Court could curb Fundie Terrorism
Top Court To Consider Applying RICO to Abortion Protestors
The Supreme Court, returning to the controversy over abortion, said
Monday it will decide whether anti-abortion protesters who block
clinics can be sued under a tough anti-racketeering law.
At issue is a decision by a US Court of Appeals in Chicago that calls
activities of anti-abortion protesters reprehensible, but concludes
they are not covered by racketeering or antitrust laws. The Clinton
administration says the court wrongly spared "Operation 'Rescue'" and
other such groups from being sued under racketeering laws. Justice
Dept. lawyers, reflecting President Clinton's support for abortion
rights, urged the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.
The high court will schedule oral arguments during its term that
begins in October, with a decision expected in early 1994.
The case involves only the use of the racketeering law against the
protesters, not the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling
that made abortion legal or recent efforts by states to restrict
Abortion-rights advocates have long sought to use the racketeering
law to deter the blocking of entrances to clinics and the harassment
of employees and abortion-seeking women. They have charged anti-
abortion groups with extortion through the use of arson, bombings,
destruction of property, assault and battery and trespass.
The National Organization for Women and 2 clinics more than 6 years
ago charged in a class-action lawsuit that abortion protesters had
illegally conspired to drive abortion clinics out of business through
acts of violence, intimidation and harassment.
Among those named in the suit were "Operation 'Rescue'" and its founder
Randall Terry, as well as 3 other anti-abortion cults. A federal judge
and then the appeals court threw out the lawsuit.
The appeals court held that anti-abortion protesters do not violate
the antitrust law because they are engaged in political, rather than
It also said protesters could not be held liable under the racketeering
law on grounds that it requires an economically motivated enterprise or
economically motivated acts.
Attorneys for NOW and the 2 clinics appealed to the Supreme Court to
hear the case, warning that the ruling creates a disastrous
They argued that the decision in their case conflicts with a 1989
ruling by an appeals court in Philadelphia, allowing abortion
protesters to be sued under the racketeering law.
Attorneys for the anti-abortion groups and individuals named in the
lawsuit said the "unsound and surreal theory of the case does not
The attorneys argued that the antitrust law was not intended to apply
to non-commercial political protest and that the racketeering law
requires an economic motivation.
The 1970 racketeering law originally was aimed at fighting organized
crime, but it increasingly has been used in cases covering business
disputes and a wide range of other topics.