Supreme Court decision a win for violent anti-choicers

The Supreme Court ruled today that federal racketeering and extortion laws can’t be used to stop anti-choice extremists from obstructing access to clinics, damaging property or using violence. (Legal Momentum has a history of the case, Scheidler v. National Organization for Women)
This case has been going on since 1986, when the National Organization for Women (NOW) brought a class action suit against violent anti-choice groups in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Unfortunately, violent protests are not a thing of the past. From NARAL:

Among other acts, in the past year there has been an attempted firebombing at a Louisiana clinic and one incident of arson in Florida. In the past decade approximately two murders, one attempted murder, two bombings, 18 incidents of arson, 298 acts of vandalism, 642 anthrax threats, 121 bomb threats, and 27 blockades have occurred at clinics. Since 1993, three doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort, and a security guard have been murdered. In addition to these seven murders, 17 attempted murders have also occurred since 1991.

This is a huge loss for women and choice, even if it is–as Broadsheet points out–largely symbolic: “[The] ruling will likely do little to change the situation on the ground. But it is the symbolic victory — coupled with South Dakota’s recent anti-abortion vote — that may further embolden a pro-life movement eager to test the country’s more conservative Supreme Court.”

Join the Conversation

  • Ann

    I actually disagree. This ruling really isn’t very troubling to me. The FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act does more than the Hobbs Act ever could have to protect women and abortion providers from violent protesters.
    A ruling that would have allowed us to sue clinic protesters using RICO would have pushed more cases into federal jurisdiction, but FACE already allows us to do that. (And FACE has been proven effective in reducing clinic violence.) Plus, some cities have enacted clinic buffer zones, which tend to hold up in court.
    As a friend of mine (a feminist with a law degree) eloquently put it, “This case is a ‘win for abortion clinic protesters’ about as much as today’s argument was ‘about Anna Nicole Smith.’ Technically true, but totally missing the point.”

  • Hugo Schwyzer

    As someone in the animal rights movement as well as with feminist commitments, I’m hugely relieved with the decision. I too want clinics protected — but if it became legitimate to use RICO against activist groups, all of us who support a broad range of “direct action” could find ourselves on the hook.
    I’m a feminist, but I’m also a civil libertarian; giving the government extensive RICO powers to come after non-profits really, really scares me. We need other tools to defend women’s rights.

  • Ryan

    It probably would have been a tad bit fairer to include that this was an 8-0 decision by the court (Alito did not participate). Perhaps the issue here was a bit larger than abortion…