The trial of the National Organization for Women vs. the director of the Pro-Life Action League, Joe Scheidler, begins this week. NOW vs. Scheidler was filed as a federal class-action lawsuit in 1986.
The case was initiated by then NOW president Eleanor Smeal, after the president of the local Pensacola NOW chapter was injured during a clinic invasion. NOW filed against Joseph Scheidler of Chicago, his Pro-Life Action League, anti-abortion activists, and later, Terry Nichols and Operation Rescue.
The US Supreme Court allowed NOW to go forward in the case against the anti-abortionists under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). NOW argued that anti-abortion extremists were hindering interstate commerce by trying to shut down the clinics. In NOW v. Scheidler, NOW represents its own members and all non-member women, “ whose rights to the services of women’s health centers in the United States at which abortions are performed have been or will be interfered with by defendants’ unlawful activities.”
Initially, a federal judge and appeals court had ruled that the suit did not fall under the RICO laws, because the anti-abortion laws would not gain a profit from closing down the clinics. However, the United States Supreme Court ruled that there was no economic-gain clause in the 1970 law and let the suit stand.
Lucinda Finley, law professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, commented, “The trial will be very useful in getting out on the public record the types of tactics the extremist wing of the anti-abortion movement has resorted to.”
If NOW wins the lawsuit, anti-abortion activities designed to interfere with a women’s right to use the clinics could be punishable by law across the nation.