CHICAGO — A federal judge issued a final judgment yesterday reiterating what
the U.S. Supreme Court said more than a year ago — that federal extortion and
racketeering laws cannot be used against abortion protesters.
The judgment from U.S. District Judge David Coar cites the 8-0
decision by the high court in February 2006 that sides with defendants,
including Chicago-based anti-abortion leader Joseph Scheidler.
"We were very happy to have it over with," Scheidler, national director of
the Pro-Life Action League, told the Associated Press. "It's been 21 years now
of being under the gun."
The legal fight began in 1986, when the National Organization for Women filed
a class-action suit challenging tactics used by Scheidler's group to block women
from entering abortion clinics.
NOW's strategy was a novel one, relying on civil provisions of the 1970
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was used predominantly
in criminal cases against organized crime.
After three hearings before the Supreme Court, justices eventually decided
that RICO could not be used against abortion clinic protesters, and sent the case back to the district court.
Coar's ruling yesterday in National
Organization for Women v. Scheidler also vacates a 1999 injunction
against Scheidler's group and others.
NOW did not return telephone messages left after business hours in time for
After last year's Supreme Court ruling, NOW President Kim Gandy said the
decision was disappointing because the 1999 injunction had decreased violence
outside clinics nationally.
Scheidler said yesterday's ruling gives abortion protesters more freedom by
removing the threat of RICO lawsuits.
"It's really about free speech," he said.