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Echoing high court ruling, federal judge backs abortion protesters

By The Associated Press

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 this story.

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.

High court rules in favor of abortion protesters
Justices vote 8-0 that federal extortion, racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations at clinics. 02.28.06


Chicago City Council backs abortion-clinic buffer zone

If measure is enacted, protesters will be prohibited from getting nearer than eight feet of patients who are within 50 feet of a facility. 10.09.09

3rd Circuit rejects Pittsburgh's abortion-clinic access law

Unanimous three-judge panel finds either set of distance limits could by itself be legal, but that combined, the zones violate First Amendment. 11.03.09

High court to hear abortion-clinic protest case – for 3rd time
By Tony Mauro Action comes two years after many thought justices had put an end to fight between anti-abortion activists, women's rights group. 06.29.05

Abortion protests & buffer zones

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