Pro-Life Action under Siege, 1996-1998

Counseling in NY

League sidewalk counseling delegation in Brooklyn, July 1997

On January 20, 1996 I headed to Washington for a meeting, then made a day trip to South Bend, IN to address the Knights of Columbus. I was back in Washington the same evening, ready to join the March for Life January 22. Prior to the March I spoke to the Buffalo, NY annual breakfast, and a few days later I spoked at a Kentucky Right to Life rally at the state capitol in Frankfort in support of three pro-life bills. 1996 was off to a furious start!

At the end of January I landed at Ottawa International Airport en route to speak at a Human Life International convention and was detained for questioning by customs officials. Canadian feminists had lodged a complaint with Canadian Immigration in an attempt to keep me from speaking in Canada, citing a 1986 misdemeanor trespassing charge against me in Wilmington, DE. I had to purchase a special visa for $125 to stay in Canada for the convention, and was assured this was the last time I would be allowed into Canada. They allow Canadian abortionist Henry Morgenthaler to roam about killing thousands of unborn babies, but a man who wants to save Canadian kids is banned from the country!

Pro-Life Leaders and “Renegades” Deposed

Throughout March and April lawyers for the National Organization for Women were busy taking depositions from pro-lifers, including some of the radical pro-violence types, in anticipation of a trial in NOW v. Scheidler. They deposed Brian Pabich, a faithful sidewalk counselor in Chicago, as well as Rochelle Shannon, who shot Dr. Tiller in Wichita. KS. They deposed Joe Foreman, a dynamic and peaceful leader in Operation Rescue, and Paul Hill, who killed a doctor and his driver in Pensacola, FL. This was an indication of how they would attempt to inject false claims of violence into the case—a tactic they have continued to this very day (see story).

At the same time Loyola University’s law school ran an ad for NOW seeking interns to help do research for the NOW v. Scheidler RICO case. Calls to University President Fr. John Piderit, S.J. and Law School Dean Nina Appel were fruitless. Operation Rescue happened to be in Chicago and joined us in a picket of Loyola’s law school on April 3.

On April 20 the League’s fifth Meet the Abortion Providers conference was held at the Radisson Hotel in Lincolnwood, IL. Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, and Sandra Cano, the Mary Doe of Doe v. Bolton, testified as to how they were manipulated by abortion advocates to bring cases to the courts in order to legalize abortion. Dr. Paul Jarrett of Indianapolis told of his experience as an abortion doctor, and how he changed when he saw a tiny beating heart, and looked at the face of an aborted baby.

Drs. Haywood Robinson and Noreen Johnson, a husband and wife team, explained how they got involved in abortion, and what they do now to champion life. The conference highlight was Mark Bomchill, a former clinic guard who is now pro-life, who revealed how clinic personnel try to hide the fact that many women change their minds about abortion when pro-lifers are present outside the clinic.

In June, when Gloria Feldt was named head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she quoted me as saying, “Contraception is disgusting.” I had picketed Feldt in Phoenix in 1995 when she was director of Planned Parenthood there. I was glad I made an impression on her!

Pro-Lifer Infiltrates Deathscorts

Allison Jurczyk, a Kansas pro-lifer, moved to Chicago early in the year and called me to ask what she could do to help in the battle against abortion. I suggested that she infiltrate the bothersome pro-abortion clinic escorts, or “deathscorts.” She joined them and spent several months getting to know them both at the clinic and socially, while providing intelligence on which clinics they planned to “guard” so we could plan accordingly. When Allison decided to return to Kansas in June, she revealed on WYLL radio what she had learned as a pro-life spy, including how relatively normal the pro-abortion activists were away from the abortion clinic.

Sandy Rios, host of the popular Christian radio talk show Sandy Rios Live invited me to take over as host of her WYLL radio program while she was in China. I handled the program for three days, with the assistance of engineer Steve Bynum, a fellow Notre Dame alum. After that first experience Sandy frequently called on me to fill in for her. It was a great opportunity to interview many prominent pro-lifers on the program.

Democrat Delegates Face the Truth

In late August, the Democrats held their national convention at Chicago’s United Center. We took advantage of the opportunity to educate visiting delegates despite a convention “buffer zone” and designated “protest areas.” We held huge graphic abortion signs on the overpasses of the expressways. Rev. Pat Mahoney of Christian Defense Coalition joined us at the Art Institute for a march to Grant Park with Baby Malachi signs. Members of Refuse and Resist tried to surround me while I was being interviewed on TV, but police intervened.

Chicago pro-life stalwart Dick Walsh organized a massive demonstration to show Democrat delegates how strong the pro-life movement really was. Over a thousand demonstrators, with a police escort, marched from the parking lot to a designated “protest pit,” where speakers rallied the crowd. Someone dressed in a grim reaper outfit made the news the next day—but the thousand ordinary citizens championing life were ignored.

Shortly after Labor Day we learned that President Clinton planned to honor Joseph Cardinal Bernardin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We immediately faxed the Cardinal asking him to turn down the award in protest of Clinton’s staunch pro-abortion stand and announced our opposition to the Award in a press release. Bernardin responded that the award was being presented to him as a representative of the Church, not to himself personally, and that he would use the occasion to speak against abortion.

This he did, but Clinton used the photo-op to solidify his Catholic support. In November, Clinton was reelected president, and a week later Cardinal Bernardin died of pancreatic cancer. To his credit, his final months were a testimony to the merit of suffering, and to the respect due every life until God chooses to end it.

Counseling in NY

Graphic abortion signs at the Supreme Court, Jan. 22, 1997

1997: Another Year of Activism

I escaped Chicago’s brutal January temperatures with a trip to Phoenix, AZ to address a rally organized by Catherine Sabelko of Children of the Rosary. Over 5,000 pro-lifers gathered to commemorate the babies who had died since 1973. I recounted a series of recent pro-life victories to show how our hard work exposing the reality of abortion is succeeding.

At the 1997 March for Life on January 22, the League and Collegians Activated to Liberate Life recruited thirty marchers to expose the reality of abortion with large Malachi signs spread out across Constitution Ave. The signs were also displayed along the route for Bill Clinton’s inauguration parade and at Lafayette Park across from the White House.

SpeakOut Illinois’ annual commemoration of Roe v. Wade featured Janet Parshall, nationally syndicated radio talk show host, and Annie Scheidler, youth activities coordinator for the Pro-Life Action League and the dynamic vice-president of Pro-Life Loyola University Students (PLUS).

In January 1997, we discovered that the University of Chicago Hospital was using the organs of babies they aborted for research, including transplanting retinal tissue from an aborted baby into the eyes of an 80-year-old woman suffering from macular degeneration. Among the activists at the League’s February 5 protest was a man who had been blind since birth who said that he would never want a baby to die so that he could see.

In March, Federal Judge David Coar ruled that two classes could become party to the already ten-year-old NOW v. Scheidler RICO case. All women’s health centers at which abortions are performed and all women who are not NOW members, but who have used or might in the future use the services of women’s health centers that provide abortions, were now plaintiffs in the case. NOW claimed to be seeking injunctive relief for all abortion clinics.

I gave three talks at the April conference of Human Life International in Minneapolis. The conference was marred by Archbishop Harry Flynn’s refusal to celebrate the opening Mass at St. Paul Cathedral after he heard unfounded charges that Fr. Paul Marx had made anti-Semitic statements. Flynn insisted that a statement be read at the Mass cautioning pro-lifers to avoid anti-Semitism. The pro-aborts made hay over this unfortunate conflict and protested outside the cathedral by holding a mock “mass” with spaghetti and wine. Nonetheless, over two thousand faithful joined the candlelight Rosary procession from the cathedral to the state capitol.

In 1997, we turned our annual spring luncheon into a fruitful all-day seminar with Jim Sedlak of STOPP Planned Parenthood, and we presented the Protector Award to Pastor Kenneth Bonner of Christian Fellowship Church.

Promoting Sidewalk Counseling

I had an opportunity to speak with Justice Antonin Scalia at a banquet in Mundelein, IL and asked him how the court could uphold buffer zones around abortion clinics. I told him that that very morning my wife Ann had talked a woman out of an abortion at a Chicago abortion facility. Scalia seemed surprised that pro-life counselors actually dissuade women from having abortions. He thought our main reason for going to abortion clinics was to make our presence felt and to assure ourselves that we are doing something positive. I told him the police often interpret the Supreme Court’s bubble zone rulings to apply to the entire nation. He said they are absolutely wrong, and that if the police set up a bubble zone where there is no ordinance authorizing it, they could be sued.

In July six members of the League traveled to Brooklyn, NY to study the philosophy and techniques of Msgr. Philip Reilly, founder of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. Ann and I, Tim Murphy, Julie McCreevy, Kathy Mieding and Jim Finnegan spent three days with Monsignor at the Monastery of the Precious Blood, where he is chaplain. Msgr. Reilly and his co-worker Sr. Dorothy Rothar taught us how they reach out to abortion-bound mothers. We spent several hours in front of an abortion clinic in Brooklyn, observing Monsignor in action and praying from the Helpers prayer book. We decided that the League should set up a Helpers chapter in Chicago, and Julie McCreevy agreed to head it up.

Battles on Many Fronts

At the beginning of August I flew to Dublin, Ireland to speak at a three-day Gospel of Life conference organized by Family Life of Ireland. While there I joined a prayer vigil outside the Mary Scopes Clinic, which arranges to send women to England for abortions since abortion is illegal in Ireland.

As soon as I was back in the States, we protested the Lilith Fair, a feminist-organized musical event at the World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, IL. Planned Parenthood had a booth at the Fair and distributed condoms to concert-goers. We held graphic signs all along the roadway leading to the parking lot. None of the 30,000 attendees got in without first seeing the reality of abortion.

With the NOW v. Scheidler trial looming in the coming spring, Americans United for Life Legal Defense Fund, which had been underwriting much of the expense of the lawsuit, decided that they lacked the resources to handle the trial. Meanwhile, Tom Brejcha’s law firm had given him an ultimatum to either quit the case or quit the firm. Tom refused to abandon us, and together we set up the Pro-Life Law Center in downtown Chicago, with office space for Tom and mountains of documents donated by a generous pro-life landlord.

Pro-Life Conferences Abound

The Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) held its annual conference in Milwaukee that August. Prior to the convention, three Milwaukee abortion clinics filed suit against fifty-two pro-life activists, including me, calling our meeting a “convention of terrorists,” and seeking a temporary injunction against demonstrations at any Milwaukee abortion clinics. The injunction was denied and the suit later dismissed.

Lillith Fair protest

League protest of feminist-organized Lilith Fair, August 1997

American Life League held a Celebrate Life convention in Tampa, FL and invited Ann and me to give a joint presentation on working as a pro-life family. This was the first time we had given a pro-life talk together and it proved to be a challenge since we both like to talk, and we each have a lot to say. We talked about how being full-time pro-life activists impacted our children, and how important children are in the lives of pro-life activists.

We held our sixth Meet the Abortion Providers conference in November in New York City. Joan Appleton told how the medical community tries to wash its hands of the abortion business by referring patients to the abortionists. She also took the pro-life movement to task for “using” former abortionists by heralding them as “victories” while failing to recognize the ongoing anguish these men and women have to live with after their years in the abortion industry.

Dr. Marie Peeters Ney spoke about the work of the Centurions, a ministry to former abortion providers and others who have been complicit in abortion. Dr. Anthony Levatino, who had testified at the League’s first Abortion Providers conference in 1986, spoke togother with his wife Cecelia about how Tony’s involvement in abortion impacted their own lives and how he emerged from the abortion industry and now speaks for life.

NOW v. Scheidler Trial Looms

Judge David Coar finally set a trial date for NOW v. Scheidler, with jury selection to begin March 2, 1998. Judge Coar was convinced the trial would last only two or three weeks, but attorney Tom Brejcha pointed out that there were too many issues and witnesses for that. The trial actually ran seven weeks.

In December 1997 Randy Terry signed a Settlement Agreement with NOW and the clinics to avoid going to trial. Since Operation Rescue was simply a d/b/a (“doing business as”) of Randall Terry, we expected that Operation Rescue would also be dropped. But Judge Coar did not agree and Operation Rescue continued as a defendant represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, in spite of the fact that it no longer existed.

All of December and the first two months of 1998 were devoted to preparing for the RICO trial. Ann spent most of her time at the Pro-Life Law Center helping to organize exhibits and line up witnesses. Several family members spent two days at Fay Clayton’s office reviewing audio and video tapes that Clayton had amassed in her effort to prove a conspiracy among pro-life activists, noting any statements Clayton might construe as evidence of conspiracy.

The legal team was joined by Debra Fischer, a friend of my daughter Catherine who had recently received her law degree. She was newly married and living in St. Louis, but commuted to Chicago for weeks to prepare for the trial and offer invaluable assistance to Tom Brejcha with my defense. Debra stayed at our house when she was in town and she and Ann worked night and day on the case.

Shortly before the RICO trial in Chicago, I was sued by Summit Women’s Health Organization in Milwaukee with claims almost identical to the federal NOW suit. Despite Tom Brejcha’s efforts, Judge Coar failed to recognize the significance of a parallel suit in state court. On the eve of the RICO trial, Summit settled the case, dismissing charges against me. Since both the charges and the plaintiff was the same as in the NOW v. Scheidler case, the settlement should have derailed the RICO trial. But NOW’s attorneys raced to Milwaukee, demanded an “emergency” hearing, and managed to get the judge’s order changed to indicate that he did not intend to affect the federal class action suit.

The patent unfairness of this case was in evidence again as jury selection began. Anyone identified as a Catholic was eliminated as a juror, as was anyone who admitted to being against abortion. It took two days to select six jurors and four alternates from a pool of eighty candidates.

NOW v. Scheidler Trial Begins

In their opening statements on March 4, both Fay Clayton and her husband, Lowell Sachnoff, who represented the abortion clinics, claimed that the defendants were linked to bombing, arson and murder, despite Judge Coar’s pre-trial ruling against any mention of such crimes, since there was no evidence that any of the defendants were involved in violence. But Coar refused to declare a mistrial.

Clayton produced an elaborate chart showing the alleged structure and membership of PLAN, the supposed “enterprise” through which I ran the entire pro-life movement and ordered “illegal activities.” It was fascinating, and even flattering, although entirely false. However, the chart looked official and probably quite convincing to the jury.

I felt I needed some spiritual support during the trial, so I set up a small shrine on the defendants’ table with a statue of the Blessed Mother, a Rosary and the Infant of Prague. The shrine was carefully concealed behind a barricade of binders with all the exhibits for the trial. If Judge Coar ever caught a glimpse of it, he never mentioned it.

We defendants sat at a table to the left side of the attorneys’ table. The plaintiffs sat with their attorneys on the right side of the room, near the jury box. Before each session, morning and afternoon, Fay Clayton introduced the NOW representative for that session, having carefully recruited a diversity of women—old, young, black, white and Asian.

Each day, one of my sons or daughters sat at the defendants’ table with me, and on one occasion my grandsons Nate and Sam attended. But finally Fay Clayton had had enough of pretty girls and handsome young men on the Scheidler side of the room. She complained to one of the marshals that having these family members on parade would give me an unfair advantage. Judge Coar then ruled that only defendants would be permitted to sit at the table, but allowed Clayton to continue introducing her NOW representative at the start of each session.

Clayton Throws Dirt

Day after day, I sat and listened to accusations about my activities, most of which were a complete surprise to me. I was accused of master-minding demonstrations and rescues that I had never even heard of, and of visiting abortion clinics for the sole purpose of striking fear into the hearts of poor little abortion clinic administrators and receptionists. Some of the incidents testified to had already been proven baseless, yet they were presented to the jury as facts. Clayton’s approach seemed to be to throw as much dirt at me as she could and figure that some of it was bound to stick in the jurors’ minds.

For several days she questioned Susan Hill, owner of the abortion clinics serving as class representatives, then put other abortion clinic administrators on the stand to testify as to how frightened they were when Joe Scheidler or other pro-lifers showed up in front of their clinics. She pulled statements out of context from radio programs and even from private letters I had written to friends and family.

Witness after witness testified to the presence of protesters wearing pro-life T-shirts and several mentioned that I left my business card at their clinic offices. They produced a blown-up business card on which I had written “Choose life!” and construed that as a death threat! It seemed to be a conspiracy by T-shirt and business card, in the absence of any real evidence of wrongdoing.

Finally on March 25, the pro-life side got its turn. Some of Operation Rescue’s witnesses were so focused on getting the court and the pro-abortion attorneys to adopt their rhetoric that they were almost as damaging as the pro-abortion witnesses. When my own witnesses were on the stand, Fay Clayton repeatedly asked on cross-examination, “Would it surprise you to know. . ?” followed by various accusations against me. For example, Clayton asked Dr. Jack Willke, “Would it surprise you to know that Joe Scheidler called you a ?wimp for life?'” Undaunted, Willke replied: “I’ve probably called him a few things over the years too.” Never mind that I had never called Dr. Willke a “wimp.”


Joe, Ann and Tim Murphy after the April 20 guilty verdict was announced

Unjust Trial Drags On

When Congressman Henry Hyde came to the stand in my defense, Clayton and Sachnoff managed to get a ruling from Judge Coar that he could not be referred to as a congressman. Under Lowell Sachnoff’s questioning, “Mr. Hyde” said about me, “He is my hero. He has the guts that I wish”—he was cut off there by Sachnoff, but finished his thought anyway—”more of us had.” Hyde concluded by saying, “Had people, feeling as does Mr. Scheidler, surrounded and even obstructed the entrance to Dachau or Auschwitz, there may have been fewer people incinerated there.” Similarly, both Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano (Roe and Doe respectively) testified on my behalf, but the jury was not allowed to know they were the women named in the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions.

The trial dragged on for seven weeks. Finally on April 20 the jury announced their decision: Guilty! We were “Racketeers for Life.” We began to plan our appeal, but had to wait for Judge Coar to issue his ruling in the case, which would not come for another fourteen months!

But NOW couldn’t wait to celebrate. They held a victory celebration on in Chicago and another in Wilmington, DE on April 28, where Fay Clayton was honored by Planned Parenthood. We went to Wilmington and greeted the celebrators with large graphic abortion signs and others reading Planned Parenthood Lies to You. In this way we signaled to Fay Clayton that despite the guilty verdict, we weren’t going to back down in our defense of life.

Next Issue: “Pro-Life Action Fights Back, 1998-2002”

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