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RIP Mike Schwartz, happy warrior of the pro-life movement

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 08, 2013

If you have been active in the American pro-life movement—in any capacity, at any time since 1973—you have been influenced by Mike Schwartz, whether you know it or not. Most of the movement’s leaders are acutely aware of Mike’s influence, and many have paid tribute to him since his untimely death, of Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 63.

Last November, when Mike’s illness made it impossible for him to continue his work on Capitol Hill, Senator Tom Coburn, for whom he had been chief of staff, offered an emotional tribute on the Senate floor. That speech conveyed a great deal about the strength of Mike’s character, and of the loyalty he commanded among his friends. Since his death many pro-life leaders have issued their own tributes; this one by Austin Ruse may be the best at summarizing Mike’s impact.

Mike could be an activist or a strategist, a rabble-rouser or a calming influence, depending on the needs of the cause. He generally worked behind the scenes, rarely taking credit for initiatives. He reveled in hardball political tactics, yet had a gift for long-term strategic planning.

In fact Mike was often ahead of his time. He was arrested at a Planned Parenthood clinic more than a decade before Operation Rescue was formed. He was calling attention to the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests more than a decade before the scandal erupted into the headlines. It would not be quite accurate to say that he was fearless—he agonized over the phone with me before denouncing a bishop for molesting a young boy—but when he was convinced that a cause was right, he plunged ahead despite any fears, regardless of the opposition. The right word, I think, would be indomitable.

Tough and opinionated yet kind and humorous, Mike Schwartz had that rare capacity for engaging in a heated, emotional debate without losing his poise or his respect for the human dignity of his adversary. I imagine he must have been a formidable opponent; I’m happy to say that I never tested that proposition, because we were always on the same side. I do know that he was an invaluable ally and a wonderful friend.

May he rest in peace. And (I know he’d want me to say this) may his adversaries continue to squirm, as they always have squirmed wherever his influence has been felt.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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