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Context of 'October 2, 2001: Appeals Court Rejects Anti-Abortion Advocate’s Argument to Continue Intimidating Women at Health Clinics'

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Joseph Scheidler.Joseph Scheidler. [Source: Pro-Life Action League]Anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler forms a group variously known as the Pro-Life Action League (PLAL) and the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN). Scheidler was a ranking member of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the US’s largest anti-abortion organization, until 1978, when he was dismissed from the group for his advocacy of violence. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Pro-Life Action League, Joseph Scheidler, National Right to Life Committee

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

The cover of Joseph Scheidler’s ‘Closed.’The cover of Joseph Scheidler’s ‘Closed.’ [Source: Traditional Crusade (.org)]Two books are privately published by anti-abortion activists: Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, by Joseph Scheidler (see 1980), and The Abortion Buster’s Manual, by Kevin Sherlock. Sherlock’s book focuses on ways to identify and harass abortion providers, which anti-abortion activists have identified as the “weak link” in the “abortion industry,” and details legal means of harassment, including searching public records for malpractice lawsuits, criminal histories, or abortion-related deaths, which can be used as propaganda against the identified providers. Scheidler’s book discusses both legal and illegal ways to disrupt a clinic’s functions, including what he calls “aggressive sidewalk counseling sessions” (protesters screaming, shouting, and waving posters depicting bloody fetuses at clinic clients, among other “counseling” techniques), and full-scale clinic “blockades” using protesters and their vehicles. Scheidler also advocates harassing doctors and patients at their homes and workplaces. Both books will become “bibles” for anti-abortion activists. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39]

Entity Tags: Joseph Scheidler, Kevin Sherlock

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Joseph Scheidler, the president of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and three PLAN members enter the Summit Women’s Health Clinic in Middletown, Delaware. Scheidler later says he is “casing the place,” according to court records. The day after the visit, protesters vandalize the clinic, seriously damaging equipment. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: Summit Women’s Health Clinic, Joseph Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League

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

Members of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986) enter a women’s health clinic, the Pensacola Ladies Center, in Pensacola, Florida. They attack the clinic administrator, throwing her down the stairs; attack and injure an official of the National Organization for Women (NOW); blockade the clinic; and wreck medical equipment. During the attack, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler stands outside, praising the attackers and publicly claiming credit for the incident. The clinic will close for several days for repairs. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002] The Ladies Center was firebombed twice in 1984 by anti-abortion activists (see 1984). [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38] One of the protesters who takes part in the blockade and assault is James Kopp, who in 1998 will murder an abortion provider (see October 23, 1998). [Womens eNews, 3/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Pensacola Ladies Center, Joseph Scheidler, James Kopp, Pro-Life Action League, National Organization for Women

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

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

The National Organization for Women (NOW) expands its NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit against anti-abortion activists to include Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, a “spin-off” organization (see 1986) of another defendant in the lawsuit, the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986). Terry and Operation Rescue routinely blockade abortion clinics, sometimes using physical force. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]

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

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

A Texas jury awards Dr. Norman Tompkins and his wife Carolyn damages of $8.6 million, in a lawsuit the couple filed against anti-abortion activists. The organizations Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Pre-Born, and the Dallas chapter of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986) were found liable in over 10 months of harassment against the couple. During that time, anti-abortion activists picketed the family’s home and offices; followed them to social events, church, and elsewhere; distributed fliers calling Tompkins a murderer; and were overheard by neighbors talking about shooting Tompkins. They left frequent anonymous threats on the family’s answering machine; one such message said in part: “I’m going to cut your wife’s liver out and make you eat it. Then I’m going to cut your head off.” Dr. Tompkins, an obstetrician/gynecologist, eventually quit his practice and the couple moved from their Dallas home. The defendants are liable for $3.6 million in punitive damages, $2.25 million for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, and $2.8 million for invading the Tompkins’ privacy. [Newport News Daily Press, 10/29/1995; National Organization for Women, 1/1996; Sarah Jones, 10/20/2010]

Entity Tags: Norman Tompkins, Missionaries to the Pre-Born, Operation Rescue, Pro-Life Action League, Carolyn Tompkins

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department ends its two-year grand jury investigation into possible conspiracies behind abortion clinic violence (see 1986, March 26, 1986, June 1986, March 10, 1993, 1995 and After, and 1996). The jury finds no evidence of any national conspiracy to commit violence on the part of anti-abortion organizations. However, Nation reporter Bruce Shapiro will write in 2001 that the evidence unearthed by the FBI’s investigation in a 1998 abortion doctor murder (see October 23, 1998 and March 17-18, 2003) proves the existence of just such a conspiracy. [Nation, 4/23/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bruce Shapiro

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

After 12 years of litigation, the National Organization for Women (NOW) wins its lawsuit against the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN, also known as the Pro-Life Action League, or PLAL—see 1980 and 1986) and other anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986, September 22, 1995, and March 29 - September 23, 1997). The jury hearing the case unanimously agrees that the defendants engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to deny women access to medical facilities. The jury determines that Operation Rescue (see 1986), PLAN, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler, and their co-defendants are racketeers under the RICO Act and should be held liable for triple damages for the harm their violent acts caused to women’s health clinics. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: Pro-Life Action League, National Organization for Women, Operation Rescue, Joseph Scheidler

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Based on the recent lawsuit by the National Organization for Women (see April 20, 1998), District Judge David Coar issues a nationwide injunction against the anti-abortion advocates who lost the case. Coar’s injunction forbids the defendants from hindering the right of women to obtain reproductive health services at clinics and the right of the clinics to provide those services. One of the defendants, Joseph Scheidler, will appeal the ruling on several grounds, including the First Amendment right of free speech. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: National Organization for Women, David Coar, Joseph Scheidler

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

An appeals court rejects an argument by anti-abortion advocate Joseph Scheidler (see 1980 and 1986) that he should be allowed to continue his campaign of violence and intimidation towards women seeking abortions and other health services (see July 16, 1999). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals finds that “the First Amendment does not protect violent conduct” and that “violence in any form is the antithesis of reasoned discussion.” Scheidler and his colleagues will appeal to the Supreme Court. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002]

Entity Tags: Joseph Scheidler

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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