The US Supreme Court decided today 8-1 that abortion clinics could not be protected from forcible blockades by anti-abortion extremists under federal racketeering laws. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) immediately issued statements promising to continue to defend women’s reproductive rights despite the Supreme Court’s verdict in NOW v. Scheidler, a landmark case initiated in 1986 by FMF president Eleanor Smeal as president of NOW to curtail violence against women’s reproductive health care centers.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist argued that because the defendants did not walk away with tangible property from the clinics, they could not be punished under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Furthermore, Rehnquist wrote, “even when their acts of interference and disruption achieved their ultimate goal of ‘shutting down’ a clinic that performed abortions, such acts did not constitute extortion.” Anti-abortion extremist Joseph Scheidler, one of the defendants, said that Operation Rescue is already planning to increase its anti-abortion protests, according to Voice of America.
“It is tragic that the Supreme Court has decided that physical property has more rights than women’s freedom of choice and lives,” said Smeal. “Religious fundamentalists should not be excused from extortion simply because they did not walk away with money in their pocket. If this is the law, then anyone with an ideological disagreement with a business can use force or violence to close down that business and the business will have no means to defend itself. Today it is rights of women, tomorrow it could be the rights of a synagogue or a church.”
NOW president Kim Gandy said in a statement that “a woman’s right to seek medical services from a clinic, and the clinics right to provide these services … [are] now under greater threat… With this reversal, NOW rededicates itself to the protection of women’s legal right to abortion.”
Justice John Paul Stevens submitted the only dissenting opinion. Stevens criticized the Court’s “murky” opinion and argued that the decision limits the protection of property owners.
Media Resources: Supreme Court decision 2/26/03; Voice of America 2/26/03; Associated Press 2/26/03; Feminist Majority Foundation, NOW release 2/26/03