Joseph Scheidler (BBC News)
A precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the National National Organization for Women and a number of the nation’s leading abortion providers against pro-life protesters, alleging they engaged in a criminal conspiracy to halt the abortion industry, has been dismissed by federal judge.
“I’ve waited 21 years for this news!” said Joseph M. Scheidler, national director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and one of the lead defendants.
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge David Coar issued his final judgment in NOW v. Scheidler, through which NOW and others alleged pro-life organizers violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
WND reported in 2006 that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled for the third time in favor of pro-life activists who were sued by NOW over their aggressive demonstrations at abortion clinics.
In its 8-0 ruling then, the high court said federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban the protests.
In 2003, WND reported NOW had lost its second round in the Supreme Court in a decisive 8-1 ruling. The feminist group charged that protests organized by Scheidler’s Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League amounted to extortion under RICO.
A lawyer who has worked on the case, Tom Brejcha, of Chicago’s Thomas More Society and Pro-Life Law Center, said the dismissal ruling was huge.
“The plaintiffs designed this case as a huge dragnet and they cast it far and wide as if to encompass the entire pro-life activist movement in America,” he noted. “The law of ‘res judicata’ or ‘claim preclusion’ varies from state to state, but all pro-life activists who face lawsuits by their local abortion providers may have a defense based on today’s final judgment.
“The judgment bars ‘all claims that might have been brought in this case’ on behalf of all class member abortion clinics. This is not just federal RICO or antitrust claims, but also state and local trespass or harassment claims of all sorts,” he said. “As NOW and the other plaintiffs have met a final defeat, the tables are turned against them.”
He said the case took an erratic course up and down the federal judicial system “including an apparently unprecedented three full dress hearings before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The ruling was described as a “definitive rejection” of NOW allegations that pro-life protesters “orchestrated and directed a nationwide protest movement using illegal methods outlawed by the federal antitrust, extortion, and ‘RICO’ laws.”
In addition to Scheidler, other defendants were Randall Terry, Andrew Scholbeg, Timothy Murphy, and the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue.
Officials said the judgment went not only against NOW, but against “the members of NOW” and “the members of the Certified Class of women” whom NOW represented.
“This includes women who are not NOW members, but might use the services of a women’s health center anywhere in the United States, as well as the entire ‘class of women’s health centers in the United States at which abortions are performed,'” he said.
“We are very grateful for all those who helped us with their prayers and support on what has been a long and arduous journey to reach this day,” said Brejcha. “We join our clients in celebrating this victory for all those committed to restore the law’s protection for all human beings, wanted or ‘unwanted,’ rich or poor, humble or exalted, from the moment of conception through natural death.”
“In spite of an 8-1 victory in the United States Supreme Court on Feb. 26, 2003, and a unanimous victory from the high court on Feb. 28, 2006, the final judgment was delayed until today,” Scheidler said. “I am no longer a federal racketeer.”
“NOW and the abortion centers tried everything they could to stop us,” said Scheidler, “but in the past 21 years, hundreds of abortion providers have quit, over a thousand abortion clinics have closed, numbers of abortions have dropped significantly and public opinion has shifted to pro-life. We have won in every quarter. And our mission continues until abortion becomes history.”
Before the 2003 decision reversed the RICO charge against Scheidler’s group, a nationwide injunction and damages of $257,780 had been pending against the pro-life defendants.
The feminist group – which had stated an intent to crush groups opposing abortion – stood to collect a total of about $1.2 million in damages and legal fees from Scheidler and his colleagues.
But the Supreme Court said in that ruling all of the 117 alleged acts of extortion against Scheidler and his group “must be reversed,” including four alleged acts of violence.
The case began in June 1986 when NOW filed a federal lawsuit against Scheidler and others, alleging the defendants 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 – Murphy and Scholberg – and another 100 alleged “co-conspirators” also were named as defendants.