Fundies & Abortion & RICO
Government Seeks RICO-Abortion Rule
The Clinton administration is siding with "abortion rights" supporters
who want the Supreme Court to let them use a federal anti-racketeering
law to sue groups that block access to abortion clinics.
Justice Dept lawyers told the high court Thursday that a lower court
erred when it barred a lawsuit against Operation Rescue and other
The government lawyers urged the justices to hear an appeal filed last
fall by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and abortion clinic
The appeal said the anti-abortion groups comprise "a nationwide
criminal conspiracy of extremists" bent on "unlawful and violent
methods" to drive abortion clinics out of business. The alleged
conspiracy violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations
Act (RICO), the appeal said. The court asked the Clinton
administration for its views in January, sparking the brief submitted
An Operation Rescue cult spokesman the Rev Patrick Mahoney said the
filing was "a 180- degree turnabout" from the Bush administration's
position on lawsuits over access to abortion clinics.
"The Clinton administration is singling us out for attack," Mahoney
But NOW President Patricia Ireland said: "It's certainly a refreshing
change to have the court receive a brief from the Justice Dept that's
consistent with the law rather than the prior administration's
In the brief, government lawyers said the 7th US Circuit Court of
Appeals wrongly concluded that RICO requires proof that alleged
racketeering acts were motivated by an economic purpose.
Courts might have trouble determining whether someone had such an
economic motive, the government lawyers said.
"A political organization engaging in a pattern of unlawful acts may
do so principally for political reasons, but the acts may have some
incidental economic benefits for the organization--such as increasing
contributions from members and supporters," they said.
Noting that federal appeals courts have split on the issue, the
administration said the Supreme Court should resolve it.
The RICO law, enacted in 1970, originally was aimed at organized
crime but increasingly is used in lawsuits involving just about any
The law bans "any person employed or associated with any enterprise
in...interstate or foreign commerce...to participate in a pattern of
Under RICO, a pattern of racketeering amounts to 2 or more acts from
a long list of underlying crimes, including extortion.
Numerous lawsuits accused Operation Rescue and the other anti-abortion
groups of extortion by use of arson, bombings, destruction of property,
assault and battery, trespass and harassment.
Federal courts in New York and Philadelphia have hit Operation Rescue
and other anti-abortion groups with huge fines for RICO violations.
But in the case before the Supreme Court, the Chicago-based 7th
Circuit court threw out all RICO claims.
The Supreme Court ruled in January that federal judges may not stop
abortion clinic blockades by invoking an 1871 civil rights law,
popularly called the Ku Klux Klan Act.
It bans conspiracies aimed at violating constitutional rights.