Opening arguments in the National Organization for Women's landmark racketeering lawsuit against anti-abortion terrorists began today in federal district court in Chicago. In the lawsuit, NOW charges anti-abortion mobsters with operating a national network of violence to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to abortion.
"Women still run a gauntlet at abortion clinics. Doctors and staff at the clinics still face death threats, arson, bombing, stalking, extortion and murder. And abortion opponents who capitalize on these acts to instill fear in every clinic worker are just as guilty as those who light the match or pull the trigger," said NOW President Patricia Ireland.
NOW is seeking a nationwide injunction to prevent the defendants from committing or inciting others to commit the range of violent acts that impede women's access to abortion. A national injunction would be a pro-active step toward guaranteeing the promise of Roe v. Wade. Prosecutors use the current federal law -- the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) -- only sporadically. And that law only covers the actual participants, never reaching the leaders who fund and organize the actions. In addition, FACE only takes effect after a crime has been committed. "An injunction is a permanent, ever-present deterrent to the kind of violence clinic patients and staff face every day," Ireland said.
If the suit is successful, NOW will also ask the court to award triple damages to every clinic in the US affected by defendants' violence. "If the anti-abortion thugs won't obey the law, we'll go after them where it hurts -- their wallets," Ireland vowed. She added that NOW and the clinics will aggressively pursue any and all avenues toward fulfilling the judgment. "Our lawyers recently seized Randall Terry's frequent flyer miles to satisfy part of a judgment against him in NOW v. Operation Rescue. We're not afraid to go after these racketeers with all the legal power we can muster."
The suit has already made legal history. In 1997, federal district court Judge David Coar certified NOW as the class representative of not only all NOW members but all women whose right to use the services of a women's health clinic is impeded by the defendants' illegal activities. The other plaintiffs in the case -- Summit Women's Health Organization from Milwaukee and the Delaware Women's Health Organization -- represent the class of all clinics that provide abortion services. This decision marks the first time a court has certified a class in this kind of lawsuit.
NOW v. Scheidler also breaks new legal ground by applying the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to these defendants. In 1994, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion that the RICO statute does not require an economic motive and that NOW could proceed against the defendants. "Although Joe Scheidler, Operation Rescue and the other defendants realized great financial benefits from their illegal activities, their main goal was more dangerous -- to deny women's constitutional rights," said NOW President Patricia Ireland.
Additional background information is available on NOW's web site -- www.now.org or by calling the National NOW Action Center.
Link to this release at http://www.now.org/press/02-98/02-27-98.html