pro-life activism, CLOSED: 99 Ways To Stop Abortion, was released in January 1985 and the League was also featured in Newsweek magazine on the alleged campaign of pro-life activists to shut down the nation's abortion clinics.

The second activists conference was held in Appleton, WI in April 1985, hosted by Jerry Horn and Pastor Norm Stone, who owned a motel in Appleton. The hotel marquis read: "Welcome Pro-Lifers—Have a Blast." That sign became a major exhibit in the NOW v. Scheidler trial years later, with the pro-aborts claiming that "Have a Blast" was a reference to bombing abortion clinics! A dozen conference attendees sported name tags with a tiny fire-cracker attached. These too were used in the trial to depict the pro-lifers as violent.

Our reputation on the activist front was spreading beyond the United States. In August 1985 I was invited to address pro-life groups in Australia and New Zealand, where pro-lifers were working hard to get the government to enforce the laws against abortion.

The Pro-Life Action League spearheaded the Nuremberg Trials II—a simulated trial of the abortion providers for crimes against humanity, held in Nuremberg, PA in October 1985. Earl Appleby, Marcelle Richards and attorney John Jacubczyk served as the "judges" and found the abortionists "guilty." The Nuremberg Trial received extensive publicity and was featured, along with the Appleton activist conference, in a pro-abortion film, "Holy Terror," which was designed to poke fun at pro-lifers, but actually credited us with sophisticated organizational skills.

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1986: A Difficult Year

At the League's sixth annual Awards Brunch, April 27, 1986, our dedicated secretary Barbara Menes collapsed just after presenting Ann with a bouquet of red roses. Doctors and nurses in the audience rushed to her aid, administering CPR until the paramedics arrived, while the entire room prayed for her recovery. Two weeks later Barbara died from cardiac complications. Barbara had been the League's living "computer" for six years. She personally typed every thank you letter and kept all the League's records by hand. Her loss was devastating, but we had no choice but to move forward.

Joe and Monica in D.C.

Joe is arrested in Denver on June 11, 1986 for entering an abortion clinic during a picket in Pensacola, FL earlier that year

The year 1986 was to be a difficult one. On June 11, while checking into the Denver Marriott City Center Hotel for the National Right to Life Convention, I was arrested in connection with a picket in Pensacola, FL and spent the next sixteen hours in jail. I conducted nineteen media interviews from the jail.

I was released only to discover that the National Organization for Women (NOW) had filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against me, accusing me of conspiring to drive abortion clinics out of business. I don't know about "conspiracy," but the goal sounded good to me. We didn't pay much attention to the NOW v. Scheidler suit at first—we just went ahead with our pro-life work.

The pro-life activists convened in St. Louis for their annual activist convention and settled on the name Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) for the coalition. Randall Terry showed up for the first time at that convention and was there mainly as an entertainer. Randy was a terrific jazz pianist. It was at that convention that he introduced his concept of large demonstrations with massive arrests, and coined the term Operation Rescue.

Pro-lifers like John Ryan, Monica Migliorino and Joan Andrews had been doing sit-ins inside of and in front of abortion clinics for several years and had begun to refer to these activities as "rescues," but Terry popularized the idea and gained national attention when he rallied the Evangelical community to participate in the demonstrations.

Meet the Abortion Providers

In November 1987 we held the first-ever Meet the Abortion Providers Conference, featuring abortion providers who had converted to pro-life. The idea for the conference came to me while listening to a tape of Carol Everett's presentation at the National Right to Life Convention, which I had missed thanks to my detour to jail.

I thought a conference where we could learn from the abortionists themselves just what led them to perform abortions, what made them quit and what we could do to be more effective would be a real eye-opener. In fact, I took some criticism from pro-lifers who felt that we did not owe a forum to those people who were guilty of having killed thousands of unborn babies. Some refused to attend the conference because they believed nothing worthwhile could be learned from a former abortion provider and that we were somehow honoring their role as abortionists by featuring them at a pro-life conference.

Abortion Providers Conference

At the first Meet the Abortion Providers conference, from left: Chris Slattery, Adele Nathanson, Joe, Dr. Anthony Levatino, Carol Everett and Dr. Joe Randall

The conference was captivating. We learned things we could never have learned except from those who worked right in the abortion clinics. We discovered how deeply abortion affects the doctors who perform them and how effectively they shut down their emotions in order to provide what they convince themselves is a "service to women."

A pilot from Hell, MI, Roger MacZura, whose avocation was video production, had called to ask if we would allow him to videotape the Abortion Providers conference. I said "Sure, just so you don't get in the way." That video was Providence in action. The testimonies from the first conference, with those in subsequent conferences, resulted in our "Meet the Abortion Providers" video.

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The PLAN "Conspiracy"

The League was hit with a second lawsuit in July 1987 when abortionist Jan Barton sued, looking for an injunction against the League to get us to stop picketing and sidewalk counseling outside his American Women's Medical Center in Chicago.

The League hosted the fourth annual PLAN Convention in Chicago in August 1987. This coalition of pro-life activists met annually to share expertise and to coordinate activities for the coming year. It was hosted each year by a different pro-lifer, in a different city.

PLAN had no headquarters, no officers, no permanent members, no bank account and no fundraising activities. Yet PLAN was cited by the National Organization for Women in their federal lawsuit against me and the League as the "entity" through which we all "conspired" and "extorted." The annual PLAN meetings turned up as major exhibits in the League's 1998 RICO trial in Chicago.

In the coming years, that case would assume greater and greater importance, as the abortionists worked to shut us down. And yet, we continued to fight for unborn babies' lives and refine our methods—especially in the crucial area of sidewalk counseling.

Next Issue: "Pro-Life Action at the Foot of the Cross: The Spread of Sidewalk Counseling, 1988-1998"

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