Joe and Ann on the College Circuit in Maryland and Virginia

Group at Christendom

At Christendom College (from left): Brittany Scheidler, Joe and Ann Scheidler and Shield of Roses officers Andy Bodoh, Chrissie Walsh and Fred Gruber [Photo Courtesy of Andy BodohCredit]

It was about dinner time on Friday, April 14 when I received a desperate call from Jack Ames, president of Defend Life in Baltimore. Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, had been scheduled by Defend Life to speak at six colleges in Maryland and Virginia and two churches, but had come down with the flu and was unable to make the tour. Since it had been a monumental feat to coordinate the presentations at the colleges, Jack did not want to cancel the talks.

One of Defend Life’s principal activities is its Lecture Series. Defend Life brings in speakers on life issues from all over the country and makes them available to colleges, universities, parishes and pro-life functions. They work closely with the Respect Life clubs at the colleges. The members of the various pro-life clubs had worked hard to promote the Norma McCorvey talks and were expecting good-sized audiences.

Jack said that he knew it was very short notice, but he asked if Joe and I could rearrange our schedule and spend five days the following week, from April 18 to 22, filling in for McCorvey. Since we had recently launched our Roe education campaign to explain the full meaning of the abortion decisions, it worked out well to take our message to these colleges and churches on the east coast.

Standing in for Roe

At each presentation I gave a brief overview of the evolution of the Roe v. Wade case and pointed out the deception that was an integral part of the drive to legalize abortion, including the fact that Norma McCorvey’s own attorneys knew that she had not been raped, but went ahead with that story in their arguments before the Texas courts. I explained how abortion had negatively impacted our society. Joe then discussed the goals of the pro-life movement, activism in particular, and the signs indicating that abortion will soon be restricted and will eventually be outlawed in America.

The tour started with American University in Washington, D.C., where we spoke to forty students. Although most were not pro-life, they were respectful and asked thoughtful questions. Three staunchly pro-abortion female students remained after the talk to debate abortion and women’s rights with Cheryl Tomlin and other pro-life students.

From American University we went straight to Georgetown University where Steve Picciano, president of the pro-life club, introduced us to an audience of fifty students. We were pleasantly surprised at the number who attended the talk and told us about their support for pro-life initiatives. The current pro-life club is made up mostly of freshmen who are very enthusiastic and energetic.

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Catholic College Students Receptive

On Wednesday, Missy Smith, one of Defend Life’s most dedicated volunteers, drove us to Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, a two-hour drive. At Christendom we were greeted by our niece, Brittany Scheidler, a freshman, who gave us a tour of the campus. Chrissie Walsh, president of the pro-life club, hosted a lasagna dinner with the pro-life club at the rectory of the campus parish before the evening talk. One hundred students, faculty members and area residents attended the talk, including Brian and Cathy Clowes from Human Life International, whose headquarters are just a mile from Christendom.

From Christendom, Jack Ames drove us to the Baltimore area where we stayed at the lovely home of Bill and Marta Coons. On Thursday morning we headed to Steve Peroutka’s office in Pasadena, MD where we taped two segments of his Face the Truth radio program.

Thursday afternoon we spoke at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg. About thirty students gathered in the beautiful college chapel, including Kevin Butler, a seminarian who had worked with our daughter Annie in youth ministry in the Rockford Diocese. Butler will be ordained in the spring of 2007. Following the talk at St. Mary’s, Vince Perticone invited us to his home for an Italian dinner. For dessert he surprised us by inviting us to his own authentic 1950’s ice cream parlor in his basement. Vince and his wife built the ice cream parlor entirely by themselves.

On Thursday evening we spoke at Immaculate Conception parish hall in Baltimore to a crowd of more than a hundred. Although they had expected to hear Norma McCorvey, the audience was gracious and supportive of our activist work. Many stayed after the question period to discuss ways they could get more involved in the pro-life effort.

Shift Evident in Student Attitudes

On Friday, April 21, two talks were scheduled at two campuses of the University of Maryland. The first was arranged by Rose Capozzi and Kelly LeFleur at the Baltimore County campus. The talk was at noon and many students brought their lunch to the lecture hall. Among the eighty attendees were two priests, Fr. Gray of the Catholic campus ministry and Fr. Carr from New York. Some of the students received special credit for attending the talk. The students in the audience were very attentive and seemed genuinely interested in learning more about the impact of abortion on the culture.

At 3:00 we spoke at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. The last time Joe had spoken there, the audience had been particularly hostile. This time our reception was very agreeable. Even a group of four young women wearing “I love pro-choice boys” T-shirts asked thoughtful and provocative questions, not designed to be antagonistic. Cathy McCloud and Patrick Youngwirth, of the UMCP pro-life club had done a good job of advertising the event, although many of the students still thought they were coming to hear Norma McCorvey.

We joined Baltimore area pro-lifers for dinner on Friday evening, though Joe spent most of the dinner hour doing a radio interview with Catholic Answers Live. Due to poor cell phone reception, he had to walk outside in the rain to do the interview.

The Knights Save the Day

The speaking tour ended with a talk at the Rock Creek Knights of Columbus hall. The talk had been scheduled for St. Raphael’s Parish in Rockville, MD. However, once the pastor found out that the speaker was not Norma McCorvey, he canceled the use of the parish facilities. The K of C stepped in to host the event and signs were posted at the church directing people to the new location. It was a small group of committed pro-lifers, so we opted to set aside the Roe education talk and instead focus on how our involvement in the pro-life movement has affected our family life. Our niece, Elsa Hoffmann, who lives in the D.C. area, stopped by for a visit at the end of the evening.

Our campus visits encouraged us by making it very clear that attitudes toward abortion are shifting. There were far fewer radical feminists, far more students open to learning the truth, and a large number of dedicated pro-life leaders poised to continue building a culture of life.

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