Abortion-rights advocates told the Supreme Court on Wednesday
that some who oppose abortion have joined in a "nationwide
campaign of terror" and, like Mafia mobsters, are violating a
federal racketeering law.
But anti-abortion activists told the justices that subjecting
abortion opponents to the racketeering law would harm their right
to political protest.
The National Organization for Women and President Bill
Clinton's Justice Department contended that lower courts had
wrongly thrown out a NOW lawsuit that had invoked the disputed law
against Operation Rescue, the Pro-Life Action League and other
The anti-abortion groups urged the justices to let the suit die.
Fay Clayton, a lawyer for NOW, told the justices that some
protesters against abortion had used "forcible, violent conduct . .
. any means necessary, including terrorism." She said such people
call peaceful abortion protesters "wimps" and are more interested
in "mob violence" than in protest.
She said NOW had no objection to anti-abortion advocates who
legally picket, pray, hand out leaflets or petition Congress. "When
(they) turn to the use of force and violence and the threat of
force and violence . . . their advocacy can cross the line."
Clayton charged that the militant anti-abortion groups were
"dedicated and committed to mob violence" that forces doctors at
abortion clinics and women seeking abortions to surrender their
Robert Blakey, the attorney for the groups sued by NOW,
likened protesters who block access to clinics to civil rights and
labor leaders who led boycotts. He cited the protests of the Rev.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader, and Cesar
Chavez, who started the farm labor movement with nonviolent action
beginning in the 1960s.
Blakey helped write the racketeering law as a Senate aide in
1970. He said it was Congress' intent that it could be invoked
only in situations involving "illicit gain." He said Congress had
specified that the law would not cover the protests then raging
over U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
He argued that Congress never had intended to stifle political
dissent when it passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organization Act, or RICO, to attack organized crime.
Today, RICO is used in suits involving just about any business
dispute. And in a series of prior rulings, the Supreme Court
consistently refused to narrow the application of the broadly
worded law. …