Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Long Shadow across Roe V. Wade

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Long Shadow across Roe V. Wade

Article excerpt

THE 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the foundation of abortion rights in the United States, will be marked this month in the shadow of a decision the court handed down a few days ago in the case of Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic.

The court ruled, 6 to 3, that a federal statute passed in 1871 to restrain Ku Klux Klan attacks on newly freed slaves in the South after the Civil War could not be used to prosecute militant anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue for their attacks on women's health clinics.

This does not leave the clinics without legal recourse against their tormentors, whose actions have ranged from blockades to bomb threats to chemical attacks. But the Ku Klux Klan Act has proven more useful than state laws against trespass or harassment; it allows clinics to obtain injunctions valid over entire counties. State laws allow for only case-by-case relief in most cases.

It was the Ku Klux Klan Act that federal Judge Patrick Kelly used to restrain Operation Rescue in its campaign in Wichita, Kan., during the summer of 1991. He ordered federal marshals to protect clinics there when local authorities seemed reluctant to do so.

Judge Kelly expressed disappointment in the Bray decision, telling the New York Times that if he hadn't ordered marshals in 1991, "there would have been mayhem in Wichita."

The anti-Klan act bars conspiracies to deprive "any person or class of persons" of the equal protection of the laws; precedents have restricted application of the statute to conspiracies motivated by a "class-based, individiously discriminatory animus," as the court put it in 1971.

In the Bray case, the majority held that women seeking abortions did not, for purposes of the statute, constitute a "class." "Whatever one thinks of abortion," the court wrote, "it cannot be denied that there are common and respectable reasons for opposing it, other than hatred of or condescension toward...women."

The majority further took issue with assertions that the anti-abortion activists' hostility against women seeking abortions is comparable to racism. "The goal of preventing abortion. …

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