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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

July-17-98

Litigator, Clinic Plaintiff in NOW v. Scheidler Testify on Importance of RICO as Tool to Stop Clinic Violence

On the heels of the landmark verdict of liability in NOW v. Scheidler which found that there is a nationwide conspiracy of violence against abortion providers and women who seek reproductive health services, Susan Hill, President of the National Women's Health Organization, which represents clinics in the case, and Attorney Fay Clayton, Esq., who is the chief litigator, told the House Judiciary Committee that RICO is an essential tool in fighting clinic violence and urged the panel to reject any attempts to weaken the law.

"In NOW v. Scheidler, we proved for the first time in a civil court that there is a nationwide organized conspiracy to close family planning, abortion, and women's reproductive health clinics. RICO provides an effective vehicle for ending this reign of terror," said Fay Clayton, who successfully argued NOW v. Scheidler before the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Federal District Court. In the class action lawsuit, the National Organization for Women represents its members and all non-member women whose rights to access services at women's health clinics that provide abortions have been interfered with by the defendants. The National Women's Health Organization represents a class of over 900 women's health care clinics nationwide that provide abortions and have been terrorized for over a decade by illegal activities intended to close them down.

"After having heard all of the evidence, the jury agreed with us that Americans should be free to go to work without fear, to access health care without violence, and to operate businesses free from attacks. The Court said no citizen, regardless of their motivation, is entitled to extort, threaten, or deprive others of constitutionally protected rights," said Susan Hill. "We believe that our victory under RICO will help deter anti-abortion extremists who terrorize providers, clinics, and their patients. By weakening RICO in any way, Congress would be creating a class of criminals who are above the law and effectively sanctioning a new wave of anti-abortion domestic terrorism."

Abortion rights leaders hope that the precedent-setting decision in NOW v. Scheidler also will embolden federal law enforcement to pursue criminal RICO actions. Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who originally filed the case as NOW President in 1986, said "We are urging federal law enforcement to use the criminal RICO statute to go after each and every one of the anti-abortion extremists who engage in violence and illegal activity in order to deny women their constitutional right to abortion."

In the historic NOW v. Scheidler case, the National Women's Health Organization proved a nationwide conspiracy of violence against abortion providers and women who seek their services. The jury (4 women and 2 men) found Joseph Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League, Operation Rescue, Andrew Scholberg, and Timothy Murphy, liable under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. Plaintiff Summit Women's Health Organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was awarded $54,000 in actual damages and Plaintiff Delaware Women's Health Organization in Wilmington, Delaware was awarded $31,000 in actual damages. Under RICO, they are eligible for triple that amount, or $225,000. This finding of liability now opens the door for the 900 clinics to seek damages from these defendants for any activities related to the enterprise.

Media Resources: The Feminist Majority - July 17, 1998


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