Charlie Rice, Untiring Pro-Life Warrior

Dr. Charles Rice, Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame Law School and adviser to the Life Legal Defense Foundation since its inception, passed away, on February 25, 2015, after a period of illness. He was 83.

His influence in shaping the American pro-life movement was too great to be properly assessed at this time. Books such as The Vanishing Right to Live; Beyond Abortion: The Theory and Practice of the Secular State; No Exception: A Pro-Life Imperative; and The Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life helped to define the movement’s goals and methods when most pro-lifers had no idea what to do. Above all, he correctly identified the subjectivism that lay at the heart of the pro-abortion movement and argued against it in powerful and practical prose that set in invariable stone what many felt but could ill express.

He also offered sensible advice to numerous pro-life organizations—including Life Legal—and to individual pro-lifers beyond count. When, in 1988, Life Legal’s founders approached him with their proposal for a new pro-life legal defense group, his response was, “Come on in, the water’s fine.” He enthusiastically encouraged the founders in taking their first baby steps, and continued to advise, assist, and inspire over the years.

His determination, rooted in Christian hope rather than in the vague and fragile optimism of a feel-good society, was an example no one could ignore. His good cheer, even in the face of great adversity, kept others in the movement when it seemed that the pro-aborts were all-triumphant. Pro-aborts frequently marvel that the issue of abortion is still contentious today, 42 years after they thought they won with Roe v. Wade. Charlie Rice is one of the main reasons that people such as you and I are still carrying on this fight.

But Charlie Rice was not only the great pro-life legal scholar of Notre Dame. He published thirteen books during his lifetime—on subjects ranging from public prayer to sectarian conflict in Ireland. He helped to found the New York State Conservative Party. He was a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and served as editor of the American Journal of Jurisprudence. He served as an active-duty Marine and as a reservist and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. And the list goes on and on.

Outside his own large family—eleven children, including one of Vietnamese extraction, adopted after the fall of Saigon—Dr. Rice was perhaps best known to his students. He was the model of a dedicated teacher and became famous for taking phone calls from frantic students at any time of the day or night, whether the caller needed personal advice or just help with his or her study of law. Dr. Rice stayed in the classroom till December of 2014 and made it a priority to submit his final set of grades on time.

The scholarly Marine (for once a Marine, always a Marine) also coached the Notre Dame Boxing Club for thirty years. If you learned to fight from Charlie Rice, you really learned how to fight.

We at Life Legal are proud to say that we learned to fight from this wonderful gentleman. If we can only continue to follow his example, our eventual victory is assured.

—Michael Marcus


Still Champion

(In Memoriam Charlie Rice, +February 25, 2015)


When everyone was all for compromise—

which meant, of course, the easiest surrender—

he saw the truth with never-flinching eyes

and stood as life’s unwearying defender.

In that ring, he was more than mere contender.

He sent opponents to the canvas fast.

His energies were vast — and, cheerful spender,

He labored hard, yet managed still to last.

And is his advocacy in the past?

Of course not. From the realm where Beatrice

gazed down on troubled Dante, unharassed

by all our vain distractions, he will miss

no opportunity to intervene.

Dread ought to fill the pro-abortion scene.

—Flammeus Gladius

(This poem appeared earlier in The Irish Rover, a Notre Dame student publication.)


Originally published in Lifeline Vol. XXIV, No. 2 (Summer 2015)