Ruling Aids Pro-Choice Group Supreme Court Says Racketeering Law Can Apply to Anti-Abortion Protesters

By James H. Andrews, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 26, 1994 | Go to article overview

Ruling Aids Pro-Choice Group Supreme Court Says Racketeering Law Can Apply to Anti-Abortion Protesters


James H. Andrews, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


PRO-CHOICE groups won an important legal skirmish in their battle against anti-abortion activists this week, but they still have to prove in court that those activists should be punished as "racketeers."

The Supreme Court ruled Jan. 24 that protesters who attempt to shut down abortion clinics through violent or other illegal means can be liable under the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Justices unanimously rejected the argument that RICO applies only to conspiracies with a profitmaking motive.

Although RICO was passed in 1970 mainly as a weapon against organized crime, the high court has authorized criminal and civil proceedings against many "enterprises" that engage in a "pattern" of unlawful acts. Now the justices have further broadened the statute's application to social-protest activities that break certain federal and state laws.

The civil suit will return to the federal trial court in Chicago, where the National Organization for Women (NOW) and a group of abortion clinics will try to prove that organizations, including the Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue, engaged in criminal acts to halt abortions.

Since defendants in successful RICO suits can be required to pay triple damages, a verdict for clinics could strike a damaging financial blow against protest groups.

According to Helen Neuborne, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director, plaintiffs "have plenty of evidence against the kingpins" of what pro-choice groups call a "terrorist" campaign.

"It shouldn't take long to establish the basic case" against protesters, says Chicago lawyer Fay Clayton, who argued the case for the pro-choice groups at the high court. "Eliminating the economic-motive requirement made the case much easier to try."

Ms. Clayton hopes defendants will enter settlement talks. …

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