Today, most people in the United States take it for granted that they can protest – either in the streets or in print – something with which they disagree. But in 1986, that right was potentially challenged when the National Organization for Women (NOW) and two abortion providers sued a pro-life attorney named Joseph Scheidler in a case known as NOW vs. Scheidler.
This case, and a series of related lawsuits alleging everything from anti-trust to racketeering (RICO) violations, would take 28 years and three U.S. Supreme Court cases to resolve. Learn about the two men who gave everything to make the pro-life movement what it is today when EWTN airs “Fighting for Life: The Story of NOW vs. Scheidler.” (Airs 6:30 p.m. ET, Monday, March 22, and 11 p.m. ET, Wednesday, March 24 on EWTN.)
The story begins as Joseph Scheidler leaves his lucrative career as a business lawyer in the marketing industry to start the Pro-Life Action League, a bold voice for the unborn. He was a charismatic man who quickly became in great demand as a speaker. It was Scheidler who would teach members of the fledgling pro-life movement how to effectively protest against abortion. In response to the demand for information, he also wrote a book outlining 99 ways to fight for life.
NOW and two abortion providers launched their first attack by filing an anti-trust claim on behalf of all abortion providers and all women seeking access to abortion. They claimed that Scheidler’s book urged the shutdown of the entire abortion industry and was therefore anti-competition.
The firebrand business lawyer turned pro-life champion sought to counter the lawsuit by hiring an equally forceful lawyer to defend himself against these ridiculous charges. When he met lawyer Tom Brejcha, he admits he didn’t think Brejcha had it in him to do what needed to be done. But when Brejcha calmly informed him: “I win my cases,” Scheidler wisely decided to put his faith in the less flashy man. At the time, neither man realized the lengthy journey on which they were about to embark.
One of the more fascinating moments in the legal journey outlined in the film occurs during the second U.S. Supreme Court case, which involved the RICO allegations. It would lead Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the more liberal justices on the court, to ask the NOW attorney in oral arguments: “Could your theory have been used against the Civil Rights protestors?” When the answer was yes, Justice Ginsburg cut the attorney off. It was at that moment that the pro-life attorneys knew they had won that case. In the final opinion, Justices Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, considered two of the more liberal justices on the Court, quoted that exchange in their decision against NOW.
This excellent documentary also showcases the drama and the fortitude it took to survive NOW’s many lawsuits, and the personal fortitude of both pro-life attorneys. Brejcha was told he either had to give up the case or leave the law firm at which he was employed and also took some serious financial risks, which understandably scared his wife.Brejcha would eventually found the Thomas More Society, which to this day defends those on the front lines of the pro-life movement. Former Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson says that pro-lifers know that “the Thomas More Society stands hand in hand with us. We could never afford the legal services they provide.”
What would motivate a young attorney to give up so much? Says Brejcha: “As a busy as a young litigator, I hadn’t been part of the pro-life movement or any protest movement, but I have come to believe that our rights come from the Creator, that they inalienable…that it’s a very honorable cause to serve during one’s lifetime.”
This film will help you realize what a huge debt the prolife movement owes to both the recently deceased Joseph Scheidler (may he rest in peace) and the quietly effective legal genius, Tom Brejcha. The story shows us yet again that the fight for freedom in the world is found not only on the battlefield but in the courtroom, and in the bravery of a small number of men and women who are willing to sacrifice their own lives so that others, including the unborn, may live.