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Mike Schwartz: Son of Thunder

In his final days, Michael Schwartz could hardly hold himself up. He had to be propped up with pillows. Though his voice was little more than a whisper, his words bristled with passion.

He sat with radio personality Sandy Rios and between greedy gulps of air whispered out his life story.

You will probably not know his name or heard of him. It is hard to say that he was merely a behind-the-scenes person. He was that, but he was more. Hardly a pro-life leader in America was not at one time welcomed by him, mentored and taught by him, prayed for by him. He was in fact a leader of leaders.

Mike grew up in Philadelphia, poor and in family chaos: “My father was a drunken, adulterous wife beater. I remember my father beat the crap out of my mother frequently. He wanted me to meet his girlfriends. I started driving when I was seven. I took him to their homes. He became for me the permanent image of what I did not want to be. ”

This was the seedbed for what became a man of deep and abiding faith: “I think I got all the breaks. I’ve had a very blessed life.”

His life’s trajectory was likely set when one of his young friends gave him a copy of National Review. Until then, he didn’t know he was a conservative. This led to Mike’s becoming a charter subscriber to Triumph magazine, the smart and combative journal that represented one of the last gasps of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in America.

Triumph led to summer pilgrimages at El Escorial in Spain, the home of the Spanish Monarchs and not very far from the Valley of the Fallen, the monument built by Francisco Franco. The Triumph team wanted to imbue their students with what a true Catholic culture was like. Mike drank deeply.

Mike says Triumph, “became the seedbed for the pro-life movement of the 1960s.” He and his Triumph-enthused fellow students at the University of Dallas formed the Sons of Thunder, one of the first pro-life groups in America. They promptly occupied a Planned Parenthood facility in Dallas and promptly got arrested.

For his whole professional life, Mike was at the center of all the most important pro-life activities. With Nellie Gray and others, he founded what became the March for Life.

Mike went on to a whole host of important jobs. He worked for Paul Weyrich at the Free Congress Foundation. He became Legislative Director for Concerned Women for America. (He loved saying he worked for a women’s group.) He worked for Congressman Tom Coburn in the House of Representatives and later became Coburn’s Chief of Staff when he went to the Senate.

       Mike Schwartz, R.I.P.

Mike was not a namby-pamby Christian. He was salty. Talking about the Supreme Court or the “gutless Republicans in the U.S. Senate,” his eyes would narrow, and his lips would tighten across his teeth and he would hold forth like an Old Testament prophet. Sometimes this got him into trouble.

He once said publically that the Justices of the Supreme Court shouldn’t be impeached “they should be impaled.” He called it the “Roe v. Wade Hate Crimes Against the Human Race Decision.”

It wasn’t just abortion he cared about. Mike said that the scourge of pornography caused young men to become homosexual. He was one of the first in this country to sound the alarm bell about the sex scandal of Catholic priests. He called abortion murder. Mike was salty and fearless.

His last pro-life testament was a strategy memo that he began to float a few years ago and that he presented formally to a large group of pro-life leaders who met in Washington, D.C., around the March for Life – which turned out to be his last public appearance, a few weeks before his death.

The memo is masterwork, a summa of a life spent living and thinking about the cause of the unborn. Mike believed that America is uneasy with the idea of abortion, but has grown comfortable with the reality. Besides the true blue partisans on both sides, no more than 20 percent on either side, was a mushy middle weary of the debate.

He believed that even if Roe were overturned we would still be faced with massive numbers of abortions and “instead of eliminating abortion by outlawing it, we first need to outlaw it by eliminating it.”

He wrote, “When the total number of commercial abortions committed is no greater than 100,000 and the total number of abortion shops is less than 100, then we can say that the cancer has been shrunk sufficiently to cut it out.”

To end abortion Mike called for prayer – specific prayers for women and for abortionists by name – service to the pregnant woman, and legislation aimed almost exclusively at putting abortionists out of business in the states.

He called for “facilities regulations,” requiring all abortion workers be bonded so as to expose the criminal past of many of them, establishing an Abortion Injury Compensation Fund to be funded by a tax on all abortions, and several other very clever ideas, many of which are already being carried out.

You may never have met Michael Schwartz, but much of what you know about the pro-life cause first came to life in his head and at his hands.

He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease only a year-and-a-half ago. This man who always carried some book about theology in his pocket, knew this was a blessing and was always joyful about it even to the end. It was a final test, a final penance that he carried out with the sporting spirit of a true Christian and a Son of Thunder.

Mike breathed his last on Sunday in the company of his beloved wife of 42 years, his many children and his grandchildren. Requiescat in pace, Mike.  At only 63, you left us way too soon. 

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.