Pro-Life Activists Have Speech Rights
Cal Thomas Copyright Los Angeles Times Syndicate, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
The Supreme Court heard arguments last weekover whether a federal anti-racketeering statute can be applied to demonstrators who engage in activities intended to stop abortions. The National Organization for Women contends in NOW vs. Scheidler that some protesters are part of a nationwide conspiracy designed to close the clinics and that their activities have specifically included extortion, burglary, criminal damage to clinic property and equipment, threats against clinics and suppliers, arson and firebombing.
Joseph Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action Network contends that his organization's activities are protected under the First Amendment's free speech and freedom of religion clauses. And he says the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organization statute (RICO, for short) does not apply in this case because his organization's goals are not economic, but rather political, social and religious.
It is important to properly define the activities that NOW alleges and which it claims should invoke RICO. The commonly accepted definition of extortion is provided by the Hobbs Act, which calls it the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, but induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence or fear, or under color of official right.
But the central figure in NOW vs. Scheidler, Monica Migliorino, is only alleged to have taken aborted babies from a waste container on a pathology laboratory's loading dock and to have held religious burial ceremonies for them. She is also alleged to have "threatened to disclose confidential information about previous patients" of abortion clinics, though the confidential information is not described.
Migliorino is further alleged to have pressured a landlord not to rent to an abortion clinic by sending letters "threatening disruption and harassment" (by "pickets and demonstrations . . . sidewalk counselors . . . press coverage . . .") if the clinic were allowed to move in.
And finally, she is charged with having violated the law by interfering "with a prospective economic advantage."
Any of these assertions could have been made against civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s, who frequently sat in at establishments that would not serve blacks, and who boycotted buses and places of business that discriminated against blacks. …