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Profile: Joseph Scheidler

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Joseph Scheidler was a participant or observer in the following events:

Joseph Scheidler.Joseph Scheidler. [Source: Pro-Life Action League]Anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler forms a group variously known as the Pro-Life Action League (PLAL) and the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN). Scheidler was a ranking member of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the US’s largest anti-abortion organization, until 1978, when he was dismissed from the group for his advocacy of violence. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38)

The cover of Joseph Scheidler’s ‘Closed.’The cover of Joseph Scheidler’s ‘Closed.’ [Source: Traditional Crusade (.org)]Two books are privately published by anti-abortion activists: Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, by Joseph Scheidler (see 1980), and The Abortion Buster’s Manual, by Kevin Sherlock. Sherlock’s book focuses on ways to identify and harass abortion providers, which anti-abortion activists have identified as the “weak link” in the “abortion industry,” and details legal means of harassment, including searching public records for malpractice lawsuits, criminal histories, or abortion-related deaths, which can be used as propaganda against the identified providers. Scheidler’s book discusses both legal and illegal ways to disrupt a clinic’s functions, including what he calls “aggressive sidewalk counseling sessions” (protesters screaming, shouting, and waving posters depicting bloody fetuses at clinic clients, among other “counseling” techniques), and full-scale clinic “blockades” using protesters and their vehicles. Scheidler also advocates harassing doctors and patients at their homes and workplaces. Both books will become “bibles” for anti-abortion activists. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38-39)

Anti-abortion activists with the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) gather at a motel in Appleton, Wisconsin, to celebrate their successes and plan further actions. The PLAN members apparently count a wave of abortion clinic bombings and arsons as successes; the motel’s marquee reads, “Welcome Pro-Life Activists—Have a Blast,” and some PLAN members wear firecrackers on their name badges. One of the featured events of the gathering is the reading of a letter from imprisoned clinic arsonist Curt Beseda. In 2002, author and journalist Frederick Clarkson will write: “This small but seminal meeting in many ways epitomized the brazen yet banal nature of organized antiabortion extremism—a rah-rah atmosphere, like some perverse parody of a pep rally, in which threats of future violence were cloaked as free speech, and past criminal acts were celebrated as valid tools for intimidating fellow citizens. A fringe culture was coalescing.” (Clarkson 12/2002) At this and other PLAN meetings, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler vows to stop abortion “by any means necessary.” He has previously called PLAN a “pro-life mafia.” The organization proclaims “a year of pain and fear” for anyone seeking or providing abortion. (National Organization for Women 9/2002; Clarkson 12/2002)

Randall Terry, a former used-car salesman and anti-abortion activist, forms a group he calls “Operation Rescue” in Binghamton, New York. Terry is a protege of Joseph Scheidler (see 1980 and 1985). Terry’s organization focuses on what it calls “rescues,” usually full-scale blockades of women’s health clinics. In many of these actions, hundreds of activists will be arrested. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38-39)

Joseph Scheidler, the president of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and three PLAN members enter the Summit Women’s Health Clinic in Middletown, Delaware. Scheidler later says he is “casing the place,” according to court records. The day after the visit, protesters vandalize the clinic, seriously damaging equipment. (Clarkson 12/2002)

Members of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986) enter a women’s health clinic, the Pensacola Ladies Center, in Pensacola, Florida. They attack the clinic administrator, throwing her down the stairs; attack and injure an official of the National Organization for Women (NOW); blockade the clinic; and wreck medical equipment. During the attack, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler stands outside, praising the attackers and publicly claiming credit for the incident. The clinic will close for several days for repairs. (National Organization for Women 9/2002) The Ladies Center was firebombed twice in 1984 by anti-abortion activists (see 1984). (Kushner 2003, pp. 38) One of the protesters who takes part in the blockade and assault is James Kopp, who in 1998 will murder an abortion provider (see October 23, 1998). (Clarkson 3/30/2001)

National Organization for Women logo.National Organization for Women logo. [Source: National Organization for Women]The National Organization for Women (NOW) files a lawsuit against Joseph Scheidler, Scheidler’s organization Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and other anti-abortion organizations. NOW is joined in the suit by the Delaware Women’s Health Organization and the Pensacola Ladies Center (see March 26, 1986), and later the Summit Women’s Health Organization (see 1986). The lawsuit is part of a strategy devised by NOW president Eleanor Smeal to use federal antitrust laws to charge Scheidler and others with being part of a nationwide criminal conspiracy to close women’s health clinics through the use of violence and terror. The suit becomes known as NOW v. Scheidler. (National Organization for Women 9/2002; Clarkson 12/2002) The lawsuit seeks a nationwide injunction to stop the clinic invasions, and asks the courts to make those responsible for the attacks pay for the damage they caused. In 2002, the future president of NOW, Kim Gandy, will say of the lawsuit: “NOW decided we had to stop the violence. Scheidler and his gang were calling in blitzes—they would attack clinics without warning and hold staff and patients hostage. Clinics were being blockaded and invaded. If we did not act, we thought clinics would not be able to stay open.” NOW attorney Fay Clayton will say the case seeks “to ensure that the constitutional right [to abortion] recognized [in 1973] would exist not just in theory, but in reality.” According to a 2002 Ms. Magazine report, the case only targets anti-abortion protesters who engage in criminal acts such as criminal trespass, assault, and conspiracy to block access to clinics. It makes no effort to halt peaceful protests as protected by the First Amendment. The lawsuit claims that PLAN and others engaged in what the federal racketeering law prohibits: namely, a “pattern of racketeering activity,” including the use of fear, force, and violence, in order to prevent people from receiving and providing legal abortions. Clayton maintains that the actions met the legal definition of organized crime. (Clarkson 12/2002)

After 12 years of litigation, the National Organization for Women (NOW) wins its lawsuit against the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN, also known as the Pro-Life Action League, or PLAL—see 1980 and 1986) and other anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986, September 22, 1995, and March 29 - September 23, 1997). The jury hearing the case unanimously agrees that the defendants engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to deny women access to medical facilities. The jury determines that Operation Rescue (see 1986), PLAN, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler, and their co-defendants are racketeers under the RICO Act and should be held liable for triple damages for the harm their violent acts caused to women’s health clinics. (National Organization for Women 9/2002)

Based on the recent lawsuit by the National Organization for Women (see April 20, 1998), District Judge David Coar issues a nationwide injunction against the anti-abortion advocates who lost the case. Coar’s injunction forbids the defendants from hindering the right of women to obtain reproductive health services at clinics and the right of the clinics to provide those services. One of the defendants, Joseph Scheidler, will appeal the ruling on several grounds, including the First Amendment right of free speech. (National Organization for Women 9/2002)

An appeals court rejects an argument by anti-abortion advocate Joseph Scheidler (see 1980 and 1986) that he should be allowed to continue his campaign of violence and intimidation towards women seeking abortions and other health services (see July 16, 1999). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals finds that “the First Amendment does not protect violent conduct” and that “violence in any form is the antithesis of reasoned discussion.” Scheidler and his colleagues will appeal to the Supreme Court. (National Organization for Women 9/2002)

Anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler (see 1980, 1985, June 1986, April 20, 1998, October 2, 2001, and February 28, 2006) claims to have renounced the violent tactics that made him such a notorious figure of the anti-abortion, or pro-life, movement (see 1986 and March 26, 1986). Scheidler, 75, a former Benedictine monk and newspaper reporter who lives in Chicago, says he now favors peaceful marches on abortion clinics, the display of posters with graphic depictions of aborted fetuses, and what he calls “counseling” of women seeking abortions. “Obstruction—that’s over,” Scheidler says. “I was in some of those demonstrations, but I could see that was not going to be the real way. You’ve got to convert people away from abortion. You don’t just keep them out of the clinics. They just arrest you and you’re gone, and they go back in. I always hated it when the day was done, and they were all going back to the clinic and we were sitting in a [police] wagon.” He adds: “Nothing’s going to change in what we do. I haven’t stopped doing anything that I thought was effective. What will change is I think more people will come out.” (Golab 2/27/2003)


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