Optimism, resolve blend at Life Rally in Peoria on eve of inauguration
Nearing age 90 with the latter half of his life devoted to the pro-life movement, Joe Scheidler struck an optimistic tone Jan. 19 as he challenged his Peoria audience to “stay firm in your convictions.”
“Abortions are down,” he said near the conclusion of the annual Life Rally sponsored by Central Illinois Right to Life at Riverside Community Church. “Abortionists, more than 1,500 of them, have quit. Clinics are closing. Good things are happening. Maybe many more good things are ahead.”
The hopefulness of the founder of the Pro-Life Action League was shared by speakers throughout the program, which was preceded by a Walk for Life around an adjacent block in downtown Peoria. Some of it was cautious optimism coming on the night before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who espoused pro-life views in his campaign.
“We pray tonight on this historic eve of an historic day, that it will be an historic start to a new day for the right to life of every child that is conceived, not only in America but around the world,” said Pastor John King of Riverside Community Church in an opening prayer.
That optimism of the evening was muted by sadness in recalling the death toll since abortion was legalized through all nine months of pregnancy by U.S. Supreme Court decisions issued on Jan. 22, 1973.
“We have killed 58 million of our little brothers and sisters,” said Scheidler, author of the recently published book “Racketeer for Life: Fighting the Culture of Death from the Sidewalk to the Supreme Court.” But while the number is staggering, he said people become involved in the movement because they know one aborted child “isn’t a statistic. It’s a person to you.”
Scheidler was joined by his wife, Ann, who helped found the Pro-Life Action League and is its vice president. Both also spoke to the full student body at Peoria Notre Dame High School earlier in the day.
Ann Scheidler said that when she was in high school in 1960, “nobody had seen the baby in the womb yet but we knew it was a human being. Now that we can actually see that baby in the womb (through technology) and it’s obvious from the scientific point of view it’s a human being, there’s no legal protection for it. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“IT’S ABOUT GOOD AND EVIL”
Tom Olp, an attorney and co-executive director of the Thomas More Society in Chicago, had another word for the claim that since we can’t tell when human life begins, anyone can decide for themselves whether the child has a right to life.
“Scientifically, that position is hogwash,” said Olp, “for science teaches that a distinct human being begins at fertilization.”
But the battle is not about science, continued Olp. “It’s about good and evil” and therefore requires “spiritual fortitude and prayer and action.”
“We alone cannot win this battle,” he told the crowd. “Only God can turn the hearts and minds of our citizens to open their eyes to the value and dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.”
LOCAL OUTREACHES REPRESENTED
Offering practical ways for local pro-life proponents to put their beliefs into action were representatives of two outreaches in the city — the Women’s Pregnancy Center, located near Planned Parenthood on Knoxville Avenue, and the Women’s Care Center, next to the abortion facility on North University Street.
Julie Philyaw of the Women’s Pregnancy Center called on churches to become better equipped and more engaged in the movement.
“We have a lot of churches in our area that will not talk about abortion because they are afraid they are going to offend women in their audience,” she said. “What they don’t understand is they are not allowing those women to find healing and freedom through Jesus Christ. We are the light in the dark world.”
Connie McClure and Sheila Ludolph spoke on behalf of the work of the Women’s Care Center, which served 632 women in the last calendar year. McClure shared the good news that among those served “we are expecting 246 babies right now.”
But “every week, every day, every hour is a struggle,” she added. “We are guided and inspired by seeing you out praying in front of the abortion clinic.”
Ludolph told of one success story of a woman helped by the center who recently delivered a baby girl. But she noted not all visitor stories have happy endings. “Sometimes we stand there and watch them walk next door” for an abortion, she said.
“No woman truly wants to make that decision,” she said. It comes out of fear and despair, “so what we try to offer is hope through love.”
Serving as host for the evening was Ken Goins, president of Central Illinois Right to Life. He listed the organization’s activities, thanked supporters, and gave special recognition to Sister Mary Jo Yutt, OSF, who is a sidewalk minister outside the local abortion clinic “almost every time that place is open.”
“By the way,” noted Goins, “Sister is 91 years young.”