The National Organization for Women, which has stated an intent to crush groups opposing abortion, could collect $1.2 million in damages and legal fees from pro-life activists despite losing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court one year ago.
As WorldNetDaily reported, the feminist group charged protests organized by Joseph Scheidler’s Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League amounted to extortion under RICO, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
However, in a decisive 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the RICO charge against Scheidler’s group Feb. 26, 2003, and vacated an injunction and damage award. The court ruled aggressive pro-life protesters cannot be punished by federal racketeering laws meant for organized crime and drug dealers.
The Supreme Court returned the case to the 7th Circuit Court to carry out the decision, but NOW convinced a three-judge panel to send it back to district court, where the high court’s ruling could be overturned.
NOW’s persistence in the case despite the Supreme Court’s decisive ruling coincides with its stated determination to shut down pro-life groups.
In a 1998 statement that referred to the Scheidler case, NOW’s former president, Patricia Ireland, said, “We will continue our litigation strategy until the terrorists are bankrupt and out of business.”
Ireland also was a NOW attorney working on the case before she became head of the organization.
The Supreme Court said all of the 117 alleged acts of extortion against Scheidler and his group “must be reversed,” including four alleged acts of violence. But NOW attorney Fay Clayton convinced the 7th Circuit panel those four “acts” should be considered separately.
The case is further complicated by the fact the jury in the 1998 trial was not required to reveal which acts it deemed violent. Furthermore, Pro-Life Action League presented evidence, including photographs and news footage, that indicates some of the key witnesses lied.
Scheidler has filed for a rehearing of the case before the 7th Circuit’s full court, which could abide by the panel’s decision or enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling, requiring NOW to pay legal fees of about $1 million.
Scheidler and the other defendants were supported in the Supreme Court case by an unusual coalition of about 70 activists and groups that included actor Martin Sheen and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Now in its 18th year of litigation, the case began in June 1986 when NOW filed a federal lawsuit against Scheidler and two other pro-life activists. NOW charged that Scheidler and his colleagues interfered with interstate commerce in an attempt to shut down abortion clinics.
Three years later, NOW incorporated RICO violations into its complaint and expanded the scope to a class-action suit that included every woman in the United States seeking an abortion – past, present or future – and all abortion clinics. Operation Rescue, two members of Scheidler’s group – Tim Murphy and Andy Scholberg – and another 100 alleged “co-conspirators” also were named as defendants.
In a WND interview with Scheidler at the time of the Supreme Court decision, he said the litigation had cost him $400,000 in damages alone, forcing him to put his house in escrow and transfer his insurance to the name of the plaintiff.
“My business is in jeopardy, everything I own,” Scheidler told WND. “Plus I’ve had to borrow $70,000 to make up the bond so we could make the appeal.”