By: Kevan Coleman
Re: 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.
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 groups. 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 business,
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 precedent."
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 merit review."
The attorneys argued that the antitrust law was not intended to apply to
non-commercial political protest and that the racketeering law requires an
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.