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Context of 'February 28, 2006: Supreme Court Overturns ‘NOW v. Scheidler’ on Technical Grounds'

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National Organization for Women logo.National Organization for Women logo. [Source: National Organization for Women]The National Organization for Women (NOW) files a lawsuit against Joseph Scheidler, Scheidler’s organization Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and other anti-abortion organizations. NOW is joined in the suit by the Delaware Women’s Health Organization and the Pensacola Ladies Center (see March 26, 1986), and later the Summit Women’s Health Organization (see 1986). The lawsuit is part of a strategy devised by NOW president Eleanor Smeal to use federal antitrust laws to charge Scheidler and others with being part of a nationwide criminal conspiracy to close women’s health clinics through the use of violence and terror. The suit becomes known as NOW v. Scheidler. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002; Ms. Magazine, 12/2002] The lawsuit seeks a nationwide injunction to stop the clinic invasions, and asks the courts to make those responsible for the attacks pay for the damage they caused. In 2002, the future president of NOW, Kim Gandy, will say of the lawsuit: “NOW decided we had to stop the violence. Scheidler and his gang were calling in blitzes—they would attack clinics without warning and hold staff and patients hostage. Clinics were being blockaded and invaded. If we did not act, we thought clinics would not be able to stay open.” NOW attorney Fay Clayton will say the case seeks “to ensure that the constitutional right [to abortion] recognized [in 1973] would exist not just in theory, but in reality.” According to a 2002 Ms. Magazine report, the case only targets anti-abortion protesters who engage in criminal acts such as criminal trespass, assault, and conspiracy to block access to clinics. It makes no effort to halt peaceful protests as protected by the First Amendment. The lawsuit claims that PLAN and others engaged in what the federal racketeering law prohibits: namely, a “pattern of racketeering activity,” including the use of fear, force, and violence, in order to prevent people from receiving and providing legal abortions. Clayton maintains that the actions met the legal definition of organized crime. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: Summit Women’s Health Organization, Fay Clayton, Eleanor Smeal, Delaware Women’s Health Organization, Joseph Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League, Kim Gandy, Pensacola Ladies Center, National Organization for Women

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

President Clinton signs the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act into law. The law provides for the legal protection of abortion clinics and women’s health clinics against violence perpetuated against them. The law was proposed after an abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn, was shot to death in Florida in 1993 (see March 10, 1993); that same year, 12 arsons, one bombing, and 66 blockades were carried out against abortion clinics. FACE forbids the use of “force, threat of force, or physical obstruction” to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services. The law also provides for both criminal and civil penalties for those who break the law. [US Department of Justice, 7/25/2008; National Abortion Federation, 2010] The FACE Act works in concert with two Supreme Court decisions, Madsen v. Women’s Health Center and NOW et al v. Scheidler to establish “buffer zones” around women’s clinics and allow anti-abortion organizations to be investigated under federal racketeering statutes. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 40] Signing the FACE Act into law, Clinton says, “We simply cannot—we must not—continue to allow the attacks, the incidents of arson, the campaigns of intimidation upon law-abiding citizens that [have] given rise to this law.” Clinton cites the murder of Gunn and the shooting of Dr. George Tiller (see August 19, 1993) as incidents that FACE is designed to address. He adds: “No person seeking medical care, no physician providing that care should have to endure harassments or threats or obstruction or intimidation or even murder from vigilantes who take the law into their own hands because they think they know what the law ought to be.” [Washington Independent, 6/12/2009] In 2010, the National Abortion Federation will note that while FACE “has had a clear impact on the decline in certain types of violence against clinics and providers, specifically clinic blockades,” violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers has continued. [National Abortion Federation, 2010]

Entity Tags: Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, National Abortion Federation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

District Court Judge David Coar reverses earlier court decisions and reinstates a lawsuit filed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) against anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986). NOW president Patricia Ireland says, “We’re thrilled and anti-abortion terrorists ought to be shaking in their boots.” The ruling allows NOW to investigate defendants’ recent actions, including murders and attempted murders by anti-abortion activists (see August 19, 1993 and July 29, 1994). [National Organization for Women, 9/22/1995; National Organization for Women, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: Patricia Ireland, National Organization for Women, David Coar

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

District Court Judge David Coar rules that NOW v. Scheidler, a lawsuit brought by the National Organization of Women (NOW) against anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986 and September 22, 1995), can be designated as a “class-action” lawsuit. Coar certifies NOW as the class representative of not only all NOW members but all women “whose rights to the services of women’s health centers in the United States at which abortions are performed have been or will be interfered with by defendants’ unlawful activities.” Coar later rules that if NOW proves its case, then defendant Randall Terry and his Operation Rescue organization (see 1986) will be held responsible for all acts of terrorism and violence perpetuated by the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986). Coar rejects the defendants’ argument that their “moral imperative” to stop abortion justifies their violent acts. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: Randall Terry, David Coar, National Organization for Women, Operation Rescue, Pro-Life Action League

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The US Supreme Court agrees to review NOW v. Scheidler (see June 1986, September 22, 1995, and March 29 - September 23, 1997) on the basis of two technical issues raised by the defendants. The Court refuses to hear the defendants’ challenge that the First Amendment was violated by earlier rulings or that speech is at issue. The Court will determine whether women victimized by the violence of the anti-abortion advocates in the lawsuit can be protected from future crimes by an injunction as opposed to merely recompensed for the losses caused by the actions (see July 16, 1999), and whether it was appropriate to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act against defendants who claim their actions were prompted by religious or moral motivations. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002] The Court will overturn the decision on technical grounds (see February 28, 2006).

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler (see 1980, 1985, June 1986, April 20, 1998, October 2, 2001, and February 28, 2006) claims to have renounced the violent tactics that made him such a notorious figure of the anti-abortion, or pro-life, movement (see 1986 and March 26, 1986). Scheidler, 75, a former Benedictine monk and newspaper reporter who lives in Chicago, says he now favors peaceful marches on abortion clinics, the display of posters with graphic depictions of aborted fetuses, and what he calls “counseling” of women seeking abortions. “Obstruction—that’s over,” Scheidler says. “I was in some of those demonstrations, but I could see that was not going to be the real way. You’ve got to convert people away from abortion. You don’t just keep them out of the clinics. They just arrest you and you’re gone, and they go back in. I always hated it when the day was done, and they were all going back to the clinic and we were sitting in a [police] wagon.” He adds: “Nothing’s going to change in what we do. I haven’t stopped doing anything that I thought was effective. What will change is I think more people will come out.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 2/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Joseph Scheidler

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

In an 8-0 decision, the US Supreme Court reverses the findings of earlier courts and finds for the defendants in the NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit (see June 1986, September 22, 1995, and March 29 - September 23, 1997). The Court, ruling on technical grounds (see April 22, 2002), determines that it was improper for the National Organization for Women (NOW) to use laws covering racketeering and organized crime against anti-abortion advocates who committed violence against women’s clinics. The Court also notes that Congress’s 1994 passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE—see May 1994) Act indicated that Congress did not view the law as pertaining to this area. [FindLaw, 2/28/2006; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2006]

Entity Tags: National Organization for Women, US Supreme Court, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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