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Thomas More's life remains an excellent example for modern pro-lifers

By Editorial Staff
Published June 6, 1999

Pro-Life Action League ACTION NEWS, June, 1999, Vol. XVII, No. 1

THOMAS MORE SOCIETY: A PRO-LIFE LAW CENTER

By Thomas J. Brejcha, Esq.

Editor’s note: Tom Brejcha has always favored the underdog. He grew up in Chicago and went to New York University Law School on a fellowship, graduating in 1968. An ROTC graduate at the University of Notre Dame, he wound up in Vietnam after law school, coordinating Army transports during the Cambodian invasion. After his tour of duty, he studied French in Paris under the G.I. bill, then returned to Chicago. He chose to work for a law firm that was active in civil rights causes and had defended Black Panthers in a case that saw the city’s prosecutor indicted. After the firm dissolved, Brejcha moved to Abramson & Fox and became a partner. For ten years, he was able to work at his firm and handle NOW v. Scheidler, but in 1997 decided to devote all of his attention to this pro-life case. This article discusses the evolution of the not-for-profit, pro-life law center known as the Thomas More Society.

Saint Thomas More’s life (1477-1535) remains an excellent example for modern pro-lifers

CHICAGO — Early in 1997, saddled with the burden of mounting legal work in defense of NOW v. Scheidler, with a protracted jury trial looming over the near horizon, I had to resign from my law firm.

Then, with the Pro-Life Action League’s support, I established a new Pro-Life Law Center, where it was planned that a base of operations could be set up for final trial preparations and actual defense of the trial proceedings. The Law Center would function as a “new home” for all the many files, research papers, exhibits and other documents related to the case and where lawyers and volunteers could work.

Thanks to the cooperation of Chris Jepson, manager of the office building at 185 N. Wabash Ave. in downtown Chicago, a suite of offices was quickly made available. The offices were modestly furnished and shortly filled with files, law books and word processing equipment.

This arrangement was expected to last three to six months, long enough to prepare for and complete any jury trial. But it turned out that the trial was deferred for an entire year until March and April 1998, after which there was a non-jury trial sequel in June and July. Then followed months of legal wrangling that produced a hornet’s nest of issues that have remained under advisement at least through the end of May 1999.

Deborah Fischer Joins Defense

Once U.S. District Court Judge David Coar set a firm trial date of March 2, 1998, the new Law Center churned into a flurry of activity. Deborah Fischer, a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Law School, joined the defense and helped in final trial preparations.

The Law Center came to resemble a law office as we selected, assembled, marked and copied masses of exhibits; prepared, briefed and answered waves of pre-trial legal motions and other maneuvers; and worked on the mammoth “pretrial order,” including critiques and counter-proposals for the masses of proposed jury instructions served by NOW and the abortion clinic plaintiffs.

About one week into the actual trial — after more than 100 “venire persons” comprising the panel of prospective jurors had been winnowed down to six jurors and four alternates — the League’s legal defense team was reinforced.

Richard Caro of Riverside, Ill., a former assistant U.S. attorney from the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn), had heard about the case from a fellow church parishioner and long-time friend, Tom Roeser. He quickly dug in, familiarized himself with the facts, and joined our legal team in opposing NOW’s racketeering claims.

The jury trial phase of the trial lasted nearly two full months, culminating in a jury verdict against defendants Joe Scheidler, Andy Scholberg, Tim Murphy and the ProLife Action League in April 1998. But the work of the Pro-Life Law Center, as it was then called, was far from over.

Instead of considering the plaintiffs’ plea for entry of a nationwide injunction in light of the evidence that was heard during the jury trial, Judge Coar elected instead to convene a new and separate hearing. This “non-jury” phase ended in July 1998 and several months of legal motions and memoranda followed.

Among the few motions that Judge Coar did deny were two of the plaintiffs. He denied their request that he sanction or assess monetary fines against Caro and me for having “frivolously” objected that the plaintiffs had waived or forfeited their right to seek treble damages for each clinic by not having provided for such class member mini-trials in the final pretrial order.

Also, Judge Coar rebuffed plaintiffs’ request that he enter a “partial judgment” on that portion of the jury verdict, by which the jury found that each of the defendants had legally damaged the plaintiff clinics to the extent of some $85,000; plaintiffs wanted that figure trebled to more than $250,000.

No judgment could be entered, the judge ruled, until he had passed on all of the plaintiffs’ requests for relief, including their prayer for a nationwide injunction and, presumably, also including their request for another 900-plus “mini-trials” for all the other clinics.

League Resumes Action

Once the initial two phases of NOW v. Scheidler ended in July 1998, the Pro-Life Action League resumed its full-time pro-life work and proceeded to leave all the legal machinations to the Law Center attorneys. We then took steps to incorporate as a separate Illinois not-for-profit corporation, “Pro-Life Law Center.”

The Illinois Secretary of State’s office, however, objected to the name. Searching for an alternative, we noticed the photocopy of Hans Holbein’s 1527 portrait of Thomas More above our copy machine.

The Renaissance saint had become the Law Center’s patron, and it seemed appropriate that this bond take on a secular, as well as spiritual, significance. The papers were resubmitted to the state, and the Law Center was incorporated in November 1998 as The Thomas More Society, Inc., an Illinois not-for-profit corporation.

Because Thomas More is known for losing his head in a showdown with King Henry VIII of England, naming of the Law Center in his honor perhaps deserves some explanation. He was a boyhood friend of the king a 16th-century lawyer and became Chancellor of England after Cardinal Thomas Wolsey had fallen from favor.

This was the time, of course, when tensions between Henry and the Catholic Church had strained past the breaking point. Still, the king held great respect for his learned friend and desperately sought More’s approval for his divorce and his self- appointment as head of the Church of England.

More Remains Silent

But true to his conscience, More refused assent to both requests. Rather, he chose to resign as Chancellor, assuming that his opinion as a mere private citizen wouldn’t matter. He believed, true to his faith in English law, that silence would keep him safely in conformity with the commands of law while equally faithful to his conscience. Others, however, found it expedient to sacrifice More.

Thus, Thomas More, adhering to his principles, was jailed, tried in a travesty of a trial, sentenced and beheaded in 1535. Though throngs of noblemen and clergy professed to rally to the cause of the king and save their lives and careers, history remembers More and the Church canonized him.

Thomas More, then, offers a splendid example for pro-lifers. This is not just because he found his way to martyrdom in defiance of law, sacrificing his own life in obedience to the dictates of conscience.

Rather, it is precisely because More strove to live his religious faith fully and yet in accord with his faith in law, to reconcile God’s law with the law of his kingdom, that More’s sainthood has such special relevance for the pro-life movement today.

We must never give up on our legal system, as often as we find ourselves at odds with its commands in these troubled times. For if there should be no laws, yet more lives would be lost, violence would flourish without limits and the sanctity of life would dissipate to nothing.

St. Thomas More is a double-imaged model. He bids us to heed our conscience and abide its beacon, never to desert our call to pro-life activism or turn our backs on babies in mortal peril. We must stand our ground, as he did, and suffer — or celebrate — the consequences.

Too often, of course, those consequences turn out badly, and pro-lifers are caught in the utter frustration and helplessness in the face of gross evil, or else they are persecuted and — while not beheaded even prosecuted. Yet they cannot and do not walk or turn away.

With Thomas More, the lawyer saint, we must take our stand and hold our ground. But at the same time, we do so with unstinting faith that ultimately — and we hope sooner rather than later —our legal system itself will vindicate our stand.

And so, to the extent possible, we are peaceable, reasonable and law-abiding. We do not deviate from law unless and only to the extent that law may actually mandate our involvement or complicity in lawless violence, in the killing of innocents.

Always our aim must be to promote the rule of law. Yet, we must be ceaseless and undaunted in our opposition to law’s injustice, urging its reform, redemption and renewed fidelity to those ideals which our ancestors pledged their lives, fortunes and their sacred honor — the inalienable right of all human beings (born and unborn) to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Resolute in our determination to press our clients’ cause in NOW v. Scheidler to ultimate vindication and victory and with St. Thomas More as our patron and namesake, we remain optimistic and committed to our work.

Having set down our mission in broad terms — pledged to the defense of the sanctity of human life we’ve already aided other clients. These include the following:

We’ve helped pregnant women who’ve been pressured at work, harassed, or terminated on account of their “choice” to continue their pregnancies.

We’ve aided unwed moms who’ve had to struggle to keep their jobs and/or their children.

We’ve defended moms who found, after “choosing life” for their children, that abortion clinics charged them more for deciding against abortion (similar to a “cancellation fee”) than what had been quoted initially as the price of the abortion itself.

We’ve undertaken the defense of latter-day “rescuers” who’ve braved and suffered FACE charges by reason of their conscience-bound intercession in prayerful efforts to save lives at potential cost of their own funds and/or freedom.

We’ve advised and counseled other pro-life lawyers and clients around the country, including those caught up in the Portland, Ore. case brought by Planned Parenthood seemingly focusing on the “Nuremberg files” website.

The lawyers of the Pro-Life Law Center, supported by the Thomas More Society, expect to remain hard at our work long past the conclusion of NOW v. Scheidler. We hope to enlist legions of other lawyers, sharing the lessons learned and spreading a greater respect for the rights of pro-life activists and for the sanctity of human life.

THOMAS MORE SOCIETY BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Mary Hallan FioRito, Esq., lawyer, vice chancellor and former Respect Life Director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

Jennifer Craigmile Neubauer, Esq., lawyer and mother of four children from Lake Forest, Ill.

John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe, pro-life author and activist from Gaithersburg, Md.

Ann Scheidler, co-chair, Speak Out Illinois, and assistant director of the Pro-Life Action League.

Carl Schroeder, Esq., lawyer and Lutherans for Life coordinator from Oswego, III.

Kathleen O’Brien, Esq., lawyer and national coordinator of Maximilian Kolbe Alliance, from Lake Forest, Ill.

To contact any of the Law Center attorneys or board members, please call the Pro- Life Center of the Thomas More Society, Inc., 185 N. Wabash Ave., Suite 7207, Chicago, III. 60601. Telephone: (312) 782-1680; fax: (312) 782-1887.


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